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Parent-Child Communication in Youth Sports

Parents play an essential role in youth sports. How parents communicate with their children might play a key role in encouraging youth to stay in organized sports and receive the benefits youth sports bring.

“Statistics show that 70% of youth drop out of sports by age thirteen.”

Communicating Goals

It is common to see youth drop out of sports by the time they hit their teenage years. Why? Perhaps one reason is parents aren’t communicating effectively with youth. Oftentimes, people communicate with youth athletes based on goals they have set for the youth.2 For example, a parent wanting their youth to play better will yell instructions/tips or a parent wanting their youth just to have fun will yell encouraging words. It's important that parents' and youth’s goals align to prevent any problems or division in relationships. Youth should communicate with their parents what they want to get out of a sport. These goals may include wanting to improve, have fun, build friendships, go on to play in college, etc. Parents need to be willing to listen to the youth and adjust the communication they give from the sidelines accordingly.

Instructing From the Sideline

Even if a youth athlete’s goal is to go to college, parents instructing on how to improve from the sideline still may not be the best approach. This directiveness can add unneeded pressure on the child and can be perceived as controlling in a young child’s mind.3 To prevent this perception and increase your child’s sports enjoyment, replace the instruction with support. Show acceptance and warmth towards your child regardless of the game's outcome. This approach will contribute to your child’s motivation and success, especially when faced with failures.


  • It’s important to communicate about what goals a child has while playing a sport. It’s a parent's job to align their goals with the child’s and communicate accordingly. 
  • Continual instruction from the sideline can damage a child’s youth sport experience. Giving positive support and love to your child can help prevent burnout and better equip them to face failure. 

Questions to Ask Youth Athletes to Improve Communications

  • “Are you having fun?” 
  • “How can I show my support at your games without being overbearing?” i.e. yelling too much at games, giving too much advice or instruction 
  • “Are you happy with the amount of playing time you get or should we look for a new team with better playing opportunities?” 

For a comprehensive scientific summary on this topic, refer to Grimm et al. (2017).
References (Orignal Research)

  1. Visek et al. (2014). J Phys Act Health, 12(3), 424-433. 
  2. Dorsch et al. (2015). Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology, (4)1, 19-35. 
  3. Lee et al. (2006). Eur. J. Phys. Ed., 2, 167-177.