Archive for the ‘Obnoxious Sports Parents’ Category

OBNOXIOUS SPORTS PARENTS: What Happens if The Refs Stop Stop Showing Up at the Games?

 Another State Reports a Shortage of Youth League Referees

By Doug Abrams

“Help Wanted: High School Officials.”

The Minneapolis Star Tribune ran a feature story with this headline less than two weeks ago. Writer David La Vaque reported that since 2010-2011, the ranks of referees and other game officials has steadily declined statewide in every high school sport except boys’ lacrosse. Hoping to replenish the dwindling ranks, the Minnesota High School League has reduced registration fees for new officials and offers incentives to officials and member schools that recruit replacements.

To readers who follow Rick Wolff’s blog, a primary reason for Minnesota’s acute shortage of officials comes as no surprise. Indeed, the refrain has become distressingly familiar. The League’s associate director told the Star Tribune that an array of “‘sportsmanship issues’ causes most officials to quit and presents ‘a major hurdle when recruiting new officials.’” La Vaque pinpoints “a sometimes hostile game environment, chiefly created by critical coaches and parents.”

The causes and consequences of referee shortages are not only a Minnesota problem. They are a national problem that the media has spotlighted for several years now.  From coast to coast, interscholastic conferences and youth leagues face a steady exodus of veteran officials who have grown disgusted with the verbal, and sometimes physical, abuse inflicted on them by parents and coaches. Many adult officials signed up to serve kids and to remain active in their sport, but they reach the tipping point before long.

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

Turning to the Teens

Referee attrition also affects community youth leagues for players younger than high school age. Many leagues recruit teens to replace disgusted adult officials in the younger age groups. In my last few years coaching squirt hockey teams for 9-10-year-olds, I cannot recall ever having a referee over the age of about fifteen, except occasionally in the playoffs.

Teen referees see officiating as an opportunity to earn a few dollars, to assume a leadership role, and to 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 grow concerned about threats and other harassment inflicted by parents and coaches who doubtlessly perceive the adolescents as even easier marks than adult officials. And who can forget that every teen official they target 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.”

Facing the Consequences

Some consequences of the referee exodus are readily apparent to anyone who pays even glancing attention. The media reports that games sometimes may 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.

But another especially harmful consequence can escape the untrained eye even when schedules and seasons remain untouched. Particularly in contact and collision sports, the shortage of experienced officials can increase the risk of injury to players, including ones who play clean and follow the rules of the game.

My most recent column spotlighted a new youth soccer study that linked injury to lax officiating. The study’s head researcher told the New York Times that soccer concussion rates would fall “if referees, coaches and players would enforce the existing rules” against rough play.

“To be effective for promoting safety,” said an earlier 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.”

Rigorous, consistent enforcement and control can be an early casualty of avoidable referee attrition. When so many veteran referees quit before their time, many replacement refs are simply not yet ready for the responsibilities cast on them. But for the premature departures of so many veteran officials, many of the replacements would not yet be on the field.

Taking Meaningful Action

By constantly recruiting new officials to replace veterans who hasten to hang up their whistles, leagues resemble walkers on a treadmill. Leagues and individual schools and teams should also focus on a primary source of much of the problem, the frankly unacceptable conduct of many parents and coaches. In a 2013 column, I discussed necessary initial measures, which emphasize leagues’ internal discipline but may extend to charging errant adults with endangering the welfare of a child when the target of particularly abusive conduct is a teen referee. http://www.askcoachwolff.com/2013/12/17/obnoxious-sports-parents-taking-ones-frustrations-teenage-refs/

 

 

Sources: David La Vaque, Help Wanted: High School Officials, Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minn.), July 31, 2015; Jeff Evans, Kern County Association Faces Referee Shortage, Bakersfield Californian, June 10, 2014; CBC News, Teen Hockey Refs Quitting Over Verbal Abuse, Nov. 25, 2013; Gretchen Reynolds, Heading Ban for Youth Soccer Won’t End Head Injuries, Int’l N.Y. Times, July 15, 2015; Charles H. Tator et al., Spinal Injuries in Canadian Ice Hockey: An Update to 2005, 19 Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, vol. 19, p. 451 (2009); Chris G. Kouteres & Andrew J.M. Gregory, Injuries in Youth Soccer, Pediatrics, vol. 125, p. 410.

 

OBNOXIOUS SPORTS PARENTS: Why (Young) Refs Are Walking Away

 

More Troubling News About Abuse of Referees

By Doug Abrams

 

Last week, a newspaper reported about a local youth soccer league that is “suffering a severe shortage of referees because too many are dropping out due to abuse from the sidelines.” The paper identified the usual abusers – parents and coaches.  One U-13 coach emphasized that the league’s referee shortage is “by no means caused by the majority” of adults, but rather by “‘a few bad apples’ who are capable of ruining” games for everyone else.

The “bad apples” spare no referees, not even teens whom the local youth soccer league recruits and trains to replace adults who are unwilling to absorb further harassment. “While there is a long-term shortage of adult referees,” says the league, “it is the younger kids subjected to abuse . . . who are regularly dropping out” because they “are put off by the harassment.”

A “Parental Cultural Revolution”

This is not another newspaper story about how verbal, and sometimes physical, abuse has saddled many United States youth leagues with a chronic referee shortage. This story appeared on the other side of the Atlantic in the Gloucestershire Echo, a British daily newspaper based in Cheltenham, about 100 miles from London.

Barely five months have passed since former British international soccer star Gary Lineker called for a “parental cultural revolution” in that nation’s youth soccer leagues to stem “the abuse [and] damage” that he has seen parents inflict on their children at all levels of play. “Who cares who wins an under-eights game?,” Lineker asked in the New Statesman magazine. If parents would just “let their children enjoy themselves, you would be staggered at the difference it would make.”

The Echo article and Lineker’s public call remind us that no one nation holds a monopoly on verbal abuse leveled by parents and coaches. Teen referees remain frequent targets. Last November, for example, 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 that province refuse to officiate games 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.”

The Sunshine Coast Daily (Queensland, Australia) wrote about a father who watched his son, a 14-year-old soccer referee, absorb verbal abuse from an adult spectator and then, in the next game, from a coach who accused the boy of bias. “I don’t think they see the youth in the kids,” the father said. “They think it’s life and death when in fact it’s youth sport.”  

In the last year alone here in the United States, the Santa Clarita (Calif.) News reported a 34-year-old coach’s arrest for assaulting a 17-year-old referee during a 12-14-year-old parks and recreation department flag football game.  The coach walked onto the field, yelled about the referee’s call, and struck the boy in the face, knocking him to the turf.

