Rage on the Sidelines; Study Links Driving, Sports Anger

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 5, 2008 | Go to article overview

Rage on the Sidelines; Study Links Driving, Sports Anger


Byline: Karen Goldberg Goff, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

See that guy in front of you in traffic, ranting at the slow drivers? Better hope your kids are not on the same soccer team. Even better, hope it's not you.

Jay Goldstein, a researcher at the University of Maryland, says that if you have a tendency to become upset while driving, you are more likely to be the kind of parent who explodes in anger at your children's sporting events.

The study, which appeared in June's Journal of Applied Social Psychology, found that ego defensiveness, one of the triggers that ignites road rage, also kicks off parental sideline rage, and that a parent with a control-oriented personality is more likely to react to that trigger by becoming angry and aggressive.

Mr. Goldstein surveyed Washington-area parents at youth soccer games and found that parents became angry when their ego got in the way.

More than half of the 340 parents Mr. Goldstein interviewed admitted getting angry during a game. Of that number, more than one-third said their anger was directed toward the referee. Most parents who reported getting angry said they were only slightly angry for less than two minutes, while about 40 percent reported responding to their anger with actions that ranged from muttering to themselves to yelling and walking toward the field.

This comes as no great surprise to anyone who has witnessed a game, Mr. Goldstein says. But a more disturbing fact is that more than a quarter said their anger was directed at a child or the team. When they perceived something that happened during the game to be personally directed at them or their child, they got angry. That's consistent with findings on road rage.

Obviously, certain personality types have a quicker trigger than others, whether it is in traffic, at the workplace, in the home or on the sidelines, Mr. Goldstein says. The Type-A personalities - the kind that line Washington's power corridors - are more likely to take things personally and flare up at referees, players, even their own child.

Control-oriented people are the kind who try to 'keep up with the Joneses,'" Mr. Goldstein says. They have a harder time controlling their reactions. They more quickly become one of 'those' parents than the parents who are able to separate their ego from their kids and events on the field.

However, Mr. Goldstein says, even autonomy-oriented parents get angry, and when they do, ego defensiveness is the trigger.

No personality is really free, he says. It just takes calmer people longer to get there. While they're more able to control it, once they react to the psychological trigger, the train has already left the station.

An increasing trend

Mr. Goldstein has been involved with youth sports leagues for nearly two decades as a promoter, and now a researcher. During that time, he has noticed the changing landscape. Youth leagues for many kinds of sports - hockey, baseball, soccer and football, among them - are no longer just weekend recreation activities. Children are getting involved in sports earlier and playing on select teams where more is riding on the child's performance. As the stakes get higher, parental emotions get testier. One only needs to look to news reports of fistfights between dads in the stands or check the number of books on the subject to see this trend.

We now know that this is an issue, Mr. Goldstein says. We read about the brawls, but what is really going on? How is this impacting the kids? I have to believe we will see some detrimental impact on them.

Baseball legend Cal Ripken Jr. says in his 2006 book Parenting Young Athletes the Ripken Way, that parents on the sidelines should think of themselves as older and wiser and remove themselves from the emotional aspects of the game - if possible. …

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