Archive for the ‘Abusive Sports Parents’ Category

ABUSIVE SPORTS PARENTS: Why Don’t Parents Trust HS Coaches More?

On this morning’s show on WFAN, now that our kids are all back to school, and all of the fall school sports programs are in full practice and games, I wanted to spend some time talking about HS coaches. And specifically, just how complicated coaching kids in school has become in recent years.

That is, I want to remind parents that being a HS coach these days is a lot different from when they were growing up in school, and that, once I review some of the responsibilities and pressures that coaches have to confront, well, I’m hoping that  today’s Moms and Dads might have a moment to reflect on just how tough these jobs are.

But in thinking about the overall relationship between coaches and our kids, I think the overriding and pressing question is this:

As sports parents, why don’t we trust our kids’ coaches more?

Now, I recognize that’s a very bold and accusatory question. But the truth is, for too many sports parents, there’s a general uneasiness or wariness that our kids’ HS coaches are somehow not doing a good enough job, or that they are not sharing our own perspective on how talented your kid is, or that even the HS coach places too much emphasis on the team’s success and can jeopardize your kid’s health in order to win.

These are serious concerns, to be sure. But based upon the outreach of calls this AM, this is a topic of pressing interest, especially from coaches. In fact, let’s go over a job description for a typical HS coach:

1. Coaches have to organize every practice session…have to spend time preparing game plans for the upcoming opponent….have to, in many cases, read scouting reports of the opposing teams, or spend copious amounts of time watching videotape of opponents as well as of their own players.

2 -They of course have to be with their athletes at all of the practices and games or events…which usually is after school hours or on weekends…

3 – They have to know the rules of their sport intimately as well as recent rule changes..they have to know the various game strategies….they have to know the basics of first aid, such as CPR, concussion protocol, and so on.

4  -They have to not only get to know each of their athletes well, but they also have to literally teach, or coach, each kid on the finer points of their game. That’s the essence of coaching.

5- Along those lines, the coach needs to develop a kind of rapport with each youngster, as in, some kids need to be given total positive feedback, others respond better to sharp criticism, and so on. It’s up to the coach to learn how to handle each youngster’s psyche.

6-And coaches have to remind their players about good sportsmanship and then enforce it….remind players about adhering to the school’s Code of Conduct…remind them constantly about the dangers of social media….remind them to keep their studies in order and in good shape.

7-And of course, the coach is constantly evaluating the kid’s talents on a daily basis…as in, do I have the best kids as starters? Are they playing the right positions? Or are there other kids on the team that I have overlooked? Do some of these kids perform better in game situations than in practice?

8-And yes…there’s one more thing on the coach’s docket….his team is supposed to win…maybe not necessarily a league championship every year, but certainly be over .500.

9- The coaching salary? For all of this hard and endless work, maybe the coach earns a few thousand dollars for the season. Maybe a little more, maybe a little less. But certainly HS coaches are not making the kinds of extraordinary salaries that college coaches earn.

In short, you would be hard pressed to come up with a “part-time” job that is more time-consuming or more demanding than being a HS coach.

“IF I TELL YOU THE TRUTH ABOUT YOUR KID, WILL WE STILL BE FRIENDS?”

One of the callers today, who is a long-time HS coach, said this question is at the core of every coach/parent interaction. That is, coaches are hired to be objective about each kid’s talent, and rarely does the involved sports parent see his or her child in the same way as the coach. And that’s where the problems begin. Several coaches noted today that parents are so invested with their athlete’s progress, e.g. travel team play, travel team coaches telling kids and their parents how much progress they have made, how  they could play in college, and so on that what that kid tries out for the varsity and finds him or herself not even starting or having to share time, this is where the friction begins.

So if a coach tells a parent the truth about an athlete — he’s not as fast as you think, or he’s not as gifted, or there are better players on the team – that’s when parents see red and any sense of trust in the coach immediately evaporates. And that, said several callers, is when the troubles begin. Even worse, when parents see red, it is very, very hard to get them to calm down or to try and see the athlete’s talents from the coach’s perspective.

And as one coach remarked, “What the individual parent doesn’t seem to realize that even though his kid played AAU ball all summer and improved their skills, so did most of the other kids on the basketball team  — and they all improved. As such, they ALL come into practice expecting – along with their parents – that they are going to be stars. And of course, that just can’t happen.”

In sum, this is where we are these days. And for any HS coach, it just gets tougher and tougher.

 

ABUSIVE SPORTS PARENTS: HS Baseball Player Sues Coach Due to Lack of Playing Time

Every so often, something so bizarre pops up in the world of sports parenting that I just feel compelled to present it to you.

And this week something came across my desk that I thought was quite distressing.

About a week or so ago, it was revealed that out in California, a HS baseball player and his parents are suing the boy’s varsity coach because the coach wasn’t playing him.

That’s right….a lawsuit based on a youngster’s lack of playing time. The lawsuit claims that the player became a victim of harassment and bullying by the coach because the coach wouldn’t play him.  The youngster and his parents are looking for $150,000 in damages.

Here’s the story.

Out at Los Altos HS, Robbie Lopez was a three-year starter on his HS team. But during his senior year this past season, the head coach – Gabriel Lopez, but no relation to the kid – didn’t play him at all.

Now, the details are very sketchy, but the boy and his father claim that the coach was, in effect, bullying and harassing the kid mainly because the boy had refused to play in a fund-raising game earlier in the season. Why the boy didn’t play in that fundraiser is not known. But somewhere along the line, the Dad complained to the HS AD about the coach and the fundraising game, and since then, the coach just didn’t play him.

The Dad insists that this is a kind of retribution or payback to punish his boy. But neither the coach or the school district has commented about the lawsuit.

This kind of legal action raises some serious concerns. Of course, it perhaps could have all been avoided if the coach had come forth early in the season and simply said to the boy, “Look, I’m the coach, and in my opinion, there are better players on the team than you” well, the truth is, the coach is entitled to say that. After all, he’s the head coach, and he’s being paid by the school district to make those kinds of evaluations.

But apparently, that kind of conversation didn’t take place

In addition, it would be hard to believe that after being a three-year starter that suddenly the youngster isn’t good enough as a senior to merit a few at-bats or start a game here or there.

But then again, maybe the kid or his Dad had been a  chronic pain in the neck to the coach, or maybe they promised the coach that the youngster would play in that fundraising game, and then reneged.

My point is: if this lawsuit is allowed to continue, and let’s say the boy wins his case of being deliberately harassed and bullied by the coach by not playing in the games, this would pose a very serious problem for school districts and coaches. As many of the callers said this morning on my show, if a school district and a coach are held liable on this kind of lawsuit, then this has the real potential to change the landscape of coaching everywhere.

As one caller mentioned, this could lead to a pre-season meeting in which the coach makes the kids and parents sign a contract in which they promise not to sue the coach or the school district based upon their kid’s playing time. Sounds hard to believe, but that would seem like the next step.

SOUND FAR-FETCHED?
Bear in mind that these lawsuits have been popping up more and more frequently, mostly because, I think, the angry parents want to retaliate on the coaches. I recall some years ago, a Dad – also out in California – sued the local HS basketball coach and school district because his son didn’t make the varsity team – and the father was convinced that this would result in his son not making it someday into the NBA.

As I recall, that lawsuit was dismissed by the court.

And there have been other comparable lawsuits A few years ago, a Dad sued a travel hockey league when his son was not named league MVP – even though the boy had led the league in scoring that season.  Furious and disappointed, the Dad sued the league because he felt this kind of slight would cost his son a college scholarship and perhaps a shot at the NHL.

Again, that suit was dismissed by the court.

One caller from Maplewood, NJ, this AM said that a lawsuit filed by an angry parent against the coach and school district due to a lack of playing time ended up with the coach not being rehired. But even though the boy has long since graduated and the coach is no longer there, the lawsuit still carries on in the court, and has cost more than $100,000 in legal fees to the school.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

I honestly don’t know. But I do know this kind of legal recourse is becoming more and more in vogue, and it’s just another weight on the back of coaches and AD’s everywhere. And if this trend continues, we may get to the point where school districts simply throw up their hands and say enough and vote to stop offering sports altogether. That is, if your son or daughter wants to play competitive sports, then go find a travel program.

 

ABUSIVE SPORTS PARENTS: Calculating the Hidden Costs to Our Kids’ Sports Programs

 What Parents’ and Coaches’ Abuse of Referees Costs Families

By Doug Abrams

In the past few weeks, the Washington Post featured two thoughtful articles that shine the spotlight on a growing problem that plagues youth sports from coast to coast. Under the headline, “Verbal Abuse From Parents, Coaches is Causing a Referee Shortage in Youth Sports,” writer Nick Eilerson explains that in high schools and community youth leagues alike, the lion’s share of abuse stems from “a deeply cutthroat sports culture, one that often holds amateur referees to a professional standard.”

In the second article, Post writer Matt Bonesteel says that growing numbers of seasoned high school referees hang up their whistles each year, frustrated with “parents and coaches screaming for your head while you do a job that isn’t exactly going to make anyone rich.”

The referees’ frustration is not fanciful. As I coached youth hockey and watched other teams’ games over the years, I heard parents in the stands and coaches behind the bench hurl insults at referees that no self-respecting adult would hurl at the family dog. Physical confrontations with referees, instigated by parents or coaches, were less common but did happen.

In the past few years, the Washington Post and several other media sources have reported the results. Youth sports programs have had a tough time recruiting new referees, many of whom drop out after about a year or two because they too grow unwilling to endure abuse from parents and coaches. Chronic shortages of referees have reportedly caused some youth leagues and high school conferences to postpone or reschedule games, or even to cancel some games.

In a recent column, I discussed how continuing attrition in the refereeing ranks can endanger player safety in high school and community youth league play, particularly in collision and contact sports. When veteran referees tired of running the gauntlet quit in droves each year, some games are left to less seasoned replacements who might not yet be ready to maintain the game control essential for player safety. That column appears at http://www.askcoachwolff.com/2017/04/02/abusive-sports-parents-epidemic-finding-refs-officials-work-youth-games-continues/

This column focuses on community youth leagues and not high schools. Adults’ chronic abuse of referees can hurt youth leaguers in two additional ways unrelated to player safety. Both ways concern money.

First, unstemmed abuse of referees from parents and coaches may indirectly limit the access of some children to community sports programs by increasing registration fees beyond what some families feel they can pay. Second, this abuse can require families, once they register, to divert money that they could otherwise spend more fruitfully on their children in other pursuits.

Limiting Access

First, access. . . . In high school sports, coaches and referees are typically paid for their service, which is only fair because most high school coaches are paid for theirs. As part of the curriculum, interscholastic sports receives funding from taxes or private tuitions.

In community youth leagues, however, coaches typically volunteer but referees typically get paid. Unless time is more valuable to referees than to coaches, why the difference?

The answer may affect the access of many children to community sports in the first place. In my community youth hockey leagues over the years, referees’ fees accounted for a quarter or more of a family’s annual registration fee; only ice-time rental typically accounted for more. The percentages allocated to referees’ fees can probably be even higher in sports such as baseball or soccer because field time is typically not so expensive.

We are talking here about a few hundred dollars per family for each player, which is not pocket change for many families. Particularly in sports with high start-up costs for equipment and uniforms, I wonder whether more children would be able to enroll in community programs with volunteer referees.

Parents juggling the family budget typically seek savings where they can, so why don’t more community youth leagues reduce registrations fees by encouraging volunteer referees? Perhaps much of the answer is that most prospective referees will not volunteer to bear the brunt of verbal, and sometimes physical, abuse from parents and coaches. Parents and coaches pay for their misconduct. Even referees who are motivated primarily be a desire to remain active with sports and kids, and not by a desire for extra income, would think twice about donating their time for bitter returns from hostile adults.

Many parents nowadays struggle to assure their children’s participation in sports by sacrificing elsewhere in the family budget. Volunteerism might be a real option if more parents and coaches would treat referees as who they are — public-spirited citizens who help bring sports into children’s lives — and not as error-prone antagonists.

Savings

Second, avoidable expense. . . . More and more youth leagues now require parents and coaches to attend pre-season meetings aimed at educating the adults about civility, respect, and sportsmanship. Here is another potential agenda item: By helping attendees understand how expensive their lack of self-control can be, community youth leagues might be able to help contain registration fees by enlisting volunteer referees if they enlist volunteer coaches. If a community’s sports culture were ever to displace crudity with civility, parents could spend the annual savings on their children in more constructive ways.

Sources: Nick Eilerson, Verbal  Abuse From Parents, Coaches Is Causing a Referee Shortage in Youth Sports, Wash. Post, June 16, 2017; Matt Bonesteel, Are We Running Out of High School Referees?, Wash. Post, May 19, 2017.

 

ABUSIVE SPORTS PARENTS: The Epidemic of Trying to Find Refs and Officials to Work Youth Games Continues…

Another Reminder About How Referee Shortages Can Threaten Youth Leaguers’ Safety

By Doug Abrams

Late last month, The Daily News (Longview, WA) published a thoughtful youth sports article by Jason Leskiw, “Officials Shortage Widespread Problem With No Solution Yet in Sight.” Prominent among the reasons for the shortage of officials in Washington state and Oregon, he wrote, are “unruly fans and parents.”

In previous columns, I have described how the shortage of officials can threaten player safety. This column repeats the message at the end here, but first let’s review some prior news articles. These articles demonstrate that the chronic shortage, driven by abusive adults, plagues interscholastic leagues and community youth leagues not only in the Pacific Northwest, but also throughout the nation. In my final few years as a youth hockey coach here in Missouri, I frequently heard parent spectators showering officials with obscenities and other insults that no respectable adult would direct at the family dog.

Lack of Respect

Last March, the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer published an article by Tim Stevens, “Abusive Fans Make It Tougher to Recruit High School Sports Refs.” The article led with this troublesome forecast: “Irate high school sports fans . . . are heaping so much abuse on referees that it is becoming hard for North Carolina and other states to recruit new officials as the current group edges toward retirement.”

A year earlier, the associate director of the Minnesota High School League told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that an array of “’sportsmanship issues’ causes most officials to quit and presents ‘a major hurdle when recruiting new officials.’’’ The associate director pointed to “a sometimes hostile game environment, chiefly created by critical coaches and parents.”

Under the headline, “Referee Shortage Tied to Lack of Respect,” the New York Times ran an Associated Press article in 2015 about the acute shortage of experienced youth sports officials from coast to coast. The AP reported that “[b]y all accounts, finding and retaining referees is becoming more and more difficult” because of “growing animosity and poor behavior among fans and coaches.”

In 2014, the Bakersfield Californian reported that all county high school varsity and sub-varsity leagues continued to experience referee attrition similar to that reported most recently in Washington and Oregon. A former president of the county’s Officials Association, a longtime baseball umpire, explained the primary cause: “Nobody wants to umpire because most people . . . don’t want to go out there and get yelled at, screamed at, and shown up.”

The Deseret (Utah) Morning News explained that “[b]rand-new officials often suffer through their first season of abuse before deciding that refereeing just isn’t worth it.” Among the officials I have known over the years, most stepped forward not primarily for the relatively modest stipends, but to remain active in the game while serving young athletes and their families. Most officials are family men and women with personal obligations and reputations. Most can find other ways to participate in community life free from public abuse (verbal and sometimes physical) dished out by other adults, often with the officials’ own spouses and children looking on.

“Parents Expect NHL Referees”

In the younger age groups, community youth leagues frequently recruit teens to replace departed adult officials. In my last few years coaching 9-10-year-old squirt hockey teams, I cannot recall seeing a referee over the age of about 15, except occasionally in the playoffs. Teen referees typically seek to earn a few dollars, assume a leadership role, and list community service as a credential on their college and employment applications. In my experience, the teens take their responsibilities seriously and generally do an excellent job. But they too are often chased away, once they or their families lose patience with parents and coaches who may tag the adolescents as easier marks for harassment than adult officials. Every teen official is someone else’s child.

In 2013, CBC News (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) ran a story under the headline, Teen Hockey Refs Quitting Over Verbal Abuse. The vice president of the Saskatchewan Referees Association explained why so many teens in the province refuse to officiate in the younger age groups. “I go the rink all the time and supervise,” he said, and “I have a hard time sitting there and watching games because parents just start yelling and swearing for no reason.” The targeted referees are “kids . . . doing their best,” but “parents expect NHL referees.”

Compromising Safety

What negative effects does this adult “referee rage” have on the players? Even casual observers notice when games may be postponed, rescheduled, or even canceled for lack of available officials. Or when parents or coaches trash sportsmanship, civility, and respect in full view of their young athletes. Safety issues, however, can escape the untrained eye.

Especially in contact and collision sports, the shortage of experienced officials can increase the risk of injury to players on the field, including players who follow the rules of the game. “To be effective for promoting safety,” says a recent medical study, a sport’s rules “must be enforced rigorously and consistently by referees and leagues.” Parents and coaches assume enforcement roles, but referees are the primary enforcers once the game starts. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports consensus among medical professionals that “[o]fficials controlling the physicality of the game . . . can . . . play significant roles in reducing contact injuries.”

This essential control can suffer when so many veteran referees quit each year. Many replacement refs are simply not ready for the responsibilities cast on them. But for the premature departures of so many seasoned veterans, many of the replacements trying to control the game would not yet be on the field.

What Can Be Done to Promote Player Safety?

Some of my prior columns have discussed measures that can help counter abusive adults who may compromise player safety. In written rules distributed during preseason parents and coaches meetings, for example, leagues and teams can state their expectations for adult civility. Leagues and teams must back up these expectations by disciplining parents or coaches whose abuse of officials crosses the line. Rules unenforced remain mere words on paper, awaiting the next incident.

Coaches can sometimes set the tone for the team. In a preseason parents meeting, coaches can deliver the message that abuse of officials is “not how we do things here. Our sons and daughters are watching and we set the example.” Youth coaching resembles a season-long game of “follow the leader,” and the followers include both the players and their parents.

With criminal assault statutes already on the books, prosecutors should take reported physical assaults on adult officials more seriously than they sometimes do. And in extreme cases when parents or coaches verbally or physically abuse teen officials, authorities should contemplate child abuse or child endangerment charges.

Most parents and coaches do not stoop to verbal or physical abuse of officials, but the majority’s presence does not necessarily diminish the errant minority’s destructive influence. Parents and coaches often get the quality of officiating they deserve, and the stakes are high because player safety may depend on the outcome.

 

Sources: Tim Stevens, Abusive Fans Make It Tougher to Recruit High School Sports Refs, Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, Mar. 27, 2016; David La Vaque, Help Wanted: High School Officials, Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minn.), July 31, 2015; Assoc. Press, Referee Shortage Tied to Lack of Respect, N.Y. Times, Nov. 28, 2015;  Jeff Evans, Kern County Association Faces Referee Shortage, Bakersfield Californian, June 10, 2014; Jim Thompson, The Double-Goal Coach, p. 4 (2003); Dan Rasmussen, Referee Shortage Hurting Soccer, Deseret (Utah) Morning News, Apr. 26, 2005; CBC News, Teen Hockey Refs Quitting Over Verbal Abuse, Nov. 25, 2013;Charles H. Tator et al., Spinal Injuries in Canadian Ice Hockey: An Update to 2005, 19 Clin. J. Sport Med. 451 (2009); Chris G. Kouteres & Andrew J.M. Gregory, Injuries in Youth Soccer, 125 Pediatrics 410 (Feb. 2010).

ABUSIVE SPORTS PARENTS: Kids Pay the Price When Adults Are Out of Control…

 Idaho Youth Football Program Cancels Games Because of Adult Misconduct

 By Doug Abrams

Late last month, the Coeur d’Alene Junior Tackle League canceled the season’s remaining football games against Post Falls, its nearby Idaho rival. The two leagues each outfit several teams, and the cancellations sidelined about 325 players in the fifth- through eighth-grade age brackets.

No media report suggested that the kids had played dirty. Or that the kids had violated league rules or shown disrespect to opponents, coaches, or officials. The wholesale cancellations stemmed instead from misconduct of both leagues’ parents and coaches.

Coeur d’Alene’s president told KREM about “parents arguing with the refs themselves. Coaches arguing with the refs. Out of line behavior up and down the sidelines.”

“We don’t want a YouTube video of a melee,” the president explained to the Bonner County Daily Bee, adding that many referees were unwilling to officiate the overheated games and absorb the abuse.

Regardless of the circumstances that drove this particular case, the Idaho cancellations invite a renewed look at parental and coaching misconduct nationwide – and at how this misconduct can deprive the players, who are, after all, the ultimate beneficiaries of Youth Sports.

The Familiar Script

The script was written years ago: Most problems at youth league games are triggered by people over the age of 18 because many players display sportsmanship and respect better than some parents and coaches do. This turnabout stains the game because adults, not children, are supposed to set the example.

In 2014, the Liberty Mutual Insurance Responsible Sports program released a nationwide Sportsmanship Survey conducted by ORC International. Sixty percent of respondents reported either witnessing or participating in negative or abusive sideline behavior by parents or youth coaches. Twenty-six percent of parents said that they had witnessed a verbally abusive coach, and 16% of parents said that that they had witnessed a physical confrontation between parents. Fifty-five percent of coaches said that they had experienced parents yelling negatively at officials or their own children, and two in five coaches said they had experienced parents yelling negatively at other children.

Liberty Mutual’s survey reaffirmed results of a similar survey that the Responsible Sports program had commissioned a year earlier. In the 2013 survey, 40% of youth coaches said that they had experienced parents yelling negatively at other children. Fifty-five percent of the coaches said that they had experienced parents yelling negatively at their own children. Forty-four percent said that they had experienced parents yelling negatively at officials, and 39% said that they had experienced parents yelling at them.

The Liberty Mutual sportsmanship surveys are not outliers. For example, in an earlier Survey USA poll in Indianapolis, Indiana, 55% of parents said that they had seen other parents engaging in verbal abuse at youth sports events; 21% said that they had seen a physical altercation between other parents. In a Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission survey, 45.3% of youth leaguers said that adults had called them names, yelled at them, or insulted them while they were playing; 17.5% said that an adult had hit, kicked or slapped them during a game; and 8.2% said that they had been pressured to harm opponents intentionally.

International Perspectives

In 2010, Reuters News and the market research company Ipsos conducted a sportsmanship survey in 22 nations. The survey ranked parents in the United States as the world’s “worst behaved” parents at children’s sports events. Sixty percent of U.S. adults who had attended youth sports contests reported that they had seen parents become verbally or physically abusive toward coaches or officials. Runners-up were parents in India (59%), Italy (55%), Argentina (54%), Canada (53%), and Australia (50%).

“It’s ironic that the United States, which prides itself in being the most civilized country in the world, has the largest group of adults having witnessed abusive behavior at children’s sporting events,” said an Ipsos senior vice president.

Winners and Losers

We should view these “eyewitness” surveys in context. The National Alliance for Youth Sports has estimated that about 15% of youth league games involve at least one confrontation between a parent and a coach or official. Assuming this estimate, it matters little whether in the typical sports association, only a relatively small minority of adults cross the line into misconduct; that minority can ruin the experience for other families, including ones who find the misconduct distasteful or otherwise contrary to the atmosphere and values they seek from the association.

Last month’s Idaho game cancelations left no winners, only losers. Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls league administrators each recognized that the brunt fell most heavily on the youngsters, who simply wanted to play football.

Beyond northern Idaho, many shortsighted adults overlook the central role that youth league sports can play in strengthening family bonds. When teenagers begin seeking independence from their parents and resisting their influence, organized sports still enables parents to share wholesome activities with their children who wish to play. Most teens want their parents and siblings to attend the games, root for them, and share their experiences. But instead of embracing this opportunity to bring the family together, some parents misbehave in ways that drive their teenagers either to wish that the parents would not attend, or to quit playing altogether.

Youngsters would play just as well, and perhaps better, if their parents and coaches cheered hard for the team, without jeering or taunting one another. And if the adults let the referees or umpires do their jobs free from verbal assault. If officials can hear profanity and other verbal abuse directed at them by parents or coaches, the players on the field can also hear it. Adults should not shout anything from the stands or bench that they would be embarrassed to say in front of the youngsters off the playing field.

Teachable Moments

Wise parents and coaches seek out “teachable moments,” opportunities to educate youth leaguers with positive lessons drawn from negative events. But sometimes the adults can learn as well as teach.

The Idaho youth football cancelations provide yet another reminder that adults can do better for their young athletes who strive to win and perform their best in youth leagues from coast to coast. In a talk reported in the Biloxi (Miss.) Sun Herald earlier this summer, former all-star outfielder Darryl Strawberry delivered this lesson drawn from his 17 seasons in Major League Baseball:

“We need to get back to letting kids have fun and enjoy themselves.  Parents need to chill out. Don’t go to games yelling. Let them play. We just have to get back to understanding that the game is fun. . . . It’s fun. Fun. Remember, fun.”

 

 

Sources: KREM, Taylor Viydo, N. Idaho Football League Cancels Games Due to Parent Behavior (Oct. 21, 2016); Ryan Collingwood, CA’A Cancels Youth Football Games with PF (Oct. 21, 2015); Liberty Mutual Insurance Responsible Sports, New Survey Identifies Decline of Sportsmanship in Youth Sports According to Parents and Coaches, https://www.libertymutualgroup.com/about-lm/news/news-release-archive/articles/new-survey-identifies-decline-of-sportsmanship-in-youth-sports-according-to-parents-and-coaches;  (June 2, 2014 press release); Parents and Coaches Express Conflicting Opinions Regarding Priorities in Youth Sports, https://www.libertymutualgroup.com/about-lm/news/news-release-archive/articles/parents-and-coaches-express-conflicting-opinions-regarding-priorities-in-youth-sports; US, India Parents Seen as Worst Behaved at Kids’ Sports, Reuters, Apr. 7, 2010; Jeanie Tavitas-Williams, Play Ball (Not Brawl): Adults Often Forget To Be Good Sports, San Antonio Express-News, Apr. 27, 2004, p. 1C; Douglas E. Abrams, Player Safety in Youth Sports: Sportsmanship and Respect as an Injury-Prevention Strategy, 39 Seton Hall Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law, p. 1 (2012); Patrick Ochs, Darryl Strawberry Has the Best Advice For Baseball Parents, Biloxi (Miss.) Sun Herald, June 28, 2016.

 

ABUSIVE SPORTS PARENTS: Why Are So Many HS Coaches Quitting? A National Epidemic

We have known for some years now that sports parents have become an increasing issue for HS coaches as Moms and Dads often intervene or meddle with the coaches upon behalf of their youngster. Coaches would often remark to each other that the “best kids to coach were those who were orphans.

But the problem with meddling parents has only escalated. And what is happening is that more and more coaches are simply, well, quitting. They just don’t want to deal with this issue anymore. As one long-time athletic director observed recently, “it used to be that a HS coach would last at the school for a career….but these days, the average stay is about 4-5 years, tops.”

According to a stunning survey of 227 HS coaches that was conducted by a local newspaper in Syracuse, NY, (Syracuse.com), the reason why coaches are quitting is simple:

The coaches get tired of dealing with the parents….”

That’s right. Coaches leave because of the parents…and unfortunately, many times, it’s the good coaches who leave.

There are reports from all over – not just Syracuse  —  that the friction between parents and their kid’s HS coaches has only gotten worse. And that’s not good.

You know what I’m talking about. We live in a time where sports parents have invested SO much of their time, energy, and money in their kid’s athletic career that when a youngster plays for a coach who doesn’t happen to share the parent’s opinion of how good their kid is, well, the parent thinks that they have every right to confront the coach and demand more playing time…or to make their kid All-League…or to make them a starter….or whatever the parent feels their kid is entitled to.

The problem is at a point where something needs to be done. In fact, when I do speaking events to local communities, the number one complaint from coaches and athletic directors continues to be the “out of control parents who meddle.”

We clearly need to do something to stop this interference by parents. … so what can we do?

FINDING WAYS TO STOP THE MEDDLING

On today’s radio show, we had a number of callers who all shared this growing concern. It was pointed out that, traditionally, at pre-season meetings, the HS AD often makes a statement to all attendees “to please let the coaches and leave them alone to do their job.” Parents hear this, but clearly the warning goes in ear and out the other. Too many parents either feel that the rules don’t apply to them or that, somehow, they are entitled to talk to the coach when it involves their kid.

In other words, this approach doesn’t have much of a lasting impact.

One caller this AM – Jack from New Jersey – said he had coached at the HS level for 35 years, and he had some specific suggestions that worked for him to counteract angry parents. Specifically:

Keep your roster of players deliberately small. 

His point was that if you kept just the bare minimum of kids on the team, then it was much easier to get them all playing time in the games. If you have a larger roster, then all those at the end of the bench (including their parents) are going to grouse and complain about not enough playing time.

Make sure all your kids play at least a little each game.

Not all the kids can play equally or a lot in each game, but as the coach, if you get every kid into the game – again, having a small roster helps — than every kid is going to feel that they contributed in some way.

Have each kid and their parents sign a contract at the beginning of the season.

Jack had every youngster on the varsity come into his office before the season with their parents, and Jack would outline the expectations for that kid, and then would also have to sign a contract that made clear that 1) the parents would not at any time during the season talk to the coach about their kid’s playing time, and 2) that they would never bring up any other player’s name in their conversation.

Did such an approach work? Yes, Jack says that for the most part it did work.

Jack went onto agree with a statement that was made earlier in the show – that a generation ago, HS varsity coaches were seen as the top of the pyramid in sports in town. But these days, with the advent of travel programs, it’s the travel coaches who now have ascended to the top of the pyramid and they seem to have much more clout with the athletes and parents than the HS coaches do.

Routinely these days, a talented player will inform their HS coach that “my travel team coach thinks I should play this position — not the one you want me to play” and make other such demands. HS coaches are often lost as to how to make their players abide by their wishes, not the travel coach’s.

Bottom line? Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any clear way to correct this issue. And until a real solution is found, HS coaches will continue to come and go on a fairly regular basis.

What a shame.

 

ABUSIVE SPORTS PARENTS: The Growing Shortage of Sports Officials

 How Referee Shortages Threaten Player Safety

 By Doug Abrams

On March 27, the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer published a thoughtful article by Tim Stevens, “Abusive Fans Make It Tougher to Recruit High School Sports Refs.” The article led with this troublesome forecast: “Irate high school sports fans . . . are heaping so much abuse on referees that it is becoming hard for North Carolina and other states to recruit new officials as the current group edges toward retirement.” Because refereeing has “become so unattractive,” the article continues, interscholastic leagues may need to reduce game schedules for lack of officials.

The media regularly reports about chronic referee shortages, not only in school sports, but also in many community youth leagues. Just last year, for example, the associate director of the Minnesota High School League told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that an array of “’sportsmanship issues’ causes most officials to quit and presents ‘a major hurdle when recruiting new officials.’’’ The associate director pointed to “a sometimes hostile game environment, chiefly created by critical coaches and parents.”

The Deseret (Utah) Morning News explains that “[b]rand-new officials often suffer through their first season of abuse before deciding that refereeing just isn’t worth it.” Among the officials I have known, most signed up not primarily for the relatively modest stipends, but to remain active in the game while serving young athletes and their families. Most officials are family men and women with personal obligations and reputations. Most can find other ways to participate in community life free from public abuse dished out by other adults, sometimes within earshot of the officials’ own families.

In the younger age groups, many community youth leagues recruit teens to replace departed adult officials. In my last few years coaching 9-10-year-old squirt hockey teams, I cannot recall seeing a referee over the age of about 15, except occasionally in the playoffs. Teen referees typically seek to earn a few dollars, assume a leadership role, and demonstrate community service on their college applications. In my experience, the teens take their responsibility seriously and generally do an excellent job. But they too are often chased away, once they or their parents lose patience with parents and coaches who may tag the adolescents as even easier marks for harassment than adult officials.

Verbal and Physical Assault

Adult “referee rage” can grow vicious. In my final few years as a youth hockey coach, I frequently heard parent spectators showering officials with obscenities and other insults that the parents would not have directed at the family dog. But aural pollution does not end the story because, as Positive Coaching Alliance executive director Jim Thompson explains, “officiating a youth sports game is becoming an increasingly risky job . . . . “Youth Sports officials are under attack – literally” from physical assault. Parents and coaches have reportedly made officials run a gauntlet to leave the field, followed officials to their cars, and threatened them and their families. Parents and coaches have also punched, kicked, shoved, slapped, choked, head-butted, spat on, and stalked youth league officials during and after games.

Compromising Safety

What negative effects does this adult “referee rage” have on the players? Even casual observers notice when games may have to be postponed, rescheduled or even canceled for lack of available officials. Or when abusive parents or coaches deliver unwholesome messages about sportsmanship and respect to the athletes who watch or hear about their antics.

But another especially harmful result can escape the untrained eye. Particularly in contact and collision sports, the shortage of experienced officials can increase the risk of injury to players on the field, including players who follow the rules of the game.

“To be effective for promoting safety,” says a recent medical study, a sport’s rules “must be enforced rigorously and consistently by referees and leagues.” Parents and coaches assume important enforcement roles, but referees are the primary enforcers once the game starts. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports consensus among sports medicine professionals that “[o]fficials controlling the physicality of the game . . . can . . . play significant roles in reducing contact injuries.”

This essential control suffers when so many veteran referees quit each year. Many replacement refs are simply not yet ready for the responsibilities cast on them. But for the premature departures of so many veterans, many of the replacements would not yet be on the field.

What Can Be Done to Promote Safety?

Some of my prior columns have discussed measures that, amid the pressures that characterize the typical school or community sports program, can help counter adult “referee rage” that may compromise player safety. In written rules distributed during preseason parents and coaches meetings, leagues and teams should state their expectations for adult civility. Leagues and teams must discipline parents or coaches whose verbal or physical assaults on officials violate these rules. Unenforced rules remain merely words on paper.

Criminal prosecutors should take physical assaults more seriously than they sometimes do. In extreme cases when parents or coaches verbally or physically abuse teen officials, authorities should contemplate child endangerment charges.

Most parents and coaches do not cross the line into verbal or physical abuse of officials, and most adults may find such abuse disgusting. But the majority’s disgust does not diminish the harmful influence of the errant minority who do cross. Leagues and teams often get the quality of officiating that they deserve, and player safety may depend on the outcome.

 

Sources: Tim Stevens, Abusive Fans Make It Tougher to Recruit High School Sports Refs, Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, Mar. 27, 2016; David La Vaque, Help Wanted: High School Officials, Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minn.), July 31, 2015; Jim Thompson, The Double-Goal Coach, p. 4 (2003); Dan Rasmussen, Referee Shortage Hurting Soccer, Deseret (Utah) Morning News, Apr. 26, 2005; Charles H. Tator et al., Spinal Injuries in Canadian Ice Hockey: An Update to 2005, 19 Clin. J. Sport Med. 451 (2009); Chris G. Kouteres & Andrew J.M. Gregory, Injuries in Youth Soccer, 125 Pediatrics 410 (Feb. 2010).

ABUSIVE SPORTS PARENTS: Why It’s Becoming Increasingly Difficult to Recruit More Referees

How Adults’ “Referee Rage” Imperils Youth Leaguers’ Safety

By Doug Abrams

Under the headline, “Referee Shortage Tied to Lack of Respect,” the New York Times ran an article late last month about the acute shortage of experienced youth sports officials in many communities. The Associated Press reported that “[b]y all accounts, finding and retaining referees is becoming more and more difficult” because of “growing animosity and poor behavior among fans and coaches.”

The article is the latest one about veteran officials who are driven to quit, unwilling (as the Times and the Associated Press put it) to be “yelled at, threatened or insulted” game after game. Newspapers regularly run similar articles about “referee rage,” the verbal and sometimes physical abuse that parents and coaches inflict on game officials. This summer, for example, the Minneapolis Star Tribune rans a similar story, “Help Wanted: High School Officials.” A few years ago on this blog, I wrote about a Deseret (Utah) Morning News article which explained that “[b]rand-new officials often suffer through their first season of abuse before deciding that refereeing just isn’t worth it.”

Some results of the nationwide shortage of experienced referees are readily apparent to anyone who pays even glancing attention. Games might have to be postponed, rescheduled, or even canceled. Seasons may have to be shortened so that league schedules do not outpace the roster of available officials.

This column concerns a more serious result that can escape notice as leagues scurry to recruit and train replacement officials. Many of the replacements are less experienced, and they are unprepared to maintain control of fast-paced games. Particularly in contact and collision sports at the older age levels, inexperienced officiating can increase the risk of injury to players, including ones who play clean.

Enforcing the Rules

“To be effective for promoting safety,” says a recent medical study, a sport’s rules “must be enforced rigorously and consistently by referees and leagues.” The American Academy of Pediatrics reports agreement among sports medicine professionals that “[o]fficials controlling the physicality of the game . . . can . . . play significant roles in reducing contact injuries.”

Particularly in contact or collision sports at older age levels, essential enforcement of the rules and control of the game can suffer when so many veteran officials hang up their whistles each year. But for the veteran officials’ premature departure, many of their less experienced replacements would not yet be on the field.

“They Can’t Figure Out Why”

In suburban Chicago in late 1999, rabid parents and coaches had overwhelmed the outmanned referees throughout an entire junior varsity hockey game, whose final score meant nothing in the big picture of things. At the final buzzer or a second or two afterwards, a player skated full speed across the ice, blind-sided a 14-year-old opponent who had scored a three-goal hat trick, and body-checked him head-first into the boards. “That’s what you get for messing,” the player glared at his victim who lay prone on the ice, permanently paralyzed from the neck down.

The victim could have been any parent’s child. No news account suggested that the victim played dirty. He just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, the target of impulsive violence at the end of a game that was out of control from the opening faceoff. If the referees, parents, and coaches had maintained control as both teams tried their best to win within the rules, the victim would likely have walked out of the rink because players supervised by responsible adults do not race several yards to drive opponents’ faces into the ground at the end of a game.

A year after the ill-fated JV hockey game, a veteran referee told the Chicago Daily Herald that “nothing” had changed in Chicago-area high school hockey. “It’s just as bad as it ever was,” the referee said. “There’s kids being carried off the ice every night.  “You have parents acting like animals in the stands, coaches acting like animals on the bench . . . “[b]ut when their kid gets hurt, they can’t figure out why.”

For the sake of their own children, parents and coaches need to “figure out why” by identifying a relationship between adults “referee rage” and players’ safety. Then, the adults need to maintain self-control, even during heated games. Connect the dots.

 

Sources:  Assoc. Press, Referee Shortage Tied to Lack of Respect, N.Y. Times, Nov. 28, 2015; David La Vaque, Help Wanted: High School Officials, Minneapolis Star Tribune, July 31, 2015;  Dan Rasmussen, Referee Shortage Hurting Soccer, Deseret (Utah) Morning News Apr. 26, 2005; Chris G. Koutures & Andrew J. M. Gregory, Injuries in Youth Soccer, Pediatrics, vol. 125, p. 410 (2010); Charles H. Tator et al., Spinal Injuries in Canadian Ice Hockey: An Update to 2005, Clinical J. of Sport Medicine, vol. 19, p. 451 (2009); Barry Rozner, One Year After a Hockey Tragedy, What Has Changed?, Chi. Daily Herald, Nov, 3, 2000, at 1. Tony Gordon, Plea Deal Ends Emotional Hockey Case, Chi. Daily Herald, Aug. 8, 2000, at 1; Dirk Johnson, Hockey Player, 15, Is Charged After Seriously Injuring a Rival, N.Y. Times, Dec. 9, 1999, at A21.

ABUSIVE SPORTS PARENTS: The Latest Update from Australia

More About Australia’s Ugly Parent Syndrome: Post-Game “Debriefing”

By Doug Abrams

 Australians have a label for the negative influence of some adults in that nation’s youth sports leagues. Aussies call it the “ugly parent syndrome.” Most often, the label describes acts of parental violence, particularly acts that are serious enough to reach the headlines. Periodically on this blog, I have written about media accounts of these acts in Australia, and in other western nations whose youth sports systems resemble systems here in the United States.

Spurred by a new study by Dr. Sam Elliott at Flinders University (Adelaide, South Australia), the Australian media reports yet another, sometimes less apparent manifestation of ugly sports parenting – post-game “debriefing.” Australians use the term “debriefing” to describe parents’ sometimes strident post-game criticisms of their player’s performance. With the game’s pressures still weighing on the player’s mind, criticism begins while the player is a captive audience in the family vehicle on the way home, or it begins soon after the family arrives.

Here in the United States, I have heard Rick Wolff and others call this parental criticism “station wagon syndrome,” or more recently “SUV syndrome.” By whatever name, the new Flinders University study reemphasizes the harmful effects that well-meaning sports parents can have on the fun their children seek from sports. The Advertiser, an Adelaide daily newspaper, warns that debriefing is “killing children’s enjoyment of sport with post-game grillings on their performance, making it more likely that youngsters will quit.”

Declining Enrollments and High Dropout Rates

American parents, coaches, and league administrators should pay attention to troubling reports from nations whose youth sports systems resemble our own. Globalization and the Internet media have left the world a smaller place, so nations can learn plenty from one another about how to overcome common economic, political and cultural stresses.

The new Flinders University study, which interviewed 12- and 13-year-old youth soccer players and their families, plausibly links pressurized debriefing to two serious concerns that plague youth sports in the United States and Australia. Both concerns — declining enrollments and high dropout rates — raise red flags.

In the United States, between 30 and 35 million boys and girls — nearly half the nation’s children – enroll in at least one youth sport each year.  The Australian Bureau of Statistics recently reported that about 1.7 million boys and girls — about 63% of Australian children – enroll in at least one organized sport outside school hours.

These are hefty numbers, but they appear to be falling in both nations. And among boys and girls who do enroll, about 70% drop out by the time they turn 13, and nearly all quit by the time they turn 15. When researchers ask youngsters the reasons for quitting, the answers given most often are that practice sessions and games stopped being fun because parents and coaches imposed too much pressure.