The Charleston (S.C.) Post & Courier wrote about a teen umpire who was “in tears as he took off his equipment after the game, because one of the coaches had given him such a hard time” during a recreation league baseball game. A fellow 16-year-old umpire wondered whether the few dollars he earns from officiating is worth enduring abuse from parents and coaches who “will do whatever they can to win.”

We should not dismiss news reports such as these by rationalizing that only a few “bad apples” cross the line into incivility or violence. Most adults do behave decently at their children’s games, but I suspect that media coverage alone understates the number of troublemakers. Many readers of this column have doubtlessly witnessed abuse of teen officials that never reached the local papers because the incidents seem so commonplace that they are not newsworthy now that the youth sports bar is often set so low.

The Greater Problem

In soccer and other sports, the influx of teen officials itself signals dysfunction grounded in adult misbehavior. Rather than risk having to cancel or reschedule games for lack of officials, many youth leagues here in the United States recruit teens to replace adults who quit from disgust with abusive parents and coaches. In my last few years coaching 9-10-year-old squirt hockey teams, I cannot recall seeing a referee over the age of about fifteen, except occasionally in the playoffs.  Frequently teen referees soon quit too, once they or their parents grow fed up with parents and coaches who may tag the adolescents as easier marks for harassment than adult officials.

Who Suffers Most?

When the referee ranks grow thin, the ultimate losers are the young players themselves. The Cheltenham soccer league’s chief referee told the Echo that “10 games a week on average are played without a referee” because he cannot staff the games but wishes to avoid outright cancelation.

The steady exodus of officials can also directly increase risk of injury. “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 says that “[o]fficials controlling the physicality of thegame . . . can . . . play significant roles in reducing contact injuries.”

Particularly in contact or collision sports at older age levels, this essential control can suffer when so many veteran officials hang up their whistles each year. Many replacement officials are less experienced and frequently unable to keep up with a fast-paced game. But for the veteran officials’ departure, many of the replacements would not be on the field in the first place.

When parents and coaches complain about dangers in games overseen by less experienced officials, the adults need to look hard at their own incivility. Parents and coaches often get the officiating they deserve, and their children pay the price.

“The Diminishing Lack of Fun”

The steady exodus of experienced referees is one symptom of a more serious disease. Early last month, Rick Wolff discussed a front-page Wall Street Journal article that reported that enrollment in the nation’s four most popular youth sports (football, baseball, soccer and basketball) declined 4% from 2008 to 2012. Rick perceptively suggested that the prime reason is “the diminishing amount of joy and fun that kids are taking away from sports.”

Gary Lineker likewise argues that “pushy parents screaming abuse from the sidelines are killing their kids’ love of” soccer. Do we doubt that many overbearing parents and coaches who publicly abuse referees – other people’s children — also take the joy and fun of sports away from their own children?

 

[Sources: Harassment Must Stop Says League As Referee Numbers Drop, Gloucestershire Echo, Mar. 4, 2014, p. 45; Gary Lineker, Pushy Parents Screaming Abuse From the Sidelines Are Killing Their Kids’ Love of Football, New Statesman, Oct. 24, 2013; Doug Abrams, More Disturbing News About Adult Abuse of Teen Officials, http://www.askcoachwolff.com/2013/12/17/obnoxious-sports-parents-taking-ones-frustrations-teenage-refs/; Doug Abrams, How Adults’ Abuse of Officials Endangers Player Safety, http://askcoachwolff.com/2011/06/16/how-adults-abuse-of-officials-endangers-player-safety/; Rick Wolff, Wall Street Journal Says Fewer Kids are Playing Sports, http://www.askcoachwolff.com/2014/02/02/sports-parenting-trends-wall-street-journal-study-says-fewer-kids-playing-sports/ (Feb. 2, 2014)]

OBNOXIOUS SPORTS PARENTS: Taking Out One’s Frustrations on Teenage Refs…

 

More Disturbing News About Adult Abuse of Teen Officials

By Doug Abrams 

On November 25, CBC News (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) ran a story under the headline, Teen Hockey Refs Quitting Over Verbal Abuse. The report was from Saskatoon, and the article concerned why so many teens in Canada’s Saskatchewan province refuse to officiate in the younger age groups.

The vice president of the Saskatchewan Referees Association provided an explanation.  “I go the rink all the time and supervise,” he says, 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.”

The CBC article concerned youth hockey in one Canadian province, but the vice president’s explanation sounds familiar to almost anyone whose children play youth sports, from house leagues to select teams. Verbal – and sometimes physical — abuse leveled by parents and coaches against teen officials plagues more than youth hockey, more than one province or state, and more than one nation.

Lowering the Bar

This year alone, the hall of shame appears mighty crowded.  The Asbury Park (N.J.) Press, for example, reported the arrest of a 43-year-old manager of a 10-12-year-old New Jersey Little League team.  The manager was charged with two counts of assault for slapping a 17-year-old umpire who had ejected him from a game.

The Sunshine Coast Daily (Queensland, Australia) wrote about a father who watched his son, a 14-year-old referee, absorb verbal abuse from an adult soccer fan and then, in the next game, from a coach who accused the boy of biased calls on the field. “I don’t think they see the youth in the kids,” the father said, “They think it’s life and death when in fact it’s youth sport.”  

The Santa Clarita (Calif.) News reported a 34-year-old coach’s arrest for assaulting a 17-year-old referee during a 12-14-year-old parks and recreation department flag football game.  The coach walked onto the field, yelled about the referee’s call, and struck the boy in the face, knocking him to the turf.

The Charleston (S.C.) Post & Courier wrote about a teen umpire who was “in tears as he took off his equipment after the game, because one of the coaches had given him such a hard time” during a recreation league baseball game. A fellow 16-year-old umpire wondered aloud whether the few dollars he earns is worth enduring verbal abuse from parents and coaches who “will do whatever they can to win.”

Each of these manhandled teen officials is someone else’s child, and each one deserved the physical and emotional safety that youth sports promises all its participants. We cannot simply dismiss the news reports by rationalizing that only a minority of adults cross the line, while most behave decently. Abusive parents and coaches do constitute the minority, but I suspect that media coverage alone actually understates their number.  Many readers of this column have doubtlessly witnessed abuse of teen officials that never reached the local papers because, without an injury or arrest, the incidents seem so commonplace that they are not newsworthy. Newspapers and their readers often set the youth league bar mighty low these days because they set their expectations for civility mighty low.

