Fighting on the Sidelines

By Dave Ferguson of BEYONDtheCheers, Special for USDR

In the world of sports, society has become accustomed to seeing an exchange of fists, bullying behaviour and screaming amongst fans and spectators–that includes verbal abuses. We seem to have become more tolerant of this violence, which should actually be deemed unacceptable.

The problem with this inappropriate behaviour, is that it is not only evident in the stands and on the playing field, but we also see the negative actions of parents spilling over to parking lots and eating establishments that surround the games, and accommodate both spectators and players, alike.

A myriad of parents are involved with their childs’ team and with increased numbers, there’s trouble on the sidelines. Why is this seemingly becoming acceptable in our sports culture? Alternatively, and collaboratively, it appears that we need to put some energy into stopping it;

  • There has been an increase in altercations between fans reported during games.
  • Post-game incidents have taken place the parking lot.
  • Officials are sometimes being targeted and some have experienced physical injury.
  • Yelling obscenities at players, officials, coaches and opposing team parents has become more commonplace.
  • The coach is under scrutiny from parents for how they handle the team.
  • Parents push favoritism towards their own child, whom they consider the star of the team.
  • The coach gets criticized for the team losses.
  • Conversations before, during and after the game have become analytical criticisms amongst parents.

It is usually during the playoffs, or games with a stake in the standings, when out of control parents seem to be at their worst. It’s not uncommon to see fights break between parents of opposing teams and sadly, scuffles even manifest between parents on the same team.

There is a growing obsession, amongst parents of players, for their children to excel in sports. Many parents are chasing a scholarship dream for their child or hoping for a place in the pro leagues, even if their son or daughter is only six years of age. This dream can sometimes inspire a “win at all cost” attitude, that can negatively affect the entire team.

There is probably no way to completely eliminate the emotional pressure a parent feels when they are attending their child’s athletic event and the pressure is most likely to  increase as the child moves towards a more elite level of competition. But the excuse for poor behaviour is weak and the problem lies, not only with parent, but with the way our sports leagues are run.

Some leagues are recognizing the problems brought about by badly behaved parents and have begun to tackle them head on. Codes of Conduct are being integrated in to league rules and training for parents is becoming mandatory in several leagues across North America. Failure to comply could prevent the parent from attending games and may also prevent their child from playing on a team.

Many parents balk at the idea of having to follow a league Code of Conduct, as the approach is not thought to address the real root of the problem. The team concept, that has been alive for many years, must remain the focus, as far as many are concerned.

Leagues recognize that coaches can also play an important role in curbing bad behavior. At the beginning of each season, select parents (ones that the coach recognizes as outgoing or aggressive) can be provided an opportunity to get more involved with the team, working closely alongside officials and players. It is thought, for example, that a parent who covers the task of tracking game stats, can be easily diverted from overzealous behaviour in the stands by taking on such a role. They will get a better overall view of the team effort, the role of each individual player and learn about the opposition, as well.

The fun has been taken out of the game for many kids, whose parents are more concerned with how their child performs, as an individual, rather than how the team functions and plays. This approach seldom satisfies the team effort and can put all involved at heightened risk for defeat and loss.

There will always be those spectators who act inappropriately. However, if parents can shift the focus from their own adult-centered view, instead, towards a child-centered view; we will see the bulk of the bad behavior from parents, eliminated altogether.

A child-centered approach is the focus of the new Codes of Conduct, with parents assuming team roles as “ambassadors”. The idea is indeed worth exploring, as it involves more people on the team, with a better chance of growing community and building positive relationships.

All parents are encouraged to get involved;

  • Some parents take care of team stats.
  • There’s always a need for help with scheduling games and practices.
  • Tournaments require plenty of volunteers and collaboration.
  • Fundraising is necessary for both the team and league.
  • More helping hands raise more funds and more quickly.
  • Car-pooling is a great way to share responsibilities and build support networks with other parents.
  • Volunteer coaches, trainers and officials are terrific roles for those parents who can demonstrate leadership skills.

Youth sporting leagues are run primarily by volunteers, so the need continues for parents to get involved. More so, than screaming from the sidelines, kids need to see their parents as role models, and as part of their team.

The focus for our kids involved in youth sports, is not only towards learning useful lifelong lessons on the playing field, but also towards learning how to play — and how to just have fun.

All opinions expressed on USDR are those of the author and not necessarily those of US Daily Review.

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