Keeping Parents from Crossing the Line Between Nurturing and Nuts
Can a basketball player…have any good advice for soccer parents? The answer is yes.
Former NBA superstar Charles Barkley triggered a controversy in 1993 when he insisted in a Nike commercial, that, "I am not a role model." What is often forgotten, however, is the rest of that quote: "…parents should be role models." It's something to think about the next time you complain to your child's coach about playing time, or trash an official's call in post-game discussions at the dinner table. Are you setting a good example for your child? Your child already knows the answer to that question, whether you do or not.
Parental involvement in youth sports can be a double-edged sword. Without legions of soccer moms and dads to driver young players to practice, serve as volunteer coaches, and pay the freight, youth leagues would quickly wither and die. It's the same story in any other sport you can think of, from hockey to swimming to baseball to football. But parents can sometimes cross the line. As a result, out-of-control parents are a growing issue in youth sports around the country, not just soccer.
"Parents and coaches have lost perspective on what sports is about," says an exasperated spokesman for the National Association of Sports Officials. According to the Boston Globe, there are at least three incidents a week across the country involving violent behavior by spectators, parents or participants in youth sports leagues. "It is not a hockey or soccer parent issue, it's a society issue," laments Kevin McLaughlin, USA Hockey's director of youth hockey. "This kind of thing has always happened, but with more and more players, you're going to have more incidents….Parents put a lot of money and time into a sport and they begin to feel the pressure of wanting to see results."
Soccer parents (similarly hockey or any sport) can give the whole sport a black eye when they cross that line. That's especially unfortunate because the sport's public image is vital to bringing in more new players to the sport and to help enlist community interest in new facilities and other forms of support. What's the answer to stemming this kind of behavior? USA Hockey puts its emphasis on a Zero Tolerance Policy when it comes to disruptive incidents. USA Hockey has also developed a Parent Awareness Program, which produces pamphlets and videos at the youth hockey level illustrating the dos and don'ts of watching a hockey game. Likewise, the NJYSA has also initiated the same tolerance and promotes its new SAGE program.
US Youth Soccer has also produced a video explaining the most often misunderstood rules of the game in an effort to promote better understanding of the game among parents. Leagues all over the country have adopted Parent Codes of Conduct, many of them modeled after a code published in American Hockey Magazine in 1993. Some excerpts from other codes of conduct from around the country:
"Parents are expected to provide encouragement and support for their team coaches. Any issues of disagreement should be brought forth in a spirit of cooperation." (Camillus, NY)
"Parents are expected to know the rules, support the officials and display good sportsmanship…Remember that children learn best by example, so applaud the good plays of both teams." (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
"I agree not to be critical of the program (soccer or hockey) or other players in front of my children." (Frederick, MD)
"I will never ever yell at my child for mistakes that are made on the field (the ice)…I will accept the results of each game, and teach my child to be gracious in victory and to turn defeat into victory by working towards improvement…I will always remember that my child plays the game to have fun." (Marshall, Minn.)
Add all of these ideas together and what do you get? "We must be role models for sportsmanship, teamwork and self-control," says USA HED Doug Palazzari. After all, while it's unlikely that your young player will grow up to be another Pele, Mike Petke, Mike Modano, or John Vanbiesbrouck - or even get to the MLS or NHL, etc, at all - there's no reason why you can't strive to be a hall of fame parent. That's a goal that can help elevate everybody in every sport.