You’ve most likely heard about the 17-year-old soccer player who was charged with homicide in the death of a Utah referee. He punched a referee in the head during a match and that attack ultimately killed referee Ricardo Portillo.
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:
Anger after a game: let him release
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. Before we could get in the restaurant, she opened the car door, said, “I’ll be back” and started running. She ran for about 10 minutes and returned to the car, ready to get dinner and return home. She didn’t say a whole lot, but at least she was civil. Running was a way for her to release her 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 awhile.
Anger during a game: time-out required
Hopefully your child’s coach is insightful enough to pull your child out of the game if he is exhibiting anger during the competition. When this happens, it is important that you support the coach’s decision.
In one of her middle school basketball games, my youngest came off the court rather frustrated with herself. As she went to sit down, one of her team mates reached out to slap her hand and my daughter pulled away in anger and ignored it, 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 was disciplining her for how she’d angrily rebuffed her team mate 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, I would suggest that you meet with the coach and ask for his help in teaching your child how to deal with sports anger. Ask that he pull the child out of the game to give him a sports time-out. This will give him time to calm down and send a message that anger is not the way to win games.
Anger management: give your child tools
First, you child needs to know that anger will not solve her problem. What will solve her problem is talking about the situation, getting specific help to deal with the cause of the problem, and stepping back to see a broader perspective.
Talking 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 her and identify the reasons for her anger. Be ready to listen, ask questions, look for solutions, and remind your child that she has the option to choose a better response.
Getting 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 team mate, or with their own personal perfectionism.
Stepping 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.
Get my free new report: Sportsparents’ Guide: 55 time & money-saving tips guaranteed to make your life easier. You’ll also get regular sports parenting tips each week and a weekly parenting tip. Sign up here.