The Greater Problem

In hockey and other youth sports, the very appearance of growing numbers of teen officials itself signals dysfunction created by abusive parents and coaches. Rather than risk having to cancel or reschedule games for lack of officials, many leagues and associations recruit teens to replace disgusted adults who have quit rather than put up with further verbal, and sometimes physical, abuse. Many adult officials sign up to serve kids and remain active in their sport, but reach their tipping point before too long. In my last few years coaching squirt hockey teams for 9-10-year-olds, I cannot recall ever having a referee over the age of about fifteen, except occasionally in the playoffs.

Teen referees may see officiating as an opportunity 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 grow fed up with abuse from parents and coaches who doubtlessly perceive the adolescents as even easier marks for harassment than adult officials.

“The Silent, Constant Source of Support”

What can local leagues and sports associations do to control adult abuse of teen officials?  In youth sports as in other areas of American life, prevention and public education should be the initial anti-abuse strategy. Strong messages conveyed in pre-season parents meetings and seminars, followed by rules enforcement throughout the season, can create healthy local sports cultures.  Most parents and coaches know right from wrong, and most tend toward civility when they know that authorities and most other parents expect it.

Coaches also play a central role. Mike Matheny manages the St. Louis Cardinals these days, but in 2009 he agreed to coach a St. Louis-area youth baseball team. He agreed on one condition – that the youngsters’ parents would embrace his vision of a team based on respect, sportsmanship, integrity, and citizenship. He outlined this vision in a six-page letter to the parents which became known as the “Matheny Manifesto” once it went viral and began attracting national attention.

Among other things, Matheny warned the parents that “we will not have good umpiring. This is a fact; the sooner we understand that, the better off we will be. . . . The boys will not be allowed at any time to show any emotion against the umpire. They will not shake their head, or pout, or say anything to the umpire. . . . You as parents need to be the silent, constant, source of support.”    

Who Are the Role Models?

When I coached youth hockey, I also set ground rules in the preseason parents meeting. I told the parents that officials inevitably make mistakes because they (like the parents, coaches and children) are not professionals in the sport. But I also told the parents for every mistake, officials also make dozens of correct calls that appear incorrect to parents and coaches who do not understand the rules, or who do not see the action as well as they think they do. 

I also said that mistake or no, the parents will be entitled to perfect referees when they become perfect parents, the players become perfect players, and the coaches become perfect coaches. Until that day, imperfect officials are part of youth sports.  

To appeal to the parents’ better instincts, I reminded them that referees can hear profanity and other verbal abuse only when parents shout so loudly from the stands or sidelines that the players on the field can also hear it. Adults should not shout anything that they would be embarrassed to say in front of their children at home. The adults’ conduct should not sink below the level they would find acceptable from their own children because adults, and not children, should be the role models.

When Prevention Efforts Fail

Even the most effective prevention programs cannot prevent 100% of targeted misconduct. The best that these programs can do is to make misconduct the isolated exception rather than the rule. When a parent or coach fails to respond appropriately to education efforts designed to prevent abuse of teen officials who are doing the right thing, the league or association should react with suspension or other disciplinary action.

In extreme cases, the public response may include criminal prosecution of the sort contemplated in the news accounts that opened this column.  When a parent or coach strikes an official (teen or otherwise), the adult has committed a criminal assault.  When an adult directs incessant verbal harassment at a teen official during or after a game, the adult may cross the line that separates healthy competition from the crime of endangering the welfare of a child.

Criminal endangerment statutes are broadly worded to enable authorities to reach a wide range of emotionally abusive conduct that compromises the strong public interest in child protection.  From parents or someone else, serious injury to a child’s emotional well-being often stems from a pattern of belittling, derision or other verbal abuse.  The unrelenting torrent that adults sometimes unleash on teen officials during and after games might fit the bill. Children’s games hold no immunity from the standards of child protection that apply on Main Street, at home, or anyplace else in town.

 

[Sources: CBC News, Teen Hockey Refs Quitting Over Verbal Abuse, Nov. 25, 2013; Doug Abrams, “When Verbal Abuse of a Teen Official Becomes Criminal Child Endangerment” – http://askcoachwolff.com/2013/06/18/obnoxious-sports-parents-the-criminality-of-attacking-young-refs/]

 

 

OBNOXIOUS SPORTS PARENTS: Should the Kids Be Penalized when their Parents are out-of-control?

 

Disciplining Parental Misconduct in Youth Sports

By Doug Abrams

 

Seven-year-old goalie Sabastian Elliott of Hamilton, Ontario will play hockey this winter after all. Citing misconduct last February by his mother Melissa Elliott, the Rosedale Minor Hockey Association rejected the family’s application to re-enroll. The boy will now skate with another association about a 25-minute drive from the Elliotts’ home.

CBC News reports that on February 17, Melissa Elliott instigated an on-ice protest by her 17-year-old daughter, Terry-Lynn, and some other players on the girl’s midget team.  Officials reduced the length of the team’s game because the preceding midget contest ran overtime after some spectators rushed onto the ice during a bench-clearing brawl.  When officials instructed Terry-Lynn’s team to return to the dressing room after their abbreviated game, Melissa Elliott in the stands shouted at the girl and her teammates to stay on the ice, which they did. The Rosedale association suspended mother and daughter for the rest of the season.

Speaking about the association’s refusal to re-enroll Sabastian this year, its president told CBC News that Melissa Elliott “was the one who stirred the pot that evening by keeping [the team] on the ice.  If parents act up, unfortunately the poor kid pays the price.”  The mother responded that her son asked, “I’ve done nothing wrong, mom. Why can’t I play hockey with my friends?”

Personal Accountability and Best Interests

Regardless of the rights or wrongs of Rosedale’s verdict on the Elliotts, this week’s Ontario news story invites discussion about how youth sports associations should discipline unruly parents, the troublesome few who threaten to spoil fun and fulfillment for the many. The threat does not confine itself to one sport, one age group, or one community. No association should consider itself immune from parental unruliness these days.

During my 11 years as president of a mid-Missouri youth hockey association, our bylaws contained a protocol for hearings to discipline disruptive parents.  The disciplinary hearing committee consisted of the entire board of directors, minus any board members who disqualified themselves in a particular case because of the parties or the charges involved.

The protocol applied to decisions whether to re-enroll a family for the upcoming season based on its prior track record, the issue that surfaced recently in Hamilton.  The protocol also applied to parental misconduct that occurred once the season began.  This column concerns our disciplinary protocol, which depended on two related principles – individual accountability for wrongdoing, and concern for all players and their families.

