Sideline abuse and the parent-coach connection | Club Respect Sideline abuse and the parent-coach connection | Club Respect

Sideline abuse and the parent-coach connection

In each fortnightly episode of Smart Plays, Tarik and special guests will be tackling difficult social issues in sport and exploring our capacity for positive social change. Today, we’re excited to share our interview with Julia Walsh, a leading academic in sports culture and high-performance environments.

Check out the episode to hear Julia talk about the challenges for parents and coaches that often leads to sideline abuse and how clubs can invest in the coach and parent experience

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Parents and guardians play a crucial volunteer role in making sure grassroots sport takes place. Being the transporter, supporter, spectator, counselor, officiator and educator.

Coaches are the custodians of club values, influences on the cold face and the behavioral role models for players for better or worse.

Strong and clear communication between these critical players in the sport ecosystem is too valuable to ignore and with an increase in the entertainment options available to modern kids, participating in community sport cannot be taken for granted.

Key takeaways

“Parents will make decisions whether their child invests and stays in the club. So when it comes to bad behavior, my first advice for the presidents would be to hold up the mirror, hold up the mirror to themselves and the club and think about what they’ve got in place. Have they got their processes and their policies in place and are they visible? What are the expectations and have they been communicated as the first step?

And then I think depending on the club, depending on the resources, it’s what can they put in place? And what do they wanna put in place? Is it going to be something to prevent or is it going be something that’s more punitive in that if this behavior happens, this is what we’re gonna do with it, but it’s very clear, the policy’s there.

It’s all connected to the code of conduct. So the communication is out there. But whatever it is that that does need to be a whole of club approach.” – Julia Walsh

Here are some of the lessons learned throughout the episode:

  • Aggressive parenting isn’t necessarily on the rise, but more that we’re now more aware of these abusive behaviours.
  • Parents are the hidden force of grassroots support and need to be nurtured and engaged.
  • Parent triggers of abuse are when they believe an experience or moment to be: Unjust, Uncaring or Incompetent.

Notable moments

Short on time? Check out some of our favourite moments during this interview between Tarik and Julia.

3:47 – Aggressive parenting on the rise? 

Every week our media highlights unsavoury sporting incidents that triggers the question — is this who we really are and is this the example we want to set our kids? Julia believes that we are much more aware of these behaviors now rather than an increase in numbers and the type of things that they’re impacting such as officiating.

5:06 – Parents: the hidden force of grassroots sport

Parents often get a bad rap, but they’re also the hidden force of grassroots sport. Why are they so important? Julia knows – they pretty much run the show and decide on the future and direction of all youth/junior sport. This volunteer workforce makes sport available for kids and beyond.

7:16 – Unjust, uncaring and incompetent…

Whether it’s the truth or merely perception, parents will often be triggered by 3 themes: Their experience is “unjust”, “uncaring” or that someone else is “incompetent”. Providing clarity to parents will reduce the incidents of these triggers.

18:06 – The heat of the moment

An argument kicks off on the sidelines between parents… would you know what to do as a coach as a representative of your club? Julia laments that she’s yet to see a coaching certification that spends a block of time helping coaches have a difficult conversation.

20:00 – Key Tips to improve the parent-coach connection 

We converted Julia’s list to 8 key tips to improve the parent and coach connection. Julia gave a short summary for each of these tips:

  • #1: Early accountability.
  • #2: Sport education.
  • #3: Communication process.
  • #4: Display club values, and code of conduct publicly.
  • #5: Code of conduct.
  • #6: Positive parent-coach relationship.
  • #7: Receiving feedback.
  • #8: Celebrating success.

29:04 – What can clubs do?

The ultimate question. Engaging with parents and providing clarity are the key. A code of conduct is important but it’s how you communicate this and have it adopted over time that will set the culture and expectations amongst parents.


We covered a lot in this episode! But, here are some notable links:

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