This is probably going to be one of the touchiest blog posts I've written so far. When it comes to youth and teenage sports, most of the adults involved are overly sensitive. Parents expect their children to be given a fair shake and a certain level of protection. School administrators want everyone to be nice and cheer but not gripe. Officials want to call the game, get their paycheck, and get out the door without being lynched. Everyone has a legitimate reason to be on high alert in the youth sports environment.
Our local parents and school administration are no exception, and if anything, we may be in a heightened state of alert because of the investment of time and energy some of our families have put into their respective sports. As with any difficult situation, there are ALWAYS two sides. Sometimes the sides are unable or unwilling to see things from the other point of view. My intention is to provide some perspective as to what I see as being both sides of the local sports parent issue. I'm probably also subjecting myself to some type of self-correction by writing this since we tend to see the faults in others that are most glaring in our own lives.
Back in the day (1983), a teenage girl hit the basketball court and played hard for four quarters. Her greatest concern for her personal safety was a bad landing following a rebound that resulted in a sprained ankle, someone's boney rear end blocking her out a little too efficiently, or the rare but not unheard of blown knee, which was usually the result of a pivot gone bad rather than the modern day football tackle seen on basketball courts across America. Physical contact wasn't tolerated by refs. There was no grabbing of the shirt, no reaching to knock the ball out of your opponent's hands, and even the cleanest of blocked shots was probably going to land you a foul. Basketball was basically a non-contact sport.
At that time, the majority of parents didn't feel qualified, nor did they feel the need to coach from the bleachers or scream obscenities at the refs. Don't get me wrong. There were some, and I could probably name names from the mid 1980's of our local poster parents for bad sports fan behavior. However, those were few and farther between than they are today.
My parents were great, and yet I didn't realize how great they were until I started noticing how I was acting toward my daughter. My parents only came to home games. It was rare that they traveled to an out of town game unless it was some place within a 30 minute drive. During the game, I never heard my parents yell or try to tell me what I should be doing. They clapped when something went well, and for the most part, I think they sat quietly and observed during the less than pleasant times. After the game, they would comment on the things I did right. I don't remember a single time that negative feedback was given about my performance. The closest thing to a negative was an occasional, "It was a tough game, wasn't it?"
That kind of parent behavior is rare today. Most parents have invested extraordinary amounts of time, money, and emotion into their kids' sports talents. In a few cases, they may know more about that sport than the person the school hired to coach their child. They are passionate about their kids, passionate about the sport, and their pride is wrapped up in that child's performance for better or worse.
Add to that parent passion the evolving world of sports where keeping the game moving, keeping it exciting, and making sure we stay on schedule has become the driving force for many referees. No referee wants to be known for making a JV game last two hours because s/he called a foul every time a player breathed in another player's direction. Basketball has turned into a full contact sport in many cases, and it is rare that a game goes by that someone doesn't sustain some type of injury. Few things bother a parent more than feeling like the adult in charge is turning a blind eye to their child's need for protection. Mama and Papa Bear instincts are strong, and if the designated adult won't do the job, right or wrong, the Bears feel like they need to step in and fulfill their God-given obligation to protect their offspring.
Recently, all of our local basketball parents received a letter from the athletic director reminding us of UIL rules regarding appropriate fan behavior and the consequences for inappropriate behavior. It was a blanket generic letter. There was no mention of specific incidents or examples of inappropriate behavior on the part of local parents, however, I suspect that a series of highly emotional ball games in which girls were injured and officials were seen as not doing their job adequately was the catalyst. I have missed most of these games because of my school schedule, thus most of my information is second hand from others who were in attendance.
I have been in attendance at a few games this year, and almost every game last year. I have to admit to being uncomfortable with some of the comments coming out of parents' mouths. One recent example was a parent who didn't like the way the referees were calling, so she proceeded to target a player on the other team (calling out her number) and told the girl she had just better watch it. I believe the opponent was assigned to guard her daughter. Her actions as a fan were totally out of line and inappropriate. There is absolutely no excuse for a parents to direct a verbal attack at the other teams' players. I was annoyed with myself for not having the courage to confront her about her actions.
Another incident I witnessed was almost humorous in retrospect, but really ignorant on the part of us parents. I say us, because I was probably involved in it, too. Same ballgame....we all looked up and there were six players on the court for the opposing team. All of the parents start yelling at the refs about the six players. If we had kept our mouths shut and let the ball be thrown in bounds, the other team would have received a technical foul and we would have had a chance to score two free throws. As it happened, our fans drew attention to the problem and the other team was able to remedy the situation before we got to benefit from it. Aren't we brilliant?!
