sport parents Vicarious Or Supportive Sport Parents

Do you live through your child or with your child?

best book for sport parentsThis post is an excerpt from the book- Don’t “Should” on Your Kids: Build Their Mental Toughness

Your child is having a great season as the post-season approaches. He or she is worried. He or she asks you the question, “What if I lose?”

What is your response?

Vicarious parents would reply along the lines of, “That’s not going to happen, you’re so good” or “You shouldn’t think that way.” If you’re a mom or dad or guardian who responds this way, you’re likely living directly through your child’s success or failure. You still mean well and love your kid, but you’ve just become too emotionally invested in the results.

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These types of sport parents, unfortunately, lack the perspective to make rational decisions. They live and die with every play and every game. Their child is the best when he or she wins, and they are the worst when they lose.

All or nothing…

  • Vicarious folks are as close as possible physically to every practice as they can be.


  • The Vicarious parent often blames others when important outcomes do not go well.


  • Vicarious parents are the ones comparing their son or daughter to others.


  • Vicarious one’s stress out quickly and easily.


  • Vicarious parents are usually the ones at the games shouting instructions.


  • Vicarious sport parents feel their child’s success is a reflection of themselves.


  • Vicarious parents don’t realize they are living through their child.

The Ultimate Sports Parents Guide: How to Have a Great Athlete in 2019

Supportive parents, on the other hand, answers the opening “What if I lose?” question a different way. They approach along the lines of, “Why do you think that?” or “Let’s walk it through…what if you do lose?”

Supportive mothers and fathers provide an environment that remains safe.

They don’t try to solve their kid’s concerns. They encourage their children to think for themselves, come up with their solutions and handle their outcomes. Home is not a fan base.  Athletes can rest assured that in the house, no matter how they perform, their identity is not just as an athlete. They have unconditional love and support. But, if they do need a house-cleaning service, or regular cleaning service to repair any emotional damage, one is available. Lastly, these children aren’t nagged about their preparation or whether they are nervous before important performances.

  • Supportive sport parents attend from a distance.


  • Supportive parents ensure their son or daughter assumes responsibility, not blaming coaches or situations.


  • Supportive parents stress effort over results.


  • Supportive parents know their son or daughter’s performance is just a shadow of them, not a reflection.


  • Supportive parents make sure they aren’t over the top.


  • Supportive parents are aware of the long-term


  • Supportive parents don’t “should” on their kids.

The Ultimate Sports Parents Guide: How to Have a Great Athlete in 2019

Both types of parents make sacrifices and difficult decisions for their child along the journey. No one questions whether love and support are there.

Unfortunately, these vicarious or supportive labels are not mutually exclusive. We may sometimes be one type of parent with one child and another style with another. It’s possible for the pendulum to swing to both extremes and even for us to live in the middle.

This is about progress, not perfection; we are going to make mistakes, but that is the point of this book- Don’t “should” on Your Kids: Build Their Mental Toughness How can we help our child build mental toughness? How can we become better, more aware parents in the process?

Think about some of the parents of famous athletes and who comes to mind? Was it a parent that stayed behind the scenes or one that sparked controversy?

One of the most successful sports parents produced two number-one overall NFL draft picks, two Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, and two Super Bowl MVPs. Archie Manning said it best, “We just tried to raise good kids and have a good family. I don’t like the perception that it (having the boys play pro football) was a plan.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum, a mother of a collegiate basketball player uttered the words to the head coach when asked about her son’s goals, “My goals are his goals.” Okay, then.

dr rob bell

Dr. Rob Bell is a Sport Psychology Coach. His company DRB & Associates is based in Indianapolis.  Some clients have included: Indy Eleven, University of Notre Dame, Marriott, and Walgreens. Check out all the books.   

Please check out the podcast 15 Minutes of Mental Toughness as we interview expert athletes and coaches about Mental Strength and their Hinge Moment.