Children’s Sports Etiquette

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As parents, sometimes we get so busy that we don’t stop and consider if we are modeling gracious behavior to our children. Today I am broaching the subject of children’s sports etiquette and sharing an eye-opening letter from a reader.

Our girls have played soccer and my husband has coached them a few seasons so I can speak to the issue of children’s sports etiquette a little bit. But I want to share an email from a reader named Jennifer, whose husband coaches many of her boys’ teams sports. Her thoughts encompass so many of the issues surrounding team sports that I wanted to share before I get into my “etiquette” tips:

“Dear Lee,

My hubby coaches every team that my boys are on, and it has been such a shock to me to see how unappreciative most of the other parents are! I think part of it is that they just don’t realize how much the coaches have to put into it. My husband spends countless hours in coaches meetings, sending and responding to emails, organizing practice schedules, putting together line-ups, etc. It is SO MUCH MORE than just the time spent coaching games – which would be a ton of work by itself! Not to mention, we spend so much money every season on supplies and equipment. (I think parents just assume that these things are provided by the facility.) For some sports, our family even pays for the trophies at the end of the season. It would mean so much if some of the other parents would offer to help pay for some of these things, or at least to say thank you.

“At the end of each season I am just always so surprised at the number of parents who don’t even say thank you to my husband. He always sends a final email to the parents at the end of the season just thanking them for letting him coach their kids and reiterating what a great season the team had, and rarely does he get even one response from a parent. It’s crazy to me, because many of these people are our friends, and oftentimes their kids go to school with ours! 

“And it’s not just that parents don’t go out of their way to say thanks, some parents can actually be really rude to the coach. This is less common than just the unappreciative attitudes, but my husband has gotten several comments from parents about why he played their kid in this certain position, why ran a certain play, etc. I just wish people would realize that he is just another busy parent, just like they are, and he volunteers his time to coach their kids. I see how much he agonizes over every decision as a coach, from what position to assign to each child to when to hold practices so that they don’t interfere too much with everyone’s schedules.It’s always so hard for me to hear stuff like that and not respond to those people unkindly myself, but my husband is always gracious and holds his tongue!

Also, I definitely have to mention that many of the other coaches and parents can act like lunatics over winning and losing. I have seen coaches get kicked out of games for arguing with refs (who are volunteers!), I have heard parents yelling at opposing coaches or refs/umps, and I’ve even heard parents heckling other KIDS. Some of the parents just turn into different people when their kids are on the field or the court….”

Wow. Thank you, Jennifer, for your letter and observations. I hope it opens some eyes of parents who did not realize how much our volunteer coaches do!

Now while I can’t help the lunatic sports parents out there, I can suggest a few ways to help us alway be mindful of others, and always gracious, in this world of children’s sports. Here are seven tips:

1.Teach your Child to Thank the Coach After Every Game

This is something we saw being practiced by the parents of the other children on our oldest daughter’s first soccer team. Before we make a mad dash for the car after a game, we try to make sure our daughter goes up to the coach, looks him in the eye, and thanks him for the coaching the game. For children that are going to play sports throughout their school years, this is a great habit of humility and gratitude to begin practicing when they are young.

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2. Model good behavior on the sidelines and at home. 

I know this is an obvious one, but it has to be said. Children are listening even if we don’t think they are! So if we say something negative about a coach or another player, they are sure to be repeating those same kinds of statements on the field, on the bench, or at school. In my experience, there is a clear correlation between the children’s’ attitude on the field and that of their parents on the sideline. I won’t share any personal stories, but I will say I have been shocked at how some of the mothers of children on opposing team have behaved on the sidelines.

3. Teach them to lose graciously.

Losing is hard. But losing with a bad attitude (stomping feet, throwing things) is just uncouth. Parents that act that way most likely did so as children and their parents just never put a stop to it. So definitely nip that kind of behavior in the bud. (Maybe you sports moms can comment below some ideas for how children can vent while still being appropriate!)

4. Show them great models of good sportsmanship.

Find someone in the professional world or even high school or college who you can show them, “Hey, this is what it looks like to fail with honor or this is how you have integrity in sports.” Jordan Speith is a great example right now. There are many others. Study up on sports history. Check out a biography at the library of a great sports hero. There are some great documentaries out there. (If you have any books/movies you recommend, please share below!).

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Image: Marcin Milewski

5. Offer to let the coach borrow any equipment if you have some to share or even offer to pitch in if something is needed.

6. Offer to chip in for end of season gifts, party, or trophies.

If you are a coach, I think it is absolutely okay to email parents asking for $5-10 to cover the cost if it is not included in the children’s registration fees. Again, parents are usually willing to chip in if they are just asked!

If you are a parent, it is nice to inquire if that is something you can help with. Even offer to go pick them up if needed.

7. A thank you gift for the coach is nice, but definitely send and email or note of thanks!

Gift certificates to dinner are great. Or a Yeti Rambler. But something from the team to say we appreciate all you did. You may have to be the one who steps up and organizes it. If nothing else, though, send a thank you note or email. (If your children can write, have them hand-write a note.) I promise, it is much appreciated!


One word about trophy etiquette. I know that is a hot topic right now  – whether or not children should receive participation trophies because that is not real life. Honestly, I kind of agree with that. Everybody is not a winner in life.

But I also know how I much my children, at four 4 and 5 years old, loved receiving a trophy or medal (or one time a mini soccer ball!) at the end of the season. For us, it was more of a memento to remember the experience.

So two thoughts on this: If you don’t want to do participation trophies, consider a memento for them to remember how hard they worked and their commitment. (I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that!!) A framed team picture, a charm for their bracelet (for girls!), a photo button to put on their bulletin board. Even a participation certificate printed for the internet!

The other thought I wanted to share is that there is a dad/coach in our children’s school that allows participation trophies in pre-school/kindergarten. But as soon as the children reach second or third grade, when they are really doing sports because they like them and want to be there, they are given an inspiring speech about winning and losing and it is made clear that they will only get trophies if they win the season. So that’s a reasonable happy middle in my opinion.

Please comment below any thoughts or tips you have on making this crazy world of children’s sports more civil (or share any crazy stories – people like those!). I want to have a really good children’s sport etiquette post that people can refer back to so would love your thoughts.

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