How to Teach Your Parents Well
By Jack Hutslar, Ph.D., North American Youth Sport Institute
Judging by the headlines, it seems there is no shortage of stories about violence, thievery and other shenanigans in youth sports these days, with parents often the prime culprits. Whether it be trash talking, poor sportsmanship, verbal abuse or even physical assault, this type of parental conduct is not only sad and shocking but downright despicable and dangerous.
Based on the media reports, we might conclude that there is more bad behavior in youth sport today than in the past. However, it may be that we are just more well informed than ever before.
I suspect that many readers are tempted to psychoanalyze the perpetrators in these stories to see what makes them tick. You know, you can drive yourself to distraction trying to figure out what motivates others.
Let me suggest a more productive alternative to resolve the problems that do exist in youth sport. In your own youth programs, consider taking a teacher or management approach to the unruly adults who roam the stands and sidelines at practices, games and matches.
Do you recall how some of your better teachers maintained order? They just laid down the rules. We followed them or suffered the consequences. If we knew we were going to get in trouble for not doing our homework or for misbehavior, we did what the teacher expected.
We can follow this same approach with parents and other adults who are involved with our sporting activities. We know that they "oughta" behave. As youth leaders, if we are not fully prepared to handle this responsibility, let us just spell out how our adults oughta behave.
Parents and other adults associated with youth sport activities must behave. No exceptions.
Make sure parents are clear on your program's rules. Here's a constructive checklist you can give parents and other involved adults:
- Exhibit exceptionally good social behavior at practice sessions, games and matches or stay away from these activities.
- See that your children, the players, have the proper equipment.
- See that your children arrive at the stated time and are picked up at the stated time.
- Applaud all good effort and good plays or remain silent.
- Allow the coaches to coach without outside interference or influence.
- See that your children receive ample positive encouragement and hugs regardless of the outcome of their contests.
- Allow your children to play without negative pressure, verbal or physical.
- Support the coaches in what they want the players to learn.
- Treat the coaches and league leaders with dignity and respect.
- Treat the game and match referees with dignity and respect, even the student officials.
- See that your children do not intentionally injure other players.
- Help your children adhere to the written and unwritten rules of honesty, fair play and good sportsmanship.
- Step in and assist or volunteer to help other players, the team or program when asked.
- Provide your children with extra instructional opportunities when possible.
- Provide your children with opportunities to learn other sports so that they have a more balanced development.
- See that your children do well in their school studies.
Now that we've established the expected rules of good behavior, how do you obtain the compliance of parents and other adults? Obviously, most people do comply without question. It is just a few others who get off track. They compel us to get the word out so that our standards of behavior become common knowledge and common practice.
- Hold preseason parent sessions at registration and other important gatherings.
- Conduct short prepractice and postpractice huddles with parents.
- Conduct short pregame, half-time and postgame huddles with parents
- Pass out the Parental Code of Conduct at all events, including awards ceremonies.
- Include the Parental Code of Conduct in every program and newsletter.
- Pass out the Parental Code of Conduct reminder cards that specify good behavior at all events, including awards ceremonies.
- Appoint a Program Leader to be in charge of good behavior just as you would league secretaries and financial officers.
- Appoint a Sportsmanship Committee to promote and chronicle good behavior.
- Appoint a Video Patrol to keep an historical record of parent behavior. Use it to council those for whom compliance is a challenge.
- Appoint a Cordiality Committee to be responsible for and respond to instances of expected behavior and unwanted behavior.
- Ask the local police to respond to complaints about unruly adults. This should be the last resort.
- Ban the offending people, by court order, from practice sessions and all other program events.
There are many examples of poor fan behavior at televised sporting events. It may not have occurred to some adults that there should be different standards of behavior for youth events compared to college and professional events. Since we are not able to determine why people behave the way they do, I have suggested in this article that we not attempt it.
An objective in any classroom or on any team is to establish and publicize the standards of good behavior. Spread the word and then lay out the consequences of unacceptable behavior. By taking action that promotes good behavior, it will help our adults see the light instead of seeing red.