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Continued: 'Bad news parents': Youth sports officials try to control over-the-top parent behavior

  • Article by: MARTHA IRVINE , AP National Writer
  • Last update: July 3, 2013 - 4:40 PM

Marinelli recalls one dad who was angry about a play on the field and tried to tackle her assistant coach during a game. The coach was able to duck the parent and ended up throwing him to the ground.

At a national tournament last year, she says a father of a player was so unhappy with a decision she'd made that he ran at her in the dugout, screaming and pointing in her face, causing some of her players to cry. Ultimately, she asked his daughter to leave the team because she felt the dad had repeatedly violated the team's code of conduct.

"The girl is a phenomenal softball player. She's a sweetheart — and a great kid," Marinelli says. "But I can't have a parent like that on the sidelines."

Kicking kids off teams is one of the more serious punishments that leagues and coaches use to try to keep parents under control. Some leagues and tournament officials also are giving umpires more power to warn offending parents and coaches and then ask them to leave the premises if they ignore the warning.

It can be an effective deterrent, though in many other instances, umpires or referees at youth games are often teenagers who may not have the experience or confidence to stand up to parents.

And often, there's no security at games. So parents are left to police themselves.

For that reason, some teams assign parents to be "culture keepers," asking those people to help keep the yelling and negativity from fellow parents to a minimum. Sometimes, they even hand out lollipops to help keep themselves quiet.

"But sometimes the culture keeper isn't always the best person — because that person is yelling just as much as the other parents," Jill Kirby says, laughing. She's a mom in Long Grove, Ill., whose five children participate in sports, from soccer to swimming and T-ball, sometimes in neighboring Buffalo Grove.

She says the signs asking adults to behave are a nice idea — perhaps even a way to get people talking about the issue. But ultimately, she doesn't think the tactic will work.

"I think the worst offenders don't think they are the worst offenders," Kirby says, conceding that maybe even she was one of those parents, "once upon a time."

"And then I got a little perspective," she says.

Greg Dale, a sports psychologist at Duke University, agrees that it's difficult for parents to see themselves as "that parent," at least without a little help.

He recalls a mom in California telling him about a dad she called "leather lungs" because he yelled so often at the officials, coaches and kids.

Hesitant to approach him, the woman secretly filmed him at several games and anonymously sent him the video. "And the guy changed the way he was acting from then on," Dale says.

More often, though, he says he sees parents who "say the right things" about sportsmanship — maybe even reciting a pledge before a game, as is the case at his own children's Little League games.

"Those things help. But ultimately, I think they're Band-Aids," says Dale, author of the book "The Fulfilling Ride: A Parent's Guide to Helping Athletes Have a Successful Sport Experience."

More important, he says is whether parents are actually BEING good sports, even at professional sporting events.

"As parents, we have to model the lessons we want our kids want to learn," he says.

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