Help your child deal with anger in youth sports

By Janis Meredith | Posted 4/6/2015

Almost two years ago, this was in the news:

A teenager charged with killing a Utah soccer referee because he didn’t like the man’s call during a game pleaded guilty to a charge of homicide by assault in a case that brought new attention to the issue of violence and sportsmanship in athletics.

This outburst of anger in youth sports is a very extreme example of a very real problem: kids getting angry and expressing it in unhealthy and even harmful ways.

Anger is a normal emotion. Kids get angry on the court or field because they care so much about their sport, or perhaps it’s because they care so much about what it represents to them – acceptance, making their parents proud or gaining recognition.

Whatever the reason, if your child needs help managing his anger in the midst of or after a competitive battle, keep in mind these suggestions:

  • Help him find a healthy way to release anger 

If your child is angry after a loss or poor performance, he may need a way to blow off steam.

After one high school volleyball game when my daughter was extremely frustrated with her performance on the court, we stopped to get something to eat. She opened the car door, said, “I’ll be back” and started running. She ran for 10 minutes and returned to the car, ready to get dinner and return home. Running was her way of releasing anger.

Allow your child to release his frustration and anger in ways that do not harm himself or anyone else. Maybe it’s running. Maybe it’s in the weight room. Or maybe it’s just going into her room and being alone for a while.

  • Address how to handle gametime anger

Hopefully your child’s coach will pull your child out of the game if his anger gets out of control on the playing field. 

This happened to my youngest in a middle school basketball games. She came off the court frustrated, and as she sat down, one of her teammates reached out to slap her hand.  My daughter pulled away in anger, plopping down on the bench. We never said anything to her, but at the next game, we noticed she was not starting as she usually did and, in fact, sat out the whole first half.

After the game, she told us that her coach had disciplined her for how she’d rebuffed her teammate in the previous game. I went up to the coach later and thanked him for teaching our daughter that lesson.

If your child has a problem with anger during a game and the coach is not dealing with it, ask the coach for his help in teaching your child how to deal with sports anger. Perhaps a time out during the game will calm him down and send a message that anger is not the way to win.

  • Give your child anger management tools

Your child needs to know that anger will not solve problems. These are the tools that will help resolve anger issues:

  • Talk about the situation.

Never try to reason with a child who is enraged. After your child has cooled off, look for an opportunity to talk with him and identify the reasons for his anger. Be ready to listen, ask questions, look for solutions and remind your child that he has the option to choose a better response.

  • Get specific help.

After you’ve pinpointed the problem, help your athlete find ways to solve the problem. They may need help in dealing with a selfish teammate, or with their own personal perfectionism.

  • Step back.

Encourage your child to take deep breaths, count to 20 or do whatever it takes for him to slow down and gain some perspective.

Perhaps the most effective tool that your child can use to deal with her anger is your example. It’s a hard task for parents to always be mindful of how they express their anger, but the stakes are too high if you don’t. Showing your child appropriate expressions of anger gives him the resources to handle his anger in a safe and responsible way.

It is true that “A quick-tempered man acts foolishly,” and if we can teach our kids to handle anger in and out of the game, we can keep them from hurting themselves and others. I’m sure the parents of the 17-year-old soccer player wish they’d given their son better tools to deal with his anger. Instead, he’s made a mistake that has changed the course of his life.

Janis B. Meredith, sports mom and coach's wife, writes a sports parenting blog called JBM Thinks. She authored the Sports Parenting Survival Guide Series and has recently launched a podcasting series for sports parents. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter