Time Out—Overzealous parents behaving badly at kids’ sporting events

Appears in the September 2013 issue. View more galleries.

N2013_09_01_045SMALLWe’ve all seen that parent pacing the sidelines at the little league game or screaming from the stands at the JV football or lacrosse game shouting inappropriate comments at players, coaches, or officials. This type of behavior is not only a distraction to other spectators trying to enjoy the game, but it can also lead to a negative sports experience for young athletes.

Warning Signs

The growing number of overzealous parents at youth sporting events has prompted some suburban Chicago park districts to post warning signs at sporting venues aimed at keeping games in perspective. The Buffalo Grove Park District recently installed permanent metal signs reminding parents that it is highly unlikely that any college recruiters or professional scouts are watching the games and that win or lose, it will not impact what college your child attends or their future income potential.
The Naperville Park District does not currently post warning signs at its sporting facilities. However, parents and coaches are continually reminded through seasonal newsletters and emails about good sportsmanship and the examples they are expected to set at games and practices. “We’ve found that communicating the Naperville Park District’s expectations up front allows parents and coaches to know what is expected and creates an environment where parents help monitor each other’s behavior,” said Brock Atwell, Naperville Park District program manager.

Parent’s Behaving Badly

Expectations for parental behavior at Naperville youth sporting events are also clearly outlined within material and information provided to parents prior to the start of the season. Behavioral issues that do occur are addressed on a case-by-case basis. According to Atwell, most parents do a good job of keeping things in perspective. However, if a situation gets out of control, officials have the right to remove unruly spectators at any time. “The Park District reserves the right to ban a coach or spectator from a game, if needed, or even terminate a game if the parent or coach chooses not to leave,” said Atwell. “Officials and coaches are also fortunate to have the ability to call Naperville Park District Police.”

At the school level, Naperville School District 203 and 204 also have policies and procedures in place to address unruly parents or students at junior high and high school sporting events. Before each home game, the District’s fan behavior policy is read over the public address system reminding everyone of the importance of good sportsmanship. “Most fans (including parents) behave properly,” said Kaine Osburn, deputy superintendent District 203. “The Naperville community takes pride in these standards and has a deep respect for the student athletes and for our sporting events. We have not had to take out any fans. However, the schools reserve the right to remove anyone from the venue, either a parent or a student,” said Osburn.

Long-lasting Impact

While most of us are familiar with the ‘helicopter’ mom or the hot-headed dad who gets in the umpire’s face, sometimes this aggressive behavior crosses the line into abusive or bullying behavior. According to sports psychologists, this behavior can have a long-lasting negative impact on children. “This can create performance anxiety for young student athletes. It lowers their confidence level and can affect their ability to compete during games,” said Dr. Adrienne Skinner, Naperville sports psychologist. “The whole purpose of youth sports is to build self-esteem, create a positive experience, promote physical activity and teamwork, and develop social skills,” said Dr. Skinner.

Role Models

N2013_09_01_047SMALLGood or bad, parents’ behavior on and off the field is a role model for young athletes. “You are being a role model with your actions. If you are yelling, you are teaching your kids how to behave in a competitive situation,” said Dr. Skinner. “Parents need to remember the goal of sports and to look at the big picture by teaching your children how to deal with success and how to deal with failure.”

The National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS), a national nonprofit organization that advocates positive and safe sports for children, says children will follow examples of adult role models, positively or negatively. According to the organization’s National Standards for Youth Sports posted on its website, if the sports experience is to be a positive one for each child, adults must demonstrate sportsmanlike behavior as a fan, coach, and/or league administrator. They need to encourage fun, guide with positive reinforcement, and give praise for successes along the way. When a child makes a mistake, separate the mistake from the child. Adults need to encourage peer support and give positive verbal support to team members, opponents and coaches.

Parental Code of Conduct

The Naperville Park District is also addressing the issue of over-powering parents by providing all parents with a set of “Parental Responsibilities” prior to the start of the season. This helps parents understand their role and responsibilities in their child’s youth sports experience. The NAYS encourages leagues to adopt a code of conduct for parent’s which outlines the opportunities their child should have through participation as well as the responsibility the parent has in supporting the experience. According to NAYS, parents who receive an orientation and who are required to sign a code of conduct are usually more positive and supportive of their children. “A parental code of conduct should be mandatory for parents,” said Dr. Skinner. “It lays out expectations for parents and benefits everyone involved including the players.”

Experts agree that playing youth sports should be about growing, learning, having fun, gaining valuable life skills, and developing an appreciation for physical fitness. “Many of the programs and leagues the Park District offers have a recreational philosophy, which removes some of the “win at all costs” mentality that can contribute to parent behavioral issues,” said Atwell. Parents can help make sure kids have a positive experience playing sports by actively participating and keeping things in perspective.

Parental Guidance: Tips for Parents

Before the Game:
• Commit to honoring the Game in action and language.
• Tell your child before each game that you will be proud of them regardless of how well they perform.

During the Game:
• Fill your children’s “Emotional Tank” through praise and positive recognition.
• Fill their teammates’ tanks.
• Do not instruct your child during game action or at breaks. Let the coaches coach.
• Cheer good plays by both teams.
• Mention good calls by the official to other parents.
• If you disagree with an officials call, Honor the Game – be silent.
• If other spectators yell at officials, gently remind them to Honor the Game.
• Don’t do anything in the heat of the moment that you will regret after the game. Ask yourself, “What do I want to model right now for my child?”
• Remember to have fun and enjoy the game.

After the Game:
• Thank the officials.
• Thanks the coaches.
• When reviewing the game with your children ask questions such as “What did you learn from that game?” or “What was your favorite play?”
• Give your children truthful and specific praise.
Source: Positive Coaching Alliance, www.positivecoach.org