Curbing Bad Behavior on the Sidelines

Concerned parents and league officials do have weapons to fight back against parental violence and bad behavior on the sidelines of kids' sports events. The most effective of these weapons is the potent power of peer pressure. If all the parents involved in the sport share a common belief as to how they should behave on the sidelines, then bad actors tend to get isolated quickly.

Deborah Quigley, a hockey mom in Braintree, Massachusetts, agrees, saying that in her 11-year-old son’s hockey league, parents act in consensus around the notion that fun, and not winning, is the important goal for their children. Outbursts of yelling, or taunting opposing players, teams or coaches are simply not done.

“During one tournament, we played a team that had really bad sportsmanship,” Quigley recalls. “The parents were loud on the sidelines. What really struck me was that they, the parents and coaches, seemed to condone bad behavior on the ice. But we just kept playing hard, ignored the behavior, and won the game. That was a very good day.”

Local sports leagues can encourage this “group consensus” and prevent violence by implementing a number of specific measures developed by The National Alliance for Youth Sports:

Appoint one individual to act as the supervisor of youth sports for the community. This person should be trained and certified by the Academy for Youth Sports Administrators.

Mandate that youth sports administrators who lease park and recreation facilities receive training in all aspects of youth sports management. (The NAYS estimates that, currently, 90 percent of these administrators are untrained in how to manage youth sports programs).

Require volunteer coaches to go through a training and certification program regarding the special issues involved in youth sports. This three- to four-hour course is available through 2,200 organizations nationwide. (Contact the NAYS for a list).

Ensure that parents know the behavior that is required of them in allowing their children to play youth sports. This education should detail parents’ responsibilities and clearly explain what is acceptable behavior

Adopting a Parental Code of Conduct

The drive to increase the level of sportsmanship in youth sports is also getting help on a state and national level through the use of codes of parental conduct. In Massachusetts, for example, the Governor’s Committee on Physical Fitness and Sports voted on Oct. 4, 2000, to endorse a “Sport Parent Code of Conduct,” which contains disciplinary actions, including season suspension and game forfeiture, for violating its provisions. This code was generated in cooperation with a number of national organizations such as the National Alliance for Youth Sports, the National High School Athletic Coaches Association and USA Hockey.

By ensuring that coaches are properly trained, and by emphasizing the philosophy that the athletes come first and winning second, sports leagues can make measurable strides toward creating an atmosphere that discourages unsportsmanlike behavior. Leagues can also enforce sanctions against bad behavior immediately. Many parents who have trouble behaving properly develop a track record early on; and, by acting quickly, league officials can spell out the consequences for continued poor behavior.

Kirk West, who has coached and played in organized sports for many years, recognizes that in the real world, winning will always be important. But he believes that sports is an extension of life. “How you conduct yourself in sports is how you conduct yourself in life,” he observes.

Children involved in sports know this instinctively, which is why parental misconduct on the sidelines matters so much. Children can learn how to behave properly in life from these lessons on the field, but only if the adults around them can control themselves. With persistence and cooperation, bad behavior on the playing field can become a rarity, rather than a trend.

Return to: Is Sportsmanship Dead?

Also in this series:

The Sport Parent Code of Conduct

Keeping Sports Fun for Kids

Are You a Bad Sport? A Quiz for Parents

From United Parenting Publications, April 2001.