Parent Behavior at Games
“Behavior is a mirror in which everyone displays his own image.”
‐‐German author, Johann von Goethe
Some sports fans have the misguided notion that the purchase of a ticket buys the right to practice rowdy, rude, repugnant, and sometimes dangerous behavior in the stands. Too many sports parents fall short of good game conduct. In many cases, their actions negatively impact others, including their own children. You must follow this guiding principle: Nothing around the game –from rowdy fans, to demonstrative players, to overbearing parents‐‐‐should ever become more important that the game itself.
A Big Challenge
When you attend a game in which your child is competing, your self‐restraint is likely to be challenged, sometimes severely. Many parents identify so closely with their child’s performance that they take it very personally when a “bad call,” mistake, or rough play occurs. At some point during your child’s sports career, you can be certain that several of the following situations will occur:
¥ The coach employs a strategy with which you disagree
¥ A fan says something that annoys you
¥ An observer makes negative comments about your child
¥ The officials make one or more bad calls
¥ Your child makes one or more mistakes
¥ The coach isn’t playing your child
¥ The coach does not play your child in the “right” position
¥ Teammates do not pass the puck to your child
¥ The coach yells at your child
¥ Fans or opponents try to rattle your child
¥ Your child makes a critical mistake which directly affects the outcome of the game.
Any one of these situations can test your emotional, verbal or physical self‐control. Remember, in your own small way, you contribute to the success of each game by behaving properly. Your sports parenting goal is to be a positive role model displaying self‐restraint and good sportsmanship.
Eleven Behaviors to Avoid
Fan behavior can easily succumb to a “domino effect” when one or more negative, loud, or unruly fans trigger similar behavior among other observers. To help prevent such chain reactions among your fellow fans, at the beginning of the season, ask the coach to present good sportsmanship guidelines which specifically list unacceptable behaviors for parents, coaches and players. Offer to assist the coach by helping to write the first draft. Feel free to use, or share with the coach, the following points. Some may appear obvious, but because they continue to occur, they’re worth mentioning:
1. Do not mutter nasty criticisms about other players.
2. Do not needle the officials or opposing players in order to distract them and interfere with the game. Some parents have developed low-volume harassment into an art form.
3. Do not goad other parents into acting inappropriately, and do not join those who do.
4. Do not argue with or respond to the negative comments of poorly behaving fans, especially opposing fans.
5. Do not make angry, loud or profane comments about coaches, players, officials, or other fans.
6. Do not throw objects of any sort. Believe it or not, this happens.
7. Do not scold or yell at your child—or any child—about poor play, during or after a game.
8. Do not try to communicate with the coach during a game. Let the coach concentrate.
9. Do not yell instructions or try to communicate with your child during the game. Your instructions may embarrass and/or confuse your child and undermine the coach’s authority.
10. There is a difference between a positive cheer and an ear-piercing screech. Be supportive of your team, but do not allow your cheering to become so loud or relentless that those around you wish they had earplugs!
11. Do not become a boorish “rules expert.” Whether or not you have some knowledge of the rules, refrain from loudly correcting questionable calls by officials.
Where to Sit
For a number of reasons, where one sits at a game can become an issue. Sit wherever you are most comfortable. You may want to take a folding chair in case you choose to sit away from group of fans because:
¥ Sitting near opposing fans subjects you to a barrage of hostile comments.
¥ Some parents use game time to loudly socialize and gossip.
¥ You find it stressful to watch your child perform, and sitting alone helps you maintain your equilibrium.
¥ Your team’s verbal assault squad makes it unpleasant to sit with the group.
¥ You fear you may respond with unpleasant comments when you hear criticisms of your child.
¥ You prefer to focus quietly on the game without feeling obligated to engage in the polite chitchat. If people want to talk, tell them you will touch base after the game.
Whether it is enjoying the camaraderie of the crowd or sitting alone at the far end of the field, it is your right to enjoy watching your child’s competition from whatever vantage point you choose. I often find solitude an agreeable game companion.
If your child expresses a preference regarding where you sit, I would be inclined to honor such a request, because it might help your child maintain focus on playing, without mental distractions associated with looking at or hearing mom or dad.
Your Child is Wronged
There are a few things in competitive athletics that are more gut‐wrenching than watching an unprovoked punch or kick inflicted on your child. However difficult, you must remain in your seat and stay out of any conflict, unless your child is seriously hurt, or in danger due to lack of adult supervision on the ice. If you must help your child, do not display anger or engage in verbal or physical encounters with anyone!
The bad spill, while occasionally due to an intentional act, is most often mis‐interpreted. Fans, parents and coaches tend to overact when they observe hard contact, especially if contact is to sensitive areas of the body.
¥ At the youth league level, the overwhelming majority of hard contact is accidental. When a youth league player takes a hard fall it is usually caused by an opponent who accidentally gets tangled up with your player.
¥ Not to display a frequent and foolish fan reaction to hard contact, such as yelling at the opponent involved, or the opposing coach.
¥ If hard contact is intentional, it is the referee’s job to sort it out.
¥ There are times when a referee won’t see such plays, and other times when the referee’s judgment will differ from yours. Whether or not you agree with the call, make a commitment to the following principle: the rules and referee calls are incontestable!
¥ Parental overreaction to hard contact may negate your athlete’s learning the valuable lessons of competitive self-restraint and self-control, which are necessary to athletic success.
Mature sports parents must maintain self‐control even when their child has been intentionally wronged.
The Personal Time Out
Just as players may need a time out to deal with physical or emotional fatigue, sports parents may need to take a break from viewing. If your reservoir of emotional control is depleted, and you can no longer bear to watch, feel free to move your seat, get refreshments, take a walk, watch a game on another field, or go away and read. Far better to take a break than to turn into a rude or belligerent fan who makes a regrettable mistake!
According to sports psychologist Dr. John Sullivan, “Children have an opportunity to learn physical, mental and emotional self‐discipline from sports, and part of the learning process is watching how their parents act at a game.”
The Parent’s Need to Express Frustration
If your need to release frustration is best accomplished verbally, rather than through exercise or some other activity, you should first recognize the distinction between public venting at a game, which you should not do, and private venting to a spouse or friend, which can be very therapeutic.
Four tips on parental venting:
1. It is important to choose carefully the person to whom you vent. Try to pick someone you can trust to keep your feelings confidential. A spouse or someone not involved with the team might be a wise choice.
2. Use caution in discussing your frustrations with other team parents because:
a. Your complaining may result in unintentional but implicit criticism of their child or other teammates.
b. Venting may well appear to diminish your “team first” commitment, and contribute to a corrosive cycle of parental complaints.
3. Do not vent in front of your athlete. You risk undermining your child’s respect for the coach and team while detracting from the “team first” commitment that adds great value to the sports experience.
4. Again, maintain your self-control in public—and do your venting in private!