“Individual accountability” meant that each parent remains primarily responsible for his or her own wrongdoing. A child may mimic the parents or remain silent, but the child is normally bears no responsibility for the elders’ misconduct. Unless the player deserved a share of the blame in the particular case, our association’s board of directors strained to discipline a wayward parent with measures that would not diminish the player’s standing in the program. Sanctioning a wrongdoing parent is one thing; needlessly hurting the blameless child is quite another because youth sports serves the youth, and not their elders. We stood ready to suspend or dismiss a family from the association only as a last resort, but fortunately we never had to go that far. 

“Concern for all players and their families” meant that, with the nearest youth hockey association more than 100 miles away, making a youngster pay the price for the parent’s antics would likely have ended the player’s career.  Unlike Sabastian Elliott, our players did not have another association 25 minutes down the road.  

But all means all. We recognized that a small number of troublesome parents – indeed, sometimes even one – can sour the experiences of the majority of players and their families, become cancers in the association, or embarrass or otherwise damage the association. I know some wholesome parents who hesitate to bring their younger children to games in various local sports to shield them from what some other parents do or say in the stands. I also know some dedicated volunteer coaches who grow tired of spending the bulk of their hockey time corralling one or two parents. The majority deserves protection from the minority’s excesses, even if protection means a family’s long term suspension or removal in an extreme case.

The “Least Restrictive Remedy”

Here is how our association responded to cases of parental misconduct:

Regardless of whether the alleged misconduct involved a course of conduct or a one-time incident, the board of directors sometimes began with informal discussion that might spare the child needless embarrassment. The board would delegate a member to notify the parent about the complaint or charge, engage in a mutual give-and-take, and decide whether to proceed further. On more than one occasion, the parent already regretted what happened and the parent’s understanding resolved the matter in ways that produced no recurrence.

If the board had a sanction in mind (such as suspending the parent from the rink for a game or two), it might close the matter if the parent accepted the sanction. If the charges seemed too serious for informal discussion (or if the discussion produced no satisfactory resolution), the board would swiftly schedule a hearing, while memories were still fresh and the final decision would be most meaningful.  The parent could also request a hearing.

Disciplinary hearings proceeded in two stages.  The first stage sought to ascertain whether the parent violated the program’s bylaws, rules or regulations.  Evidence typically included statements from witnesses, and from the accused parents if they wished to be heard. The board often emerged with a better understanding after listening to both sides of the story. Because the association instructed coaches to provide each player full and fair participation in practices and games, for example, parental outbursts might seem less serious when we learned that the coach had consigned the player to chronic benchwarmer status without our having noticed.   

If the board found a violation, the hearing’s second stage decided what to do about it.  Here is where the core principles – personal accountability, and concern for all players and their families – assumed center stage. The board would try to fashion a remedy that would sanction the wrongdoing in the way least restrictive on the family, and particularly on the player.  The remedy might require an apology from the parent to others involved.  A more restrictive remedy might suspend the offending parent from the rink for one or more practice sessions or one or more games. (A short suspension might work if the other spouse could transport the child, but perhaps not if the offender was a single parent could not otherwise get the child to the rink.)  

The most restrictive remedy – the family’s long term suspension or complete removal, both of which happened in Rosedale – might be appropriate in extreme cases because of the magnitude of the offense and its effect on other players and families, the parent’s past failures to respond to less restrictive measures, or the parent’s continued non-cooperation. The board handled these extreme remedies gingerly lest the normally innocent player be left as collateral damage.        

Conclusion

Imposing discipline is the least savory aspect of being a youth league coach or administrator.  I much preferred to teach, instruct and lead players while enjoying harmony with parents who got along with one another and respected sportsmanship and camaraderie. I did not relish confrontation, but occasional discipline went with the territory. Disciplinary proceedings carefully calibrated to the offense are an important part of youth sports, for the sake of all the families who play by the rules and seek a wholesome experience from their children’s sports.

 

[Hockey Mom’s Spat With League Leads to Ban of 7-Year-Old Son, CBC News, Oct. 3, 2013; Kaleigh Rogers, Banned Seven-Year-Old Hockey Player Finds New Place to Play, CBC News, Oct. 18, 2013, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/news/banned-seven-year-old-hockey-player-finds-new-place-to-play-1.2101184]

OBNOXIOUS SPORTS PARENTS: New Study Reveals Just Pervasive the Problem Continues to Be

 

New Survey Confirms Adult Misconduct

During Children’s Games

By Doug Abrams

In a national survey released on September 18, Liberty Mutual Responsible Sports provides yet more disturbing news about adults’ behavior at children’s games. Forty percent of the youth coaches surveyed said that they have experienced parents yelling negatively at other children. Fifty-five percent of the coaches said that they have experienced parents yelling negatively at their own children. Forty-four percent said that they have experienced parents yelling negatively at officials, and 39% said that they have experienced parents yelling at them.

The Liberty Mutual Survey underscores the 2010 poll that Reuters News and the market research company Ipsos jointly conducted in twenty-two nations. The poll 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 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.

Consistent Earlier Survey Results

The Reuters/Ipsos poll and the new Liberty Mutual survey confirm earlier estimates of adult excesses at children’s games. In a Survey USA poll in Indianapolis, Indiana, for example, 55% of parents said that they had seen other parents engaging in verbal abuse at youth sports events, and 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 in a game; 21% said that they had been pressured to play with an injury; 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. 

The National Alliance for Youth Sports estimates that about 15% of youth league games see a confrontation between parents or coaches and officials, and a national summit on Raising Community Standards in Children’s Sports concluded that youth sports is a “hotbed of chaos, violence and mean-spiritedness.”  In a survey conducted by Sports Illustrated For Kids magazine, 74% of youth athletes reported that they had watched out-of-control adults at their games; 37% of the athletes had watched parents yelling at children, 27% had watched parents yelling at coaches or officials, 25% had watched coaches yelling at officials or children, and 4% had watched violence by adults.

The Societal Costs of Bad Adult Behavior

 I cannot help but think that somber numbers such as these help explain why 70% of youngsters quit playing organized sports by the time they turn 13, and why nearly all quit by the time they turn 15.  When researchers ask youngsters why they stopped playing, the reasons given most often are that practice sessions and games stopped being fun because parents and coaches imposed too much pressure to win, yelled at them for making mistakes, and cut or benched less talented players.

Some youngsters drop out of a sport because they enrolled as an experiment and learned that they did not like the sport after all.  Particularly in the early teen years, some youngsters stop playing when they realize they lag behind their peers in skills or strength, even if their parents and other adults urge them to continue playing as their skill level catches up. Other youngsters stop playing when they develop new interests or find part-time employment, but many who cite new interests or part-time employment may have begun looking elsewhere when the adult pressure cooker spoiled their youth sports experience. 

