«In Estonia’s sports fields and halls, such behaviour is a daily thing,» admits Aave Hannus, senior sports psychology research fellow and teacher at University of Tartu. «Naturally, the parents want what’s best for their children, but they just cannot cope with the situation. Seeing their little ones compete, they are overwhelmed with the feeling of being out of control and helpless. They would like to help the child, but have no idea how to do it.»
The problem has many facets and touches youth in every age group. As explained by Ms Hannus, till the age of 15 a kid mainly trains to play and to develop. Abstract thinking begins to be formed starting age of 11 which means that before that a kid cannot get total clarity about the win/lose ratio. «They cannot understand that in sports the result is not under their control. A lot depends on opponents, and at least half of participants end up as losers anyway.» Often, the grown-ups on the bleachers fail to get it as well.
Present at the competition, parents frequently miss what must be happening in a child’s head. They cuss out referees, the other team, other kids and their parents. Not unusually, verbal violence evolves into physical. Sad, of course, if for that reason the kid wishes to leave the training sessions. Meanwhile, a veteran fencing coach Igor Tšikinjov beholds the bigger picture. «Do these parents really want their offspring to grow up to be such aggressive idiots as they are?» as the man with 33 years as coach under his belt.
Trust the keyword
Having at times threatened to throw the parents out the hall, Mr Tšikinjov realises this isn’t the solution. «But what do we do when a fight breaks out? I think the people behaving like that during kids’ competitions are mentally ill and should not be there. Humans must be humans and not turn into beasts. Will we end up having this cage at zoo labelled «aggressive father»? This is absurd,» bemoaned Mr Tšikinjov, currently coaching Estonian male epee team. .
«Trust must be the keyword. As the kid is given under the care of the coach, it cannot be half way. The coach must be trusted, and then the problems would vanish, too. Nobody is saying that parents must stay away from trainings and competitions. Rather, we must emphasise that their cooperation with coaches improve. We must have a common goal,» he continued.
Both Mr Tšikinjov and Ms Hannus are convinced that coaches, clubs and sports federations are to educate parents even better then thus far. A trainer of coaches in Estonian Football Association, Jan Harend also coaches kids in Saku and affirms that all rests on constructive communication between parties involved. «The coaches surely need to deal with the problem, but they cannot be left standing alone. Sports clubs must have their men covering their backs. A club must make itself heard and send the parents a clear message of what is allowed and what is not,» reasons Mr Harend.
As a coach of the younger generation, these recent years he has detected obvious improvements, at football fields at least. «I haven’t been at this job for long – since 2009 –, but still there has been a massive positive development. Which naturally will not mean that the problem no longer exists.» As a means for raising parental awareness, Mr Harend is guiding people to the lowest level coach training offered for free by the football association. There, the parents are able to see the problem from a slightly differing angle.
Win can’t be priority
One mom or dad unable to manage their emotions is all it takes. All others may merrily squeal and be all encouragement, but the cussing of referee or kids by a single grown-up will immediately create a situation which simply unglues the youths who are playing. «Parents need to realise they are not the enemies of any of these kids doing sports. Actually, one must cooperate with the children and try to understand them. Winning cannot be priority. In all developed nations they stress the development, not the numbers on the scoreboard,» says Ms Hannus.
By experience, Mr Tšikinjov knows educating parents is hard. «I have held meetings for parents where I explain my philosophy – why, how, and when I do what. Still, during 33 years, very rarely have I seen situations where a child, his mother and father and the coach do decent cooperation.»
He says it becomes especially complex at ages 15–16 when the kids gradually get into real sports and think about the career. «By then, the parents have been attending training sessions for years and see themselves as experts. As they often pay the coach’s salary, the hierarchy gets even more of a mess. There comes a point where the youth will no longer understand whose instructions he needs to heed: his world champion father or his world champions raising coach?»
Continues the experienced Mr Tšikinjov: «Sports need no additional injections of aggressiveness, it has enough. What happens at competitions is like a small model of our society. We know we need to follow rules but still there are some coaches who teach the kids to cheat. In some places, however, sportsmen are being raised who honour fair play. Life and sports are round. There’s no safe and secure recipe to mend all things, we all make mistakes and grow.»
Ms Hannus ads a piece of advice on what to ask a kid after competitions. «What did you do well today? What new thing did you learn today?» she suggests. «Even before heading to the game or training session, check the equipment with the kid and create good emotions. Main thing, avoid stirring tensions.»