Study: How sideline sports behavior affects young athletes

February 13, 2024 / Athletic AdministrationCoaching
For children’s sports, there’s no doubt that parents are essential – they’re the free ferry service, the half-time orange supplier, and the local cheer squad. But when it comes to sideline behavior, some parents can behave badly, and when this happens it’s often a case of ‘monkey see, monkey do’.

In a new study from the University of South Australia, researchers found a link between parents’ sideline conduct and athletes’ behaviours.

sidelineWhen parents behaved well – applauding good play, encouraging players, and enjoying the game – their child was more likely to project positive behavior. But the more a parent behaved poorly – being overly critical, second-guessing the referee, or yelling abuse – this was related to greater antisocial behaviors in their child.

In Australia, about 13 million adults and 3 million children take part in sport each year.

The study assessed the perceptions of 67 Australian youth athletes (aged 12-17 years) participating in team-based sports. Athletes were asked to report their parents’ positive and negative sideline behaviour, as well as reflect on their own sporting behaviours.

Specifically, the study assessed five negative behaviors. It found that:

  • 32% of participants reported never seeing any negative behaviors from their parents.
  • 69% reported some form of negative behaviour from their parents (even if rarely).
  • 18% said their parents sometimes or often said bad things about the way they played.
  • 17% said their parents sometimes too very often yelled at the referee during the game after a bad call was made.

    UniSA’s Dr. Alyson Crozier says parents’ sideline actions can predict children’s on-field sports behaviors.

“Most parents are role models for their children, with children looking to their parents to learn about acceptable behavior. So, it’s natural for them to copy the behaviours they observe,” Dr Crozier says.

“In our research, we found that when a player perceives positive support from a parent, the player also reported having positive sports attitudes and behaviours. Yet, when a parent engages in antisocial behaviors, their child will more likely behave similarly, potentially as frustration and aggression to their teammates and opponents.

“Encouragingly, most players in this study reported frequent positive parent behaviours, and negative parent behaviours as rare.”

Dr. Crozier says that good sportsmanship is the cornerstone of a positive sports experience.

“Children get far more enjoyment from playing sport when a parent is present, encouraging, and supportive. Such behaviours also help build a child’s self-esteem, and improve their life skills and wellbeing,” Dr Crozier says.

“Yet poor parent behaviours can reduce a player’s confidence and damage their emotional and physiological wellbeing. In some cases, they can even lead to a child withdrawing from a sport altogether.

“Sport is an important part of life in Australia. If we can encourage respect, sportsmanship, and fun, we can ensure that sport continues to be a positive experience for everyone.”

This study was conducted by Dr. Alyson Crozier, Dr. Margarita Tsiros, and Liam McCabe. It can be accessed here: