Red card for parents who push kids too hard

Swedish poll finds 1 in 3 children had mulled over quitting football due to "over-engaged" parents

LONDON • It is a sight that may make you cringe more than actually seeing - and hearing - a crunching tackle made by a player on another in a sporting arena.

The scene involves parents standing by the sidelines shouting at their children during a game, whether it is football, hockey or tennis.

Yet it happens so often - including in Singapore, where many parents have enrolled their kids in programmes imparting basic skills.

In fact, it sometimes seems harder to find a youth game with well-behaved parents than with misbehaving ones.

At least one country is waving the red card at such unsporting practices, which can deflate a child's enthusiasm in the sport.

In Sweden this year, the main three Stockholm football clubs suspected as much and asked for a survey to find out how prevalent this problem is and, more importantly, how it is affecting the children.

The results were staggering.

It transpired that one in three children had considered quitting the game because of what the survey called "over-engaged" parents.

Of the 1,016 adults who responded to the survey, 83 per cent said they had seen parents pushing their children too much or criticising young referees and officials loudly.

The three Stockholm clubs - Djurgarden, AIK and Hammarby, which had commissioned the survey together with Volkswagen - were appalled by the numbers and decided to blow the whistle.

The clubs do not always see eye to eye, but they joined forces to launch an initiative to tackle the problem. They came up with a short "football code" that they hope will lead to a change in behaviour by adults watching youth football.

The code reads: "I, as a parent, will do everything I can to support my child, other children, club staff, referees and parents in training and at games - through a positive involvement."

The response has been incredible. More than 1,600 parents have signed up to the code and more are doing so by the day.

Parents have also asked the clubs to print the code on T-shirts, so the message can be shared more widely.

Other top-flight clubs in Sweden have expressed an interest in joining the initiative.

The clubs' players were keen to get involved too, with AIK vice-captain Stefan Ishizaki saying: "In a child's sporting environment, joy always has to be the most important thing because, if it is, then they can carry it with them for the rest of their lives. The matches, the tournaments or training sessions where you get to spend time with your friends and do something you love.

"Football is passion. It is joy, sadness and all the emotions in between. Football is the most beautiful thing there is - and that is the way it should stay. So, let us all together make sure that our children get to experience this joy and all these feelings. It is about their memories and their experiences. Not ours."

National and local media picked up the results of the survey, conducted by Survey Sampling International, with the Expressen journalist Patrick Ekwall hitting the nail on the head .

"What is wrong with people?" he wrote. "That is the first question I ask myself when I find out the results of a new survey about footballing parents. What is wrong with adults who shout and yell at their eight-year-old or at a 14-year-old referee in a seven-a-side game?

"They are insane, that is what's wrong."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 23, 2017, with the headline 'Red card for parents who push kids too hard'. Print Edition | Subscribe