Parents in youth football (1)

Blogs by Nick Veenbrink

Parents in youth football (1)

More and more clubs express their concern with regards to the role parents have within youth football. It has become a source of annoyance and frustration which takes up a lot of the club’s time. Parents are seen bawling at the sidelines, grumbling at the referee’s decisions or complaining because their son/daughter was not put in the highest-ranked team.

This blog concerns itself with the parent’s role within youth football. The goal is to provide the reader with a better understanding of the parent’s role within youth football. This will then allow us to work towards a solution in the following article.

Seek to understand first, before being understood…

I want to start off by stating that I believe that every parent wants best for his/her child. The way how parents express their love in the context of sports differs greatly however. There is loads of attention for complaining and overzealous parents while there are plenty of ‘good’ examples of parents who wish to keep a low profile and are merely supporting their children. The thing is; you often only hear the bad stories. The point I am trying to make here is that I want to prevent generalizing with regards to this matter. The purpose of this blog is to try and find an explanation for the wide (societal) trend which involves parents who are excessively concerned with their child’s sports participation and the alarming behavior that comes with it.

Meritocracy

Parents feel strongly responsible for their children’s achievements. They expect their children to have a fair shot at success, whatever success that may be. An example of this would be the so-called ‘school advice’, which is given when children move from elementary to secondary school. This advice gives an indication at which level a child should get his/her education. More and more parents exert pressure on teachers with regards to the contents of this advice however and it could be argued that this is an effect of the achievement-oriented-society we are living in. Another example of this would be the extent to which parents are trying to protect their children from misfortune and setbacks.

One of the main characteristics of an meritocracy is the drive for success. Not only in a professional environment, however, but also in how parents raise their children. There is a general perception that the upbringing of a child directly correlates with how successful they will be at a later stage in their life. Being successful does not necessarily mean that children are truly happy though. But when parents concern themselves with this perception it is easy to connect their children’s achievements to the quality of their upbringing. Put differently: a decent upbringing directly influences how successful a child is.

Sports is a domain in which children’s performances are highly measurable and visible. The ranking of your team in the league’s table or being picked for the highest-ranked team within your age category reflect just how measurable and visible performances are within this domain. Parents tend to point out these aspects in referring to how well their children are performing. Measuring and comparing achievements is a major component of the achievement-oriented-society I mentioned before. It also explains why parents attach so much value to their child winning a game or being picked for the highest-ranked team. They want their son/daughter to have a fair chance at success.

“Well, I think it is kind of important that your child competes at the highest possible level. Or that at least they are given the chance to play at the highest possible level. And indeed, that they have better facilities, training sessions twice a week and that you get to play on artificial turf instead of some turnip field back there.” Parent of a recreational youth player at an amateur football club.

Parents are willing to go the extra mile

Parents tend to greatly appreciate the competitive elements within the field of sports. This appreciation then translates into the fanatic following of league standings and the desire for their children to win games or become the league’s champion. They want their son/daughter to do well. Being picked to play for the highest-ranked team (selection-team) within an age category is also something that parents are preoccupied with. According to the parents I have spoken it adds to a certain ‘feel and status’ when their son/daughter belongs to the best players within their age category. Parents are willing to go the extra mile and contribute to this.

“So at a certain point they asked me to coach that team. So if I would have said [no], […], I do not know for sure if they would have gone for it. But if I say yes I am absolutely sure that he would be selected [for a higher-ranked team].” Parent of a non-selection team player at an amateur football club.

The above quote shows how far parents go to make sure their son/daughter play on the highest possible level.

In an meritocracy, sports, given its characteristics, is a domain which allows for the measuring (and judging) of performances. This could explain the behavior of (some) parents. Parents think of themselves of good educators when their children are performing well. Important to remember here though is that performance or achievements cannot be confused with being happy and having fun.

In my next article I will delve deeper into the parents’ role within youth sports and more so the effect this has on children.

The quotes within this article are translated and stem from a series of interviews with players and parents at local amateur football clubs in the context of previous research into the process of selecting youth teams