The Matheny Manifesto: How Parents are Ruining Youth Sports

This post was inspired by The Matheny Manifesto by Mike Matheny. St. Louis Cardinals manager Matheny shares his tough-love philosophy for children’s team sports that translate to everyday life. Join From Left to Write on February 12th as we discuss The Matheny Manifesto. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.


I know that my title seems a bit harsh, but I think it is 100% true. I am not saying that ALL parents are ruining youth sports, but I think a large amount of parents are doing more harm than good when it comes to youth sports.

“That set the tone for hockey. Every game we went to, parents were yelling. They yelled at their own kids. They yelled at the other team. They yelled at the coaches. They yelled at the referees. I wanted nothing to do with all of that.”

-The Matheny Manifesto

Nick and I used to always joke around (prior to having children) that if our children played organized sports that I wouldn’t be allowed to attend any games because I have a short temper and a loud mouth.  Now that we have one child and another on the way my opinions have vastly changed. Part of my opinions had changed because of how I felt about being a parent, but there is a part of my mind that has been changed because of this book.

Growing up I played soccer in the fall, spring, and summer. Practices were attended by parents, but the basically associated with each other, and weren’t scrutinizing the coaches. During games they would cheer, but I don’t remember much booing or yelling. Now, our soccer team wasn’t exactly state competition level, but my sister was on the Field Hockey team that won states year after year, in fact they won all 4 years that I was in high school. I wasn’t at the practices, but I went to a fair amount of home games and I remember cheering and encouragement from parents, but again, not really a lot of yelling.

In between being in youth and teen sports and becoming a parent I feel like SO MUCH has changed. I have witnessed parents screaming and yelling at other parents, players, umps, refs, etc… at games AND practices. What’s just as bad is the parent who singles out their child shouting words of encouragement during a game or practice. These types of behaviors make the child feel incredible amounts of pressure to perform and succeed, and if they don’t…I can’t imagine how they would feel, probably like they let down not only the coach and the team but their parent(s) as well.

I think there are other factors at play as well, and Matheny talks about these in length in his book, one of the major ones is parents going behind the childs back and asking the coach “why isn’t my child playing this position?”, “why isn’t my child a starter?”, “why doesn’t my child get as much playing time as x,y, and z?” “my son/daughter is the best, why do you let the other kids hit so much?”, you get the idea. If we want our kids to respect coaches and figures of authority then as parents we also need to do that. Our actions speak much louder than our words, and frankly I would be mortified if I found out my parents spoke to my coach like that behind my back.

Another factor is trying to make your child a one sport superstar when they are very young. I have always said I would let my child do what ever they want to do, and if they didn’t like it then they would finish out the season, out of respect to their teammates, but they don’t have to go back to the sport or activity. On the flip side, parents see that their child is excelling at one activity and they push them to become better, even to the point of burn out. A lot of professional athletes participated in multiple sports, even in high school, and it helped them not burn out and to become great team players.

I am not saying I am the perfect parent, and I have it all figured out. I have a hard time observing from the sidelines during B’s soccer and swim practices and not saying “you’re doing great” and other encouraging behavior. I know that I do need to real it in especially if my children want to participate in youth sports in the future.

The best thing I can do for my children? Be 100% supportive, respect the coach, teammates and other parents. Let my children have fun and enjoy what they are doing.

If you have a child in youth sports, I highly recommend reading this book!

Do you agree or disagree, are parents ruining youth sports?

11 thoughts on “The Matheny Manifesto: How Parents are Ruining Youth Sports

  1. Such an important topic! I have two kids in a variety of sports, but both play travel soccer. While I will say I haven’t witnessed terrible sideline behavior (yet?) I have seen tons of parents who push their kids, bribe their kids for goals, etc, and hound the coaches when the team isn’t winning. I hate it and I think that it sets a terrible example for the kids. Like you said, things are SO different from when I was younger and I’m not sure exactly what happened in the interim. Sounds like a great read!

    • You should definitely check it out. I have my theories about how/why it happened, mostly stem to my teaching middle and high school. There is so much more expectation on the teacher, coach, etc… now but I think that is a post for another day ;)

  2. I’ve sat through more Little League games than I care to remember and I can tell you I’ve seen just about all of what you’re talking about at one time or another. At the same time, MOST of the parents are cool, supportive of the coach and the team, and just like you are saying you are trying to be. So that’s the good news – that good behavior does exist out there. Sadly it’s those one or two parents that ruin it all for the rest of it (and when you’re louder than all the rest, you stand out more than all the rest). Wouldn’t it be great if ALL sports parents had to read this book? Maybe that would help – hmm.

  3. Since I do not have children and don’t attend youth sporting events, I cannot really share my two cents on that, however I don’t really recall parents attending many of the sporting events I was ever in when I was younger – in fact my parents NEVER came to anything I was in, ha, so I didn’t have to worry about them! And you know what? I am completely okay with that.

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