Have you caught Ugly Parent Syndrome?

We’ve all seen them.

It’s Saturday morning and the winter soccer season has begun. Parents and siblings are rugged up sipping coffees and hot chocolates from the coffee van as volunteers fire up the grill and players warm up for the game.

Kick-off. There’s a smattering of applause and friendly rivalry ensues. There’re a couple of stand-out players, the rest do their best, some play reluctantly forced by parents into weekend sport and bribed by offers of hot sausage sandwiches and free time after the game.

Then, the screeching begins.

“Come on,” roars one dad.

“Kick it Denny,” a mother screams out.

“Deeefence,” yells another parent.


Um, hello, since when did this become the A-league?

Research by Flinders University has shown that “ugly parent syndrome” is responsible for diminishing numbers of young children wanting to play soccer. Researcher Sam Elliot says, “Parents’ verbal behaviour towards children, umpires and coaches – yelling, bagging, and disagreeing with positioning – can be problematic and there is a clear emphasis on performance, playing well and, for some parents, winning.”

“For some parents, it’s much more serious than having fun or participating. They almost lose sight that it’s 12 and 13-year-olds.”

My son has decided to play soccer again this year after taking a three year break from the sport. He wasn’t very good at it but in his defence he had just turned 5 and he wasn’t the only Kindergartener to accidentally score a goal for the other team. I just laughed but as the season progressed and his confusion grew there was actual jeering from some players and parents. I was mortified and I’m embarrassed to say I was relieved when he decided to swap his soccer boots for a weekly art class.

I’m not looking forward to hearing parents bellowing on the sidelines but my group of friends tend to have a very different problem. We get so involved in our conversation that we miss good play by our kids. We have to tap each other on the shoulder when our soccer stars score a goal or save a goal and then when our children run towards us at half-time and full-time saying, “Mummy, did you see me?” we lie through our teeth and say, “Yes, I saw you and you were amazing.”

“Ugly parent syndrome” takes the innocence out of weekend sport. The research found that children lose motivation under these circumstances. One child mentioned his dad was very critical of his performances and volunteer coaching staff has complained of being regularly verbally abused by parents, coaches and officials.

“Ugly parent syndrome” includes excessive instruction, putting down their child in view of others, coaching from the boundary and verbally jousting with their child.

Here are some examples of how NOT to behave when your child is playing sport.


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