The high national dropout rate means that millions of youth leaguers quit early through no fault of their own, but because adults drove them out.  In a sedentary age marked by unacceptably high rates of childhood and adolescent obesity, adults jeopardize the public health when they churn out bumper crops of athletic dropouts year after year.  Some adults may ratchet up the pressure with visions of college athletic scholarships or pro careers for their children, but the high dropout rate suggests that unreasonable pressure may abort more sports careers than it creates.

The adult-induced dropout rate also means that the nation squanders opportunities to teach millions of children the valuable character lessons that can come from athletic competition.  Athletics, after all, can teach nothing to a child who has quit. 

Too often the damage is permanent because many youth leaguers quit with their self-esteem so tattered that they despise athletics and avoid participating for the rest of their lives, even in such invigorating carryover sports as swimming, bicycling, or jogging.  Emotional scars linger into middle age and beyond, despite the demonstrated health benefits of lifelong physical exercise.

When Kids Giggle at Adults

The negative effects of adult misconduct hit home one Saturday a few years ago when my squirt hockey team, comprised of nine- and ten-year-olds, played a game in St. Louis.  We arrived early and sat in the stands to watch two teams of 14-year-olds.  We also got to watch parent spectators directing a torrent of insults at the referees.  At every insult, the squirts would turn to me, cover their mouths, and giggle.  They knew stupidity when they saw it. 

Children’s laughter at their elders is not a healthy sign for youth sports programs, whose role models should be the adults and not the pre-teens. The steady stream of disturbing survey numbers, however, continues to reaffirm that many adults could learn plenty about respect and vigorous sportsmanlike competition from their own children. 

[Sources: Parents and Coaches Express Conflicting Opinions Regarding Priorities in Youth Sports, https://responsible-sports.libertymutual.com/youth-sports-survey; https://responsible-sports.libertymutual.com/article/1733/ (press release); 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 1 (2012) (discussing prior survey results)]

 

 

OBNOXIOUS SPORTS PARENTS: The Criminality of Attacking Young Ref’s

 

 

When Verbal Abuse of a Teen Official Becomes Criminal Child Endangerment

By Doug Abrams

 

Every so often, a newspaper column sends a powerful, unforgettable message. On March 14, 2008 – more than five years ago – the Meridian Booster, a small newspaper in Alberta, Canada, carried a letter-to-the-editor that has stayed with me because it describes unrelenting verbal abuse of a local teen as he did his job. 

“I watched,” recounted the letter writer, “as two grown men in their 30s and 40s bullied a 15-year-old boy while he was at work. For more than an hour, the men were frantically yelling and hollering, waving their arms, calling the boy dumb, and when all of that didn’t work they resorted to glaring menacingly at the kid.”

“When the boy’s shift was over,” the writer continued, “I watched him leave his work area, change out of his uniform and go home. This place is off limits to the general public, but I watched as one of these men aggressively barged right into this changing area and continued to yell at and berate the boy until the boy and his co-workers asked the man to leave. After this man left, I watched as he went over to his friend (a prominent business owner in our area) and a woman who had joined them. The two men and woman told each other how justified they felt to confront this kid, patting each other on the back and planning their next moves.”

The targeted boy’s job?  Refereeing a youth hockey game between two teams of elementary school kids. The two adult bullies? Coaches of one of the teams.

 “They Think It’s Life and Death

This column concerns the law’s response to verbal, and sometimes physical, abuse that some parents and coaches inflict on teen officials during and after games.  One act of slapping or punching the official can constitute criminal assault warranting prosecution, and persistent verbal abuse during and after games can amount to criminal child endangerment.

In just the past month or so, several newspaper articles chronicle adult manhandling of teen officials. On May 2, for example, the Asbury Park (N.J.) Press reported the arrest of a 43-year-old manager of a 10-12-year-old New Jersey Little League baseball team.  The manager was charged with two counts of assault for slapping a 17-year-old umpire who had ejected him from a game.

On May 7, the Sunshine Coast Daily (Queensland, Australia) wrote about a father who watched his son, a 14-year-old referee, absorb verbal abuse from an adult soccer fan and then, in the next game, from a coach who accused the boy of biased calls on the field. “I don’t think they see the youth in the kids,” the father said, “They think it’s life and death when in fact it’s youth sport.”  

On May 18, the Santa Clarita (Calif.) News reported a 34-year-old coach’s arrest for assaulting a 17-year-old referee during a 12-14-year-old parks and recreation department flag football game.  The coach walked onto the field, yelled about the referee’s call, and struck the boy in the face, knocking him to the turf.

On May 20, the Charleston (S.C.) Post & Courier wrote about a teen umpire who was “in tears as he took off his equipment after the game, because one of the coaches had given him such a hard time” during a recreation league baseball game. A fellow 16-year-old umpire wondered aloud whether the few dollars he earns each game is worth the verbal abuse hurled at him by parents and coaches who “will do whatever they can to win.”

State of Denial

It is simply too easy to dismiss news reports about abuse of teen officials by reassuring ourselves that “only a minority of adults step out of line,” and that “most adults respect the bounds of decent behavior.”  I happen to agree that abusive adults do constitute the minority, but I suspect that media coverage alone actually understates the number of adults who step over the line.  Many readers of this column doubtlessly can recall embarrassing incidents that never reached the local papers because, without someone arrested or seriously injured, the abusive confrontation seemed commonplace and not newsworthy.

I showed this column in draft form to Neil Jackson, one of our University of Missouri second-year law students and a member of my squirt hockey team 12 years ago.  Speaking about high school students who umpire youth baseball games, Neil said that “personal friends of mine have quit on the spot. . . . I have seen not only coaches, but also parents harass the umpire in the parking lot. I have been informed about one particular umpire, a very close personal friend of mine, who was challenged to a fight in the parking lot after he told a parent to calm down or leave the premises. The high school players are being harassed by the same small percentage of parents day in and day out. From my experience, the umpires must ‘gear up’ when umpiring a specific team to deal with parents who are out of control. . . . All the high school umpires want to do is get through the game without the coach or parents of one of the teams making a scene.”  

Endangering the Welfare of a Child

In extreme cases of adult abuse of teen officials, the response may include criminal prosecution because teen officials deserve the same protection that children and adolescents receive outside of sports. Children’s games hold no immunity from the standards of child protection that apply on Main Street, at home, or anyplace else in town.

