4 Reasons That Competition Turns Ugly

By Janis Meredith | Posted 7/8/2019

Competition always evokes emotion. Some athletes and parents don’t necessarily show it but believe me, it’s there! Emotions during youth sports range from excitement to anger and unfortunately, they often hang around to hinder your child’s performance.

Negative emotions can cause your child to lose intensity, get tense in their muscles, have difficulty breathing and drain their energy.

Throughout 22 years of being a sports mom (and now a CrossFit mom whose daughters compete), I’ve observed a few key ways that the emotion of competition turns ugly and often results in an athlete’s performance spiraling.

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Athletes who compare themselves to other players (and parents who compare themselves to other parents!!) are doing it for one of two reasons: pride or jealousy. Neither one will help your child improve and will instead eat them up on the inside.

Pride results in selfish play; the-I’m better-than-you-so-I will-take-most-of-the-shots attitude that only causes discord on the team. Jealousy results in the you-think-you’re-so-good-and-it-makes-me-mad attitude which also results in disharmony among teammates.

Criticism and Complaining

Quite honestly, I think kids learn this from their parents. If Mom and Dad are complaining about the coach or other players at home, it causes a critical spirit to grow in the children.

Criticism and complaining are born out of frustration that things are not going the way you think they should. Competitive emotions are a breeding ground for the you-are-not-doing-things-the-way-I-think-you-should attitude. Whether it’s armchair quarterbacking by a parent, or players disagreeing with the coach and thinking they could do it better–remember that it’s the coward’s way to criticize and aggravate the problem instead of striving to create a solution.


The need for control can spur an athlete to take over a game and forget about teamwork. No one likes to feel out of control. But when that fear leads you or your child to try to forcefully take control over a situation that really is not up to them, it can get ugly.

That parent who cannot stand to watch their child sit the bench tries to take control by attacking the coach. That athlete who has a hard time playing a position they didn’t desire tries to take control by threatening to quit the team if they can’t play where they want.

The honest truth is that in life there are certain things you simply cannot control. When you learn what they are and how to let them go, you will be a much happier person.

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I believe that expectations can become dysfunctional when coaches and parents place them on athletes and those athletes cannot measure up.

Of course, there are reasonable expectations: I expect you to play your best. I expect you to be a team player. I expect you to work hard.

But when expectations become too demanding, they create fear in an athlete: I expect you to be the best player on the team. I expect you to get a college scholarship. I expect you to make the all-star team.

The difference between the two? The reasonable expectations focus on effort and attitude. The unreasonable expectations focus only on outcome.

The best way to resolve the expectation issue is for parents and athletes to express their expectations to each other and decide which ones are reasonable and worth keeping.

Janis Meredith is a family coach who wants to help all parents raise champions. You can find out more at rcfamilies.com.