Mistakes

The Flinders University study suggests that fun and pressurized post-game debriefing do not mix. When a player dreads swift criticism in the car or in the living room, victory can produce not the thrill the player has earned, but only relief that the team avoided defeat. This fear of failure diminishes the fun and fulfillment that youngsters deserve from the games they play.

Immediately after a loss or a bad game, reassurance from a parent or coach may signal unconditional support. In the back seat on the way home, youngsters deserve to ride in peace without being an unwilling audience for parental criticism while memories of the game’s pressure remain fresh. Like adults, youth leaguers need time to decompress from competition.

After the passage of time, young athletes can take constructive correction delivered in positive tone and language by supportive parents and coaches. Dr. Elliott says that “if children experience a win or loss, played well or not well, parents are instrumental for support – they can talk them through that and it’s the advice that children crave.”

But even after the passage of time, adults need to remain patient with their children’s mistakes on the field. Particularly at the younger age levels, players trying hard will often do as many things wrong as right. They are children, not seasoned adult professionals providing popular entertainment for salaries in the millions.

In fact, parents should encourage players to welcome mistakes, which are invitations to learn. Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden coached adults, but he tolerated his players’ mistakes as part of the game. “If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything,” he would say. “A doer makes mistakes.”

 Opportunities Lost

Professional sports holds a firm grip on the United States and Australia, and adults in both nations regularly tell pollsters that wholesome athletic competition benefits children physically and emotionally. Amid these powerful cultural forces, declining enrollments and steadily high dropout rates suggest that something is wrong about the way adults manage youth leagues.

As the new Flinders University study intimates, debriefing done wrong is doubtlessly one factor contributing to both negative trends. The ultimate losers are boys and girls who miss out on opportunities to thrive in sports through childhood and adolescence. Organized sports can do nothing for a boy or girl who does not enroll, or who drops out prematurely.

 

Sources: Tim Williams, Positive Test for Critical Parents, The Advertiser (Adelaide, Australia), Apr. 18, 2015, p. 7; Sheradyn Holderhead, Flinders University Study On “Ugly Parents Syndrome” Impact On Falling Sports Interest, The Advertiser, Apr. 3, 2013.

ABUSIVE SPORTS PARENTS: What’s the Best Way to Handle Them?

Sparing Youth Leaguers Punishment For Their Parents’ Misconduct

By Doug Abrams

 

The Vancouver Island Amateur Hockey Association has had its fill of verbal and physical abuse dished out by unruly parents. Last month the association’s president told the Canadian Press that “F-bombs from mothers and fathers in the stands can fly faster than pucks on the ice.” Like other Canadian and American youth sports programs, the Vancouver association has suffered an exodus of veteran coaches and referees who are unwilling to continue corralling a few parents and absorbing their insults.  Headlines also report periodic acts of physical violence by Vancouver minor hockey parents. The father of one Vancouver pee wee hockey player says that “some of the parents are just nuts.”

The Vancouver association recently announced that next season, out-of-control parents will face sterner sanctions, including the family’s dismissal from the program in extreme cases. The Canadian Press reports that the association’s tougher stance has already won support and approval, both from other youth hockey programs, and from youth programs in other sports such as lacrosse and soccer.

Dismissing a family from a youth sports association is strong medicine because it removes the child from the roster, perhaps leaving the youngster no place else to play the organized sport. The Vancouver news story reminds us why associations, when they discipline disruptive parents, should make every effort to spare their children.

Individual Accountability and Concern For All

During my 11 years as president of a mid-Missouri youth hockey association, our relatively few parental disciplinary cases applied two guiding principles – “individual accountability” and “concern for all players and their families.” These principles would have supported a family’s dismissal from the association, but only as the last resort in the most serious cases. (Fortunately no such “last resort” cases happened.)

The first guiding principleindividual accountability holds each parent responsible for his or her own wrongdoing. Particularly at younger ages, children may mimic their parents or remain silent, but the child normally bears little or no responsibility for the elders’ misconduct. Sports associations should strain to discipline wayward parents without affecting a blameless player’s eligibility. Youth sports programs serve the youth; they do not serve the adults.

The second guiding principleconcern for all players and their families recognizes that relatively few abusive parents can ruin the experiences of the majority of families and increase the risk of avoidable injury to their children. I know some civil, sportsmanlike parents who hesitate to bring their younger children to games in various local sports because of what other parents do or say in the stands. When a few parents lead disgusted coaches hang up their whistles prematurely, all players also stand to lose valuable instruction drawn from years behind the bench.

What about the injury factor? In an earlier column (linked below), I explained that when parental abuse leads disgusted veteran referees to quit in droves, their less experienced replacements may not yet be ready. Particularly in contact or collision sports at older age levels, risk of injury increases when control of games depends on replacement referees who would not yet be on the field if more seasoned refs remained active.

The “Least Restrictive Remedy”

Faced with a parent’s violation, a youth sports association should strive to fashion an effective remedy that sanctions the wrongdoing in the way least restrictive on the family, and particularly on the young player.

The least restrictive remedy might require an apology from the parent, sometimes informally without the player’s knowledge.  A more restrictive remedy might suspend the offending parent from attending one or more practices or games.

The most restrictive remedy – the family’s dismissal from the association – might be appropriate in extreme cases because of the magnitude of the offense, its effect on other players and families, or the offending parent’s continuing failure to respond to the association’s pre-season sportsmanship seminars and similar preventive measures. But sports associations should handle dismissal gingerly, lest the normally blameless player be left as collateral damage, innocent but effectively forced to share accountability for the parent’s misconduct.

 

Source: Camille Bains, The Canadian Press, Put Abusive Parents in Penalty Box: Minor Hockey, http://www.durhamregion.com/sports-story/5477827-put-abusive-parents-in-penalty-box-minor-hockey/ (Mar. 15, 2015); Doug Abrams, “How Adults’ Abuse of Officials Endangers Player Safety” — http://askcoachwolff.com/2011/06/16/how-adults-abuse-of-officials-endangers-player-safety/).