Apparently there have been a number of other situations recently where local parents felt a strong need to help the refs control the game, or help the coach tell the girls what to do. This has earned us a bit of a reputation with other schools, which is sadly a poor reflection on our community. Such reputations make hiring quality coaches difficult and best and impossible at worst. No one in their right mind wants to work in a community where the parents run the show or even attempt to do so.
We all need to work on remembering that our job is to be our kid's cheerleader. Leave the yelling to the coach. If my kid needs to be yelled at, I can personally guarantee the coach will do it. My girl doesn't need me doing it, too. I need to be there to make everything okay. Too many of us have gotten our roles confused. It used to be that the coach did the tail chewing and parents picked up the emotional pieces. Today it seems as if many parents are doing the tail chewing and the coaches are trying to keep the emotional stability of each girl intact in spite of Mom and Dad. I for one have enough on my plate without adding coach and official to my job description. I think the same probably holds true for most everyone else.
With that said, it is time for me to turn the tables a bit. Remember, when it comes to yelling at the refs, that behavior is often triggered by a perception that the adult in charge isn't doing their job and Mama and Papa Bear need to protect their offspring. In most of the games where I have witnessed parents becoming highly vocal toward referees, there was a significant concern for the safety and well-being of the girls.
Parents sign a waiver to allow their child to participate in sports. While injury risk is an accepted part of participation, parents still have a right to expect a reasonable level of adult control. Allowing obviously dangerous and aggressive behaviors to go repeatedly uncalled on the court is not acceptable. Expecting parents to sit quietly while watching such negligence on the part of officials is equally unacceptable. Unfortunately we have entered an era when work ethic is sorely lacking in all career fields. Officiating is no exception. I have seen refs that take their job seriously, work hard four full quarters of a game, control the game, keep kids reasonably safe, and walk away with my praise and admiration. I have also seen refs who showed up, moved as little as possible while on the court, let all sorts of junk slide by unchecked, and then take their full pay for doing a half-bleep job.
I believe it is the obligation of school officials to notice when tensions are beginning to rise and take appropriate action to calm the concerns. If parents are that upset, then school officials should find out why and address the situation. If the game is being poorly controlled, parents have a right to expect school officials to take reasonable action to correct the situation. By the same token, parents need to seek out school officials and calmly address their concerns one-on-one rather than repeatedly screaming across a gym at the refs. If parents feel they can trust school officials to act in the best interest of their children, I believe most incidents of inappropriate fan behavior can be prevented.
It boils down to this: All parties are responsible for ensuring an enjoyable competition. No one group should be held totally accountable for all instances of misbehavior unless the incident is an isolated one. Yes, there is an occasional nutcase in the stands who needs to be shown the way out the door. For the most part, however, anytime there is group frustration, there is reason to look for the catalyst.
Parents, shut up. Show up to cheer on your kid, but quit trying to play coach and referee. If you want those jobs, apply and get hired. Our kids are literally laughing at our behaviors because we are absolutely absurd. Think I'm joking? Ask them. We are an embarrassment to them. Other parents need to buck up and start self-policing. If you see someone acting inappropriately at a game, have the courage to speak with them privately (not in the middle of the stands or in front of their kid) about your concerns. Part of the problem is we are laughing at and accepting each other's stupid behaviors instead of alienating that which is inappropriate.
Coaches, talk to your team parents. We are sometimes too dense to know what you've got going on. Should you have to tell us? Probably not, but we want to be involved, so get us on your side by keeping us in the loop. We've spent years being very instrumental in their sports career. It's hard for us to suddenly cease being in the know. We are the WHY generation, and we want and need to know why we should buy in to your way of doing things. Let us get inside your head just a bit. It makes it easier to walk a mile in your moccasins when things aren't going our way. Who are the parents who've got your back when things are a little rough? They are the ones you've been talking to on a regular basis.
Officials, do your job and do it well every single time. Police yourselves, and get rid of slackers. They give you a bad name. Yes, I know there is a shortage of willing officials, but there wouldn't be if everyone did the job fair and right. We are trusting our kids futures to your decision-making ability and willingness to control chaos. You would want nothing less for your own child. Keep the game in check and reasonably safe for our kids. And another thing....focus on the game and not on the stands. That's what our kids and coaches have to do. Be like a duck and let it roll off. You look just as stupid as the irrational fan when you engage them.
School Administrators, don't be afraid to find out why people are upset before you throw them out of a game. Communication is a good thing. We would like to feel we can trust you with the safety and best interest of our kids, so prove to us that you are worthy. Again, we are the WHY generation. "...because I know best..." doesn't fly with us. You have to honor that if you desire our respect. If you do not, we probably will not be pleasant people to deal with. Remember, they are OUR kids, not yours. We have entrusted them to you. Their presence improves your bottom line in most cases, and we do have choices.
Now, everybody shake hands and be nice.
Stills from the shoot. :)
7 years ago