Why a sports parent martyr complex doesn’t work

By Janis Meredith | Posted 2/22/2017

Sports parenting sometimes brings out the martyr in even the best of moms or dads. As a parent, do you ever play the martyr in your home? Most of the time, parents resort to it because they hope to see a desired response from their kids. However, martyr tactics do not promote a healthy family dynamic.

Perhaps you’ve used these phrases:

"I paid a lot of money for you to play on that team!" (Said to motivate a child to work harder. Or perhaps to remind him or her that you have sacrificed a lot and he or she needs to appreciate you)

"No, it’s okay, I’ll clean your uniform," accompanied by a huge sigh–this will hopefully prompt your kids to jump in and say, "Mom, I will wash my uniform and put it away."

But here’s the unfortunate truth about playing the martyr: sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Even when you think it’s working, it’s still not producing what you want. What you want is for your kids to offer to help on their own, or express gratitude for what you do; what you’re getting is kids that are being trained to perform every time you play the victim.

And when it doesn’t work, you get even more upset because your kids didn’t get the hint.

Playing the martyr as a parent is putting a band-aid on a broken arm. It only treats the surface and doesn’t deal with the heart of the matter. It’s simply not the best way to get your kids to respond and if you want to break the habit, keep these thoughts in mind:

  • People can’t read your mind. Say what you want out loud. Wishful thinking does not solve problems. Good communication involves speaking and listening. A simple conversation can clear up a big misunderstanding. Don’t assume, and don’t expect others to assume.
  • You might be making the problem worse. Ask yourself, “What am I doing that contributes to the problem?” and “what can I do to make the situation better?” For instance, if one of your kids is complaining about how hard practice is and you can only think of how much money you forked out so he or she could play on that team, you may be tempted to go on a rampage about how much you sacrificed so he or she could play, or you may want to throw more money at the problem in hopes of making him or her happy: "would you like a new bat?" "Or how about a new glove?"
  • Perhaps you expressed your frustration, but were ignored. Your responses enabled him or her to continue the behavior. Instead of  buying him or her happiness, or lecturing about your sacrifices, ask him or her why they hate practice. Tell him or her that hard work results in rewards, and that he or she can re-evaluate their decision to play on the team next year. In fact, you probably won’t pay for the opportunity because it appears to you he or she is not enjoying it.
  • Remember to bite your tongue. It takes practice and self-discipline to think about what you are going to say before you say it. When you feel like giving your martyr speech, practice biting your tongue. Think through what you really want to communicate and talk about it in a way that communicates clearly and honestly.


Being a martyr does not make you a bad sports parent; it’s merely an ineffective way to motivate your kids or communicate your need for help. If you’ve given in to the martyr habit, it’s time to stop playing that role; start saying what you really need and teach your child real responsibility.

Janis B. Meredith, sports mom and coach’s wife, writes a sports parenting blog called jbmthinks.com. Her new book 11 Habits for Happy and Positive Sports Parents is on Amazon.

Photo courtesy of Marine Corps Base Hawaii