Sports parent stereotypes and how to avoid being one

I’m now a sports mum.  Officially a tennis mum.  Yes, N has had tennis lessons for nearly 3 years now and he’s started playing for his team in the mini red tennis leagues in the next county.  That makes me a sports parent.

When you think of sports parents, what does it make you think?

Pushy parents?

Standing on the sidelines running up and down shouting instructions to their offspring on the pitch?

Parents arguing with the umpire or referee about their judging or scoring?

All pretty terrifying parents to be. And we all know of people who can be like that.

I have to admit I’m pretty worried about turning into one of these stereotypical sports parents myself.  It’s like getting into a BMW. When I had a handmedown one for a short while as a company car, I definitely turned into a more aggressive driver – it’s like a subliminal thing. Then went back to normal after changing back to a Ford (now I’d say I’m more of an assertive or confident driver).

Tennis for fun

I’m never expecting N to be a pro tennis player. The aim is that he has a sport he enjoys and will continue, and if he gets to play for a team that’s also good.   But ultimately I want him to have fun.

N also isn’t really that competitive. He definitely enjoys winning, but is a good loser and just takes it that the other person is better. I suppose that might change as he gets older. I on the other hand, am really competitive. And sport brings that out of me even when it’s not me playing.

Competitive behaviour

My presumption when the team was put together for the first time, was that they’d get thrashed in all their matches.  When there’s a new child turn up at club and they look really amazing, you can see easily that really they’re still only 7 years old and I can easily point out what they need to work on (which is a lot).  So I’d prepped N that the matches are about having fun, trying their hardest, and they’re playing as a team. So it’s about supporting each other in wins and losses.

So I was surprised that as a team they won in the rubbers they played for their first match.  And their second match they again won on the games they played.  Unfortunately they still lose because they’ve not yet had a girl who can play so have had to forfeit 3 rubbers.  But we’ll see how they go on the next 2 matches where they will have a girl in the team.

On the side of the court it’s very gentile. No shouting support to the kids as that would be disruptive. And no heckling the umpires who are parents who volunteer to score.  But I can feel myself watching and holding back my thoughts – criticising if there’s a bad line call. Or scorers not pulling kids up on serving when they’ve bounced the ball which isn’t allowed on underarm serves.

Last week there was a dad scoring a doubles game and he got mixed up and was making the children only do 1 serve each instead of 2 before switching to the other team.  He’d ignored our coach’s advice, so we were muttering about it at the side. Then eventually she had to say something again and he realised his mistake and corrected it from then on.  It takes so much for me not to say something.

Getting caught up in the excitement

I do get quite excited and really want the children to do well. It’s nice to win, but it’s also proof that their hard work can achieve something. Already them getting to play has encouraged N to get up in achievements assembly for the first time with the other 2 team mates from school, and share that they all played their first ever tennis matches.

But I don’t want to put too much pressure on N, because he’s always preferred doing things when he’s ready.  And I don’t want to be that parent who starts shouting out and complaining about other parents and scoring, or about cheating children (thankfully we’ve not come across those yet). For starters it’s not nice and goes against everything that I’ve tried to encourage in N.  And I don’t want to be the parent that everyone else avoids for the years that N might end up playing in the league.

I can certainly see how easy it is to be caught up in the excitement. Maybe less so for indoor sports where you’re not watching a single match at the time.  But for team matches where parents are standing and moving alongside the pitch, it’s a fine line between encouragement and something stronger.

So I’m trying to remember not to leap in, not to critique, and to keep it calm when watching.


I’m hoping that being a scorer will help. This week I scored 5 rubbers.  Unfortunately that meant I couldn’t really watch N’s matches, but I did score his doubles match.

Scoring means I’m focused on one match, we get a bonus point for the team for doing some scoring, and I get to check out the opposition. Plus I get to remember how terrifying it is scoring for a match, even when it’s 5-8 year olds playing.  I used to score squash matches for our team league with no problem but for these children it feels like there’s so much more pressure to get it right. There are all the parents watching, you don’t want to make a mistake. And even worse, one of the (very good) players was scoring ahead of me being able to write down and say out the score at the same time.

So I’m hoping umpiring is my solution to not turning into a horrendous sporting parent. It just means I’ll see less of N’s and the team’s tennis as it’s easier scoring teams that aren’t our own.

How do you feel about being a sports parent?  Has it changed the way you are, or do you avoid getting involved?

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