When a parent or coach strikes an official (teen or otherwise), the adult has committed a criminal assault.  When an adult levels incessant verbal harassment at a teen official during or after a game, the adult may sooner or later cross the line that separates healthy competition from the crime of endangering the welfare of a child.

Criminal endangerment statutes are broadly worded to enable authorities to reach a wide range of conduct that compromises the strong public interest in child protection.  In New York, for example, a person commits the crime of endangering the welfare of a child (a class A misdemeanor) when “[h]e or she knowingly acts in a manner likely to be injurious to the physical, mental or moral welfare of a child less than seventeen years old.” 

Under the New York statute, the “person” prosecuted may be the child’s parent or anyone else, and the offense may be committed at home or in the community.  Injury to a child’s physical welfare may stem from one act, such as the punches and slaps that led to the recent arrests in New Jersey and California.  Injury to a child’s mental welfare often stems from a pattern of belittling, derision or other verbal abuse; in extreme cases, the unrelenting torrent that adults sometimes unleash on teen officials during and after games would fit the bill. Because the test is likelihood of injury, the prosecutor does not have to prove that actual harm occurred.

Easy Targets

As I discussed in a recent column, many youth leagues report a chronic shortage of qualified adult officials because so many hang up their whistles, unwilling to endure abuse from parents and coaches. With the supply of adult officials dwindling, some leagues have enlisted teens, who often bear the brunt from parents and coaches who see them as easy targets. As Neil Jackson observed, many teenagers quit too once they or their parents grow concerned about their safety and sensibilities.  These teens stepped forward to participate in the game and to earn some spending money, not to become fair game for abusive adults. 

Except in extreme cases, the better response to adults’ abuse of teen officials would be prompt discipline imposed by the local league or association, which sometimes occurs. When this informal discipline fails or when the abuse is particularly serious, however, the law protects children from adult-inflicted endangerment for a reason. 

 

[Sources: Terra Weaver, Give Young Refs a Break, Meridian Booster (Alberta, Canada), Mar. 14, 2008, p. A5; Perry Smith, Castaic Man Charged With Assaulting Ref in Valencia Flag Football Game, Santa Clarita (Calif.) News, May 18, 2013; Stephanie Loder, Berkeley Little League Manager Charged With Hitting Teen Umpire, Asbury Park (N.J.) Press, May 2, 2013; The Ugly Side of Sporting Prejudice, Sunshine Coast Daily (Queensland, Australia), May 7, 2013, p. 4; Teen Umpires Deal With Grown-Ups, Post & Courier (Charleston, S.C.), May 20, 2013, p. 2; N.Y. Penal Law section 260.10]

It’s that time of year when Moms and Dads are eagerly signing up their youngsters for spring sports…and when that happens, invariably lots of special requests and favors are being asked of the volunteers who run the registration desks. Requests like:

“Can you arrange to have my son be on the same team with Joey? They’re best friends…”

“My daughter has a full slate of activities each Saturday. Can you make sure she’s on a team that practices no later than 9 AM on Saturday?”

“My son really enjoyed playing for Coach Brown last year…can you make sure he’s on Coach Brown’s team again this year?”

You get the idea…everybody seems to have a very innocent and simple request. Problem is, the amount of requests go up every year to the point where the volunteers just can’t keep up. Remember – these are volunteers – friends and neighbors who are just trying to help out. They really aren’t there to help accomodate every favor that’s asked.

As a result, the very best policy for all youth leagues to have to put forth this direct message: PLEASE DO NOT MAKE ANY SPECIAL REQUESTS FOR YOUR CHILD. THE ONLY CONSIDERATIONS THAT WILL BE MADE WILL BE FOR CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL MEDICAL OR HEALTH NEEDS.

That policy should be spelled out in any correspondence that goes out in the pre-registration letters and it should be posted in bold letters at the registration desk.

In my opinion, we are becoming too much of a society of entitlement, and I believe a lot of this starts with our kids signing up for youth sports. And by the way — hey, coaches, just because you’re volunteering to coach your team doesn’t mean you’re entitled to any special perks either. You aren’t entitled to special treatment by the league, such as choosing your own team, having the best practice slot, choosing your game times, etc. The concerns with entitlement cuts both ways.

Bottom line? Let’s keep everything fair and square. As I said on my radio show this morning, there’s a very simple test when it comes to these issues…ask yourself, is this action fair for all the kids? If it isn’t fair, then it’s your obligation as a parent and adult to make sure the playing level is fair and level.

That’s the key…make sure it’s all fair. That’s all that the kids want.

OBNOXIOUS SPORTS PARENTS: An Alarming Wave of Sports Parenting Violence

After a decade of relative peace and quiet on the sports parenting front when it comes to out-and-out violent acts, suddenly it seems that there’s an epidemic out there.

As I rattled off on my show this AM (and by the way, you can always hear a podcast of my show on WFAN.com), there are all sorts of reports from all over that sports parents are committing horrible acts, specifically:

A dad at a youth football game in Utah steps up to the sideline during a game and clotheslines an unsupecting 13-year-old from the other team. The kid suffers a concussion, is out for the season, and the dad is looking at serious legal charges.

Another dad, angry at his 11-year-old son’s ice hockey coach about discipline and playing time, attacks the coach by choking him to the point where the coach can’t go to work for several weeks as he recuperates. That dad was convicted and was just sentenced to six months in jail.

A youth baseball coach from Long Island allegedly sends threatening text messages to an opposing coach.

A dad at a practice session for 4th grade football players takes exception to how hard his kid is tackled on a play, and the dad retaliates by punching the other kid’s dad in the face.

And the stories go on and on. In short, this serious problem seems to be gaining momentum all over, and that’s disturbing.

Perhaps this new generation of sports parents have forgotten, or don’t know about, the infamous Thomas Junta manslaughter conviction in 2000. Junta was “defending” his son during a hockey practice, and as Junta got into a fight with another dad, the other dad ended up dead at the hockey rink. Junta was convicted and spent years in jail.

I worry that the Junta lesson has not been reinforced with parents today.

Solutions? Not sure that there are any that are sure-fire, but for starters:

Go back to having mandatory pre-season training for all sports parents. Let them know that their kid CAN NOT practice with the team until Mom and Dad both attend a seminar on how to behave.

Education continues to be a major force in getting the word out to parents. We have to go back and make sure the message continues to go forth.

Have your league fully adopt a zero tolerance policy towards parents. In other words, they don’t get a second chance. If they are out of control at a game or practice, they are to be banned for the rest of the season. Grown-ups should know how to behave at kids’ games, and if they don’t, then stay away.

