Fantastic Idea Alert: Make Youth Sporting Events Parent-Free Zones

by Maria Guido
Originally Published: 

Daniel Pink is an author who uses social science, behavioral science, and lots of research to analyze different aspects of human behavior. His work has been translated into 34 languages. He’s a well-respected thinker, which is probably why a position he’s taking on parents and sports is getting so much publicity this week. Well, that — and the fact that he’s probably right. Here’s his groundbreaking idea:

Keep parents away from their kids’ sporting events.

Sports parents, before you go completely insane, hear him out. He talked to PBS Newshour about the idea, and he makes some very good points.

The idea that parents should be banned from sporting events probably makes your mind immediately wander to that “crazy” parent everyone has experienced at a youth sporting event. Pink describes them as “mothers who sue the league when their precious progeny don’t get enough playing time, or hyper-competitive fathers who got cut from their high school team and are now taking revenge by threatening volunteer referees or barking at preteen girls.” But Pink’s suggestion isn’t inspired by these parents. He thinks the “good parents” are part of the problem, too. He says it’s time for them to “get out of the way.”

He questions why attending our child’s games has somehow become a litmus for how good and involved a parent we are — and whether it’s really good for our kids:

“What few of us well-meaning parents realize, but that any professional athlete will tell you, is that when kids look to us on the sidelines for approval or consolation or even orange slices, part of them is distracted from what really counts, the mastery of something difficult, the obligations to teammates, the game itself.”

Pink says research has shown organized sports inhibit kids’ creativity, but pick-up games actually enhance it. Could that have something to do with the freedom they enjoy when there isn’t a parent-filled audience? He also makes a great point about recalling the actual event: “…at their heart, sports are about stories. If we’re not in the stands, the kid’s on the story. They get to tell us what went well and what didn’t, instead of us telling them from the front seat on the car ride home.”

When did sports become so parent-centric? Why are parents so involved? Will the accomplishment cease to be there if we are not on the sidelines watching it? If it really does inspire more creativity when we step back — can we bring ourselves to do that?

I don’t have children old enough to play organized sports yet, but I do remember being acutely aware of my parents’ presence at my own swim meets. I also remember that their presence wasn’t as common as it seems to be today. They would make it to the “bigger” events: end of the year meets, semi-finals, those kinds of things. They certainly weren’t there to cheer me on for every competition. Come to think of it, no one’s parents were.

Pink thinks a better idea would be for parents to have their own games – simultaneously: “Our kids would get more freedom, we parents would get more exercise, and all of us would remember why we love sports.”

It’s not a bad idea.

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