Parent behavior at youth games has become a big deal in recent years, as countless verbal and physical assaults between referees, athletes, coaches, and fans are strewn all over the internet. While most sports parents do a fantastic job cheering and supporting kids, there are still too many stories where adult behavior has negatively impacted the game on the field.
So how exactly are adult fans to act in the stands, especially when things get heated on the field?
How are adults to act as fans?
The reality is that sports parents who attend youth games are largely left to their own when it comes to how they act as fans. One positive move being made by many youth sport leagues today is the development of “code of conduct” contracts, with the goal to help parents better understand how to be supportive, rather than disruptive, at the games they attend.
While parent contracts are a step in the right direction, leagues are challenged when it comes to both philosophically outlining “good behavior,” as well as enforcing the consequences for poor sportsmanship. Additionally, leagues that require a contract signature (rather than passively posting it on the webpage with the assumption people will view it more as a hope than a deal) may invite criticism that they are over-reaching with their policing of behavior. The big point is that while conduct contracts can be a good idea, they need to be thought through carefully and regularly evaluated to ensure they are helping keep fans in check.
While there will likely never be consensus when it comes to an exact list of what sports parents can and can’t do at youth games, there are a general cluster of ideas most would agree help enhance, rather than detract, from the fun and personal growth kids gain while playing. A short list of some of my favorites are listed below:
- Enthusiasm. Kids feed off of the excitement we have as fans in the stands, so make it a point to bring your A-game when you take to the stands. Your support and encouragement will not only help kids enjoy the sport experience, but will likely help them play their best, too.
- Know the rules. It is very important to know the rules of the sport you are watching — especially as it applies to bad calls and wrong calls. Bad calls are when referees simply miss a call (a human mistake found in every level of sports), versus wrong calls where the official simply didn’t know the rule (i.e. if a baseball umpire calls a kid out on strikes after strike 2, not strike 3).
- Network with other parents. Try to get to know the parents around you, and view them as a “team” similar to the team of kids you are watching on the field. Cheer their kids on just as you do your own, and try to police one another if you see someone on the verge of making a verbal or physical attack.
- Offer clear, positive reinforcement. Look for those teachable moments and be sure to offer clear, positive reinforcement for effort (even if the results aren’t there right away). Look kids in the eyes and give them an emphatic “great job!” as you connect the compliment to the positive behavior you just witnessed on the field (i.e. hustling on the field to make a play).
- Promote sportsmanship. Don’t just talk to your kids about sportsmanship, be sure to model it at all times yourself! This means being respectful to the other team and officials (and the facility), cheering rather than jeering, and appreciating all those who have made the sport experience possible for your son or daughter.
These are just a few of the basics when it comes to helping kids get the most from their experiences while competing in youth sports. Youth sports can be an emotional life experience, making it imperative that we prepare ourselves ahead of time and use our best judgement when it comes to how we respond to the calls that don’t go our way.