In short, unfortunately, it’s time to take action again.

 

OBNOXIOUS SPORTS PARENTS: It’s Now An International Concern – and Growing

 

 

 

Australia’s “Ugly Parent Syndrome”

By Doug Abrams

 

With globalization influencing Americans’ lives so profoundly these days, I devoted recent columns to youth sports in Britain and New Zealand, two nations whose passions for competitive athletics resemble our own.  Both nations maintain youth sports systems that are beset by troubles similar to the ones we face here in the United States.  The most publicized troubles concern the efforts of youth sports organizations to counter violence and other misconduct committed by some parents.  

This column examines Australia’s recent youth sports troubles, which are also similar to ours.  The Queensland Courier Mail blames incidents of parental violence and other misconduct on “vicarious living, mob mentality and an overemphasis on winning,” even at the earliest age levels.  For years now, Australians have diagnosed the malignancy as “The Ugly Parent Syndrome.”

 “Terrific Opportunities”

President Obama is right that in “a world that is getting smaller because of technology, . . . there are terrific opportunities for us to partner with people around the world.”  In so many areas of economic and social life, global partnering enables the United States to study how other nations (and sometimes other cultures) grapple with common problems.  Americans can learn much from other nations, and other nations can learn much from us.

The challenges posed by the relatively few adults whose violence and other misconduct mar youth sports transcend national boundaries.  A 2010 international survey, conducted by Reuters News and the marketing research firm Ipsos, ranked American parents 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 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 yes, Australia (50%). 

This summer, an Australian survey confirmed the earlier Reuters/Ipsos findings.  As reported in the Geelong Advertiser on June 25, 64.3% of respondents said that they had seen incidents of Ugly Parent Syndrome in their local youth sports.  The incidents included “throwing beer bottles at umpires, imploring their children to strike opponents, and publicly criticizing volunteer coaches.”

On September 11, the Northern Territory News reported that teenage officials had been “punched, sworn at and threatened” by irate parents at Australian games for children as young as nine.  One observer likened these parents to “people who steal, bash children or bully the weak.”

On September 17, the Courier Mail reported “a spate of weekend junior rugby league brawls involving parents.”  After witnessing one brawl, a Queensland Rugby League board member said that the violence “makes you wonder why on earth any parent would want to attack a kid.”   

In the Canberra City News last year, sportscaster Tim Gavel reacted to several ugly incidents by asking, “Is there a worse sight in sport, apart from outright thuggery, than the image of an abusive parent at a junior sporting event?”  He may have meant the question to be merely rhetorical, but listeners responded by inundating him with instances of “over the edge” parental behavior in that city’s youth league games.

High Stakes

In the United States, between 30 and 35 million boys and girls — nearly half the nation’s children — play at least one youth sport each year.  The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that about 1.7 million boys and girls — about 63% of Australian children — play at least one organized sport outside school hours.  In both nations, no other activity reaches so many youngsters outside the home and schools. 

Recurring instances of parental disturbance may seem a cause for pessimism, but — in the United States, Britain, New Zealand and Australia alike — these instances are offset by the majority of adults, who seek to assure wholesome experiences for millions of young athletes.  With the stakes so high, the majority in both nations can learn much from one another. 

This mutual learning already seems to be bearing fruit as Australian youth sports organizations have countered parental misconduct with measures similar to ones taken in the United States.  Australian parents may be required to sign preseason good-behavior pledges and attend meetings about sportsmanship and fair play.  At sports venues, sports programs post signs requesting proper parental behavior.    Parents may be barred from approaching their children’s benches during games and at the end of a quarter or half.  Some programs maintain zero-tolerance policies for parental misconduct, and violation has led to suspension or dismissal of parents and, in particularly extreme cases, their children.    

In the United States and Australia, national and local governing bodies, local sports leagues, and private reformers could learn from sentiments expressed in the other nation, and from written materials generated to support and explain these sentiments.   Rich with new ideas, these sources are only a mouse click away on the Internet.

Government agencies have taken the lead.  In the United States, the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports & Nutrition instructs that “Nothing ruins the fun of physical activity and sports participation faster than a poor sport.  Practice the principles of good sportsmanship.  Be courteous and show respect at all times, win or lose.  That goes for players, parents of all young players, and coaches.” 

The Australian Sports Commission has published Codes of Behaviour.  The Codes “identify a series of key principles on which young players, parents, coaches, teachers, administrators, officials, the media and spectators should base their sporting involvement.”  The Commission seeks to “ensure that young people develop good sporting behaviours and have an enjoyable experience of sport, which will encourage them to remain involved throughout their lives.”  The Codes of Behaviour stem from the Commission’s central creed:

 

“In Australia we are proud of our sporting ability and our reputation as a nation of good sports.  Our society expects high standards of behaviour from all people involved in sport and it is vital the integrity of sport is maintained.  The main responsibility for this lies with the decision makers at every level of sport who should ensure that all policies, programs and services are based on the principles of fairness, respect, responsibility and safety.”

 

 

 

[Sources: Chris Garry & Andrew MacDonald, Brawl Parents “Need Ego Boost,” Courier Mail, Sept. 17, 2012; Four In 10 (37%) Global Citizens Have Been To Children’s Sports Event, http://www.marketwire.com/press-release/Four-In-10-37-Global-Citizens-Have-Been-To-Childrens-sports-Even-1143748.htm;  Parents Are Bad Sports, Survey Finds, Geelong Advertiser, June 25, 2012; Remarks by the President to Students at Parkville Middle School and Center of Technology (Baltimore, Maryland), www.whitehouse.gov (Feb. 14, 2011); Middle Class Dads Put On a Nasty Display, Northern Territory News, Sept. 11, 2012; Fiona Baker, Good Sports, Sunday Telegraph, May 27, 2012; The President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, The President’s Council  on Physical Fitness and Sports, The First Fifty Years, 1956-2006, p. 38; Tim Gavel, Sport’s Ugly Parents, Canberra City News, June 8, 2011; Brigid O’Connell, Ugly Parents Tackled at Sports Events to Protect Children, Herald Sun, Sept. 8, 2008; North Sydney Junior Rugby League, Ugly Parent Syndrome, http://www.sportingpulse.com/assoc_page.cgi?c=1-1125-0-0-0&sID=13503&articleID=52179&news_task=DETAIL; Australian Sports Commission, Junior Sport Codes of Behaviour, http://www.ausport.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/115576/8._JnrCodesofBehaviourbrochure.pdf ; Australian Sports Commission, The Essence of Australian Sport: What We Stand For, http://ausport.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/312869/A4_brochure_7_05-V5.pdf ]

OBNOXIOUS SPORTS PARENTS: The Top 10 Rules of Expected Parental Behavior

 

 

(The following is adapted from Rick Wolff’s WFAN Radio show, The Sports Edge.)

