Sports, Kids & Fans
By Ann V. Deaton, Ph.D.
Q: My son started Little League this fall. How can I be an encouraging “sports parent” and not push him too hard? What is the best way to handle a situation with a parent who takes Little League too seriously? There seems to be a lot of yelling at the players, umpires and coaches during the game. What are warning signs that a fan may escalate to violence? Is there anything I can do to defuse the situation?
You’ve heard the news, and seen it yourself. Violence at youth sporting events is on the rise, both on the field and in the stands. What can we, as parents, do to protect our children and ourselves? What can we do to bring the fun and positive learning back to youth sports? A few recent incidents have brought this concern even closer to home.
Richmond, Virginia, February 2000: Fans at a girls’ basketball game in Chesterfield County become involved in a brawl when the game is tied in the last few seconds and goes into overtime. Fans are banned from subsequent games.
Richmond, Virginia, December 1998: A shooting occurs in the parking lot of George Wythe High School after a basketball game. In response, high school varsity boys’ basketball games starting times are changed to 4 p.m. to ensure smaller crowds and daylight in order to minimize the chances of a recurrence.
Farther from home, but hitting equally close to home:
Reading, Massachusetts, July 2000: An angry parent spectator beats another parent to death at a youth hockey game.
Hollywood, Florida, News-Journal Wire Service, July 2000: A youth baseball coach is charged with punching the umpire and breaking his jaw, as abuse of officials has become the latest problem for youth sports.
These frightening incidents and headlines concern our children and all of us, as well as the coaches and recreational associations that sponsor the sports our children play. You’ll be glad to know that there is a lot being done about it and a lot you, as a parent, can do.
Recreation associations are starting to adopt codes for spectator behavior to remind all parents at the start of every season how to keep the games fun for the players. Glen Allen, for example, reminds its Little League parents not to shout at the children from the stands unless they want to offer encouragement. Leave the coaching to the coaches, say the guidelines. And, for the most part, it works. At least the nine and under league play during spring 2000 season was characterized mostly by shouts of things like “Nice play!”, “Good try!”, and the like.
Other associations have adopted similar codes of conduct, including the Langley Cheetahs “Fair Play Code” (found on http://www.eteamz.com/langleycheetahs web site), a 7-item guideline that reads in part: “I will not have unrealistic expectations. I will remember that child athletes are not miniature professionals and cannot be judged by professional standards.”; “I will respect the officials’ decisions and I will encourage participants to do the same.”; and “I will not use bad language, nor will I harass athletes, coaches, officials, or other spectators.” In addition to these efforts on the part of the recreational associations, the alcoholic beverages that sometimes fuel spectator anger are not typically sold at youth sporting events, removing one trigger for violence.
What can you do? You should, of course, follow any guidelines that have been set up by your child’s coach or league. In addition, you may want to try the following:
- Keep your own emotions in check. Enjoy the game, but don’t view it as more than a game. If you find yourself getting upset, get a cold soft drink or take a walk to cool down.
- Encourage your child to accept officials’ decisions, even if they don’t agree. Let your child know this is just part of the game.
- Share your positive attitude with others. Feel free to offer encouragement to all the athletes, not only your own child or your own team. Comments like “Great teamwork!” are always in order.
- If someone near you appears to be getting out of control in their behavior, move to a different area. If you are concerned about the possibility of violence, let some other calm adults know what is going on so that several people can intervene if needed. And don’t hesitate to advise security staff if there are guards at the game.
Your child plays sports to have fun, learn, and develop good sportsmanship and teamwork skills. Help him or her to enjoy every game, win or lose, and it’ll be a winning season no matter what the team’s record.
- Reviewed by Josie Castaldi, PhD, Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Feb. 2002
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