parent opinion

LIBBY TRICKETT: 'The ugly behaviour that is everywhere when it comes to kids’ sports.'

Dear Parents,

You’re ruining sport for kids. Look, I know how hard it is to be a parent. I have four kids under eight. My days are about school drop offs, nits, snacks and "mum, mum, muuuuuuuummmmmm." 

This morning I discovered my third daughter cutting her hair with a pair of scissors, again. My nights are full of wake ups, feeds and changes. So yeah, I’m in the trenches with you. What that means is that the last thing I want to do is tell you another thing that you’re doing wrong. I know it feels almost impossible in this world to feel like you’re doing enough.

So instead, I’m going to ask you to do less. And the upside of you doing less? Well, it might just keep your kids playing sport. We are so lucky in this county to have such enthusiastic parents signing their children up to sports like soccer, tennis, netball, basketball. In fact, by the age of 12, 70 per cent of Aussie kids are playing sport. As someone, for which sport has played a huge part in my life, this makes me endlessly happy.

Watch: The 6 Types of Sports Parents. Post continues after video.


Video via Mamamia.

It is so wonderful for their mental health. For meeting kids outside of schools, it also gives them a break from screens (it’s pretty difficult to play basketball whilst holding a Nintendo Switch).

But then something starts to happen. Our sport loving tweens turn into teens who are dropping out faster than you can say, “But I’ve just paid the registration fees”. 

This is actually a stage of their life where kids can benefit from sport. It's a time where they deal with more stress at school, more screen time and are navigating tricky friendship issues. To step away at this moment is to step away from one of the best public health initiatives we have. And the behaviour of parents on the sidelines of sport is one of the main reasons kids are stepping away.

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Libby, her daughter Eddie (Edwina) and husband Luke. Image: Supplied.

Parents yelling. Running up and down the sidelines shouting instructions. Shaking their heads when a ball is dropped. Harassing opposition players, arguing with referees and directing coaches. Berating their child when they don’t play well. It’s like some primal switch is flicked and these parents are possessed with the need for their child to be the best and win. It’s ugly, and it’s everywhere you look when it comes to kids' sports.

When I was swimming, I have a very clear memory of one specific "swimming parent" who used to scream wildly during her child’s race. Almost zero control over her behaviour and when her daughter arrived after competing, she would berate her for not doing a personal best, not nailing her turn, for talking too much.

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When I was a child and watching this play out, I didn’t have the words to understand why this was wrong, but every time I saw this woman, I would cringe and was incredibly grateful that she wasn’t my parent. What do you think happened to that little swimmer? That’s right, she dropped out of the sport.

So, I want you to do less. By all means, go to sport. Watch your kids play. But don’t get involved. You don’t need to coach them — that’s the coach’s job. Give the team a clap if they score a goal or win a point, cheer a little if you see great athleticism. And then, say nothing. Watch your child, talk to the other parents, and keep your opinions to yourself.

OR if you think you’ll have a tough time doing that, just don’t go to the event (a strategy that I have already employed from time to time during my parenthood, because I'm not immune to the desire to yell my suggestions to my kid). 

The best way to support your sport-playing teen?

  • Work with them to set up systems to get to training.
  • Help them find social teams that appeal to their level of competitiveness.
  • Support them to find the type of sport that’s right for them.
  • And then — and this is KEY — say less on the sidelines and in the car on the way home.

As Ash Barty, Mick Fanning and Stephanie Gilmore’s mindset coach, Ben Crowe, would say, the best thing you can say to your child on the way home in the car is: 'I love to watch you play.' Those six, simple worlds will foster a completely different conversation about sport, and one that doesn’t see your child walking away.

Libby Trickett is a gold medal winning swimmer who attended three Olympics. She’s a mum to four kids, a cofounder of Play On Media and the co-host of This Glorious Mess.

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