Stop for a moment and watch the below.

Just this year alone we have seen the following headlines in the news:

It is hard to say whether this is an indication that there is more abuse happening, the level of abuse is getting worse, or simply, we are now more aware of it. But, what we do know is that unfortunately, a disturbing number of referees are hanging up their whistle and leaving their sport for good, with abuse being a contributing factor. Between 2015 and 2016, Auckland Football Federation lost 17% of their referees, and recruitment of new referees was down 28%. Without referees, there is no game, there is no sport.

Short Term vs Long Term Solutions
No doubt you’ve seen the tactics used to stamp sideline abuse; positioning coaches behind goal lines, sandwich boards, or the policing of parents and supporters up and down the sidelines.

These “carrot or stick” approaches to addressing the issue focus on punishing negative behaviours and rewarding positive behaviours, with the emphasis often being placed on the former.

Though these types of tactics can work and they have their place, they are often a short-term solution as when the carrot or stick is removed, unfortunately the negative behaviour is most likely to return.

Why? Because it is beliefs and attitudes that guide behaviour in the first place. When we can identify and understand our own underlying beliefs and attitudes towards children’s sport and acknowledge there may be issues, we can then re-frame them to unlock a more positive mode of behaviour.

What Are Your Beliefs & Attitudes?
Think about your kid’s sport.

  • Is it important that they focus on winning and losing? Should mistakes be avoided and immediately corrected? Do you have a win at all costs attitude?
  • When it comes to team selections do only the best matter?
  • Is there strict adult control? Do the adults make all the decisions? Are the kids ideas and feelings ignored?
  • Are trainings centred on repetitive drills, direct instruction and punishment?

If you’ve answered yes to the majority of these questions, it is highly likely that in regards to children’s sport, your beliefs and attitudes are performance focused and that you will display behaviours that have an ultimate focus on the outcome.

Our experience, in combination with a review of  research into motivation and youth sports, shows that when parents’ and coaches’ beliefs are too focused on performance (and in particular, performance outcomes), they tend to display negative behaviours that can set them up to abuse referees. This makes sense if you consider how the desire to win at all costs might drive a parent or coach to try and influence a sports game, by trying to sway or challenge a referee’s call in order to advantage their child or players.


  • Do you believe children’s sport is about effort and improvement and that mistakes are necessary for growth?
  • Do you praise them for effort and trying new things?
  • Do you believe everyone matters, that all players are valued as important?
  • Do you allow the kids to lead decisions and give them time to make mistakes? Do you recognise their ideas and feelings?
  • Are training sessions focused on learning through play where enjoyment is the key and there is a discovery approach plus a healthy desire to compete?
  • Do you encourage your children to try out multiple sports? Is sport balanced with school and friends?  Do you believe that a single sport focus is best after your child has sampled a variety of sports?

If so, your beliefs and attitudes are in line with a development focus for children’s sport and you will tend to demonstrate behaviours that have an ultimate focus on the process of improvement and enjoyment, enabling the child to feel inspired, connected and empowered.

When parents and coaches’ belief systems are centred around development, they are more likely to display behaviours that have a positive impact on children’s sporting experiences. Even when a referee’s call goes against their child or players, parents and coaches with a development focus, can frame the situation into a lesson for their kids and keep perspective. For example, they will remind their child/player to focus on what they can control, that they can’t change a referee’s decision, and trying to means wasted energy and focus from the game at hand.

Why does it matter?

The environment we create in youth sport can have lasting effects on the experience a child has with sport and their continual participation. The benefits of participation in sport range from enhancing long-term mental and physical health, learning social skills, improving motor skills to those things children themselves already recognise like enjoying themselves and making friends.

There are many flow-on effects for the family and community; from the experience mums and dads share with their children to the overall value of a healthier population. This only happens if kids continue to play sport, so focusing on creating positive fun sporting environments is crucial to keeping them active for longer and ensuring better long-term results for them and the community.

And yes, centering the junior sport experience around a fun and positive experience even has long-term benefits for the small percentage of kids who eventually transition into elite sport.

The Good Sports Spine

Have a look at our Good Sports Spine, a tool we’ve created to help adults in children’s sport understand how they impact a child’s sporting experience and ultimately help adults help kids fall in love with sport for life.