 

 

Hi everybody, and welcome to this week’s edition of The Sports Edge…

 

As you know, every so often, I like to do a kind of sports parenting clinic on the show…and now that we’re into the full swing of school and sports teams, I thought it was a good team to take a moment and review some of the basics.

 

Now, for those of you who have been through the wringer of sports parenting issues, some of this will sound familiar…but for those of you who are new to this, or are going through these struggles now, well, I look forward to your calls and comments at 1-877-337-6666.

 

On today’s show, I thought we do a round-up of what is appropriate in terms of parental behavior at our kids’ games….

 

We all know that the kids are rarely the issue when it comes to sports parenting problems today…rather, it’s usually the coaches and the parents who don’t always see eye to eye on sports….and as such, I want to run down some of the basic principles that you and your friends and colleagues might encounter this year.

 

 

Okay, let’s begin…

 

Here are – what I like to call – the Top 10 Rules of Expected Parental Behavior at their Kids’ Games:

 

1) Parents should be seen, but not heard too often – it’s absolutely fine and good to go and watch your child play. But as a parent, you should try to blend in with the woodwork. Don’t draw attention to yourself –the games are all about YOUR child….they are NOT about YOU.

 

As such, parents (not children) should be SEEN….but not HEARD.

 

2) If you have to say something, it should only be positive praise. Very simple. If you absolutely feel compelled to cheer, make sure your comments are only positive! And make your comments generic in tone. That is, “Way to go guys” or “Great job girls” is much more effective than highlighting just one kid.

 

Try and Root for the TEAM – not just one individual kid.

 

3) Never openly criticize your kid….and whatever you do, never, ever criticize somebody else’s kid! This is an absolute sin. If you feel compelled to try and coach your child from the sidelines, or make some disparaging remarks, e.g. “C’mon, Mike, you’re not even trying hard out there,” or “Sally, you gotta get back faster on defense,” then you have really crossed the line.

 

Coaching is the Coach’s job – -NOT yours. And even though it may kill you to stand there and say nothing, well, that’s too bad. Act like the grown-up adult that you are.

 

And by the way, if you ever criticize somebody else’s kid in a game—well, now you’re totally out of line and risking a well-deserved punch in the nose. You never ever criticize some other parent’s kid, or risk the consequences.

 

4) Please do not do a play-by-play of the game. This applies mostly to youth coaches who try and dictate every play of the game while it’s happening…it happens a lot in soccer matches ”Okay, Sam, dribble the ball up…now pass it over to Joe….Joe, pass the ball to Jerry….Jerry take the shot.”

 

Feel free to work with your kids during practice or at home…but during the actual game, let the kids figure it out! Otherwise, they’ll become too dependent on you for constant instruction. Even worse, they’ll feel that they can’t be spontaneous during the game, less you get angry with them and bench them.

 

PS – when you played sports as a kid, did anyone dictate to you what to do? I didn’t think so. So why are you doing it to your kids?

 

5) If you can’t control your mouth, then don’t stand with the other parents….stay way far away from the others, and stand off by yourself…..

 

Folks, you have to know your own personality. If you honestly feel that you might get too emotionally involved in your kid’s game, then stand off by yourself during the action. You can come back and rejoin the sane parents during half-time, but there’s nothing wrong with going away from the crowd and being alone with your thoughts.

 

I’d rather you do that than make a jack-ass out of yourself where everybody can hear you and confirm that you’re an out of control jerk AND embarrass your kid.

 

6) Refs are not there to be abused in any way. Nor can you influence them.

 

Here’s the deal. Without the refs, umps, or officials, the game quickly is transformed from a real game into just being a scrimmage….okay, so understand that and accept that fully.

 

Then, understand that the vast majority of sports parents DO NOT know where to draw the line when it comes to questioning a ref’s call…too many parents DO think that a ref can somehow be psychologically influenced during a game, and if that the parent keeps chirping and pointing out perceived mistakes, then the ref will begin to give the chirping parent the benefit of the close calls.

 

Of course, that never happens. If anything, the ref will just get annoyed at the parent.

 

So, here’s what you do to fix the problem. Don’t say anything to the ref. And don’t say anything about their calls. Let the coach do that. You, as a sideline parent, just be quiet. The ref is NOT going to change their call. The ref is NOT going to be influenced on future calls by your catcalls. So, just be quiet.

 

And besides, in sports, bad calls are part of the game. You must understand – and accept that as well.

 

7) It’s okay to applaud a nice play by an opposing player….we’re trying to teach our kids to be good sports, and to respect their opponents. So if one of the opposing players makes a great play, applaud it!

 

That’s okay – yes, even sometimes the opposing team makes good plays! And you should tell your child that it’s okay for their opponents to be talented as well.

 

8) Understand that you are a role model for the kids – they will follow your behavior.

Along those lines, ALWAYS remember that your son or daughter is watching YOU on how they should behave.

 

So if you’re going nuts on the ref, or throwing a temper tantrum, or seem emotionally unsettled, don’t be surprised if your kid starts acting the same way. And you know what? That’s YOUR fault, not the kid’s. Another case of monkey see, monkey do.

 

Think I’m kidding? Ask one of the other parents who has a video camera to go across the field and to tape the behavior of parents on the sidelines during a game. The tape is so revealing that parents won’t believe what they’re seeing….just remember – this is exactly what your kid is seeing when they play.

 

9) If a coach or a ref tells you to calm down, please take that caution seriously!

 

You folks know I’m a big fan of zero tolerance. And if a ref or ump or official singles you out, and tells you to calm down, then consider yourself fully warned! You won’t get – nor do you deserve – a second chance.

 

And if you can’t calm down, then yes, you should be banned from the game. What gives you the right to ruin it for all the kids, coaches, and other parents?

 

10) Try to give your kid a smile….when your kid looks over to the sideline and, for a brief moment, sees your face, please make sure you have a smile on it…or at least, a look of quiet pride. Kids DO look to parents for approval, and if you look like you’re having a good time, then he or she will feel the same way.

 

But if you’re scowling, or cursing, or stomping around, then your kid will take that as a sign that they ought to be nervous and angry too. So, relax – leave your game face at home – and wear a relaxed face to your kid’s game.