Sunday, January 13, 2008


One imagines it's the Football Playoff Mania that's sweeping the nation (just like the Mudshark) that's filling the pages of the Washington Post with stories of rude behavior in the stands and parking lots of our nation's football emporia. Post readers, Redskins fans, reported being treated dreadfully by their neighbors at the Seattle game last week, prompting a Seattle resident to apologize in a letter to the editor.

At the amateur level, Jeanne Marie Laskas writes a column in the Magazine section on the discomfiture of a mother who is required to watch a film on courtside etiquette for parents; she's obliged to sign an affidavit that she's watched the film before her daughter is allowed to play in her league.

It would appear that all over the nation, and all throughout the history of amateur and youth sports in the United States, parents habitually break out in fisticuffs, abuse referees, harass the
players (their own children and others'), and loudly and obscenely question coaches' decisions. This is an epidemic. It's Clearly a Symptom of Something Very Wrong With the Body Politic.

Only, I've never once seen it happen. I played three seasons of Little League baseball, three of Pop Warner football, high-school baseball and competitive skiing. Freddie has been a league soccer player since he was four -- he's fourteen now -- and has played in more than a hundred soccer matches in two different leagues, nearly every one of which I've watched from beginning to end.

And I've never seen a parent who wasn't fully supportive, encouraging, polite and positive. We cheer when the boys do well, and we comfort when they don't. A referee's bad call engenders no abuse -- some quiet muttering among the dads, certainly, but never anything hurtful. I've never seen a parent confront a coach over a strategic or personnel decision. I think I saw three yellow cards and no red cards this last season, even as the teen lads start playing the full-speed, serious and physical men's game.

So where is this dreadful behavior happening? Have you seen examples of it? Drop a comment, won't you?


Homefront Radio (Simon) said...

Uh, let's see, how can i put this tactfully without sounding elitist, given the social circles in which i imagine you move, based on your intelligence.

From what i've seen, it's a social class thing. Intelligent, successful parents simply have far less at stake in what seems to them to be a harmless children's competition.

Now imagine someone from a poorer working-class background, who has never made anything of their own life, and is living vicariously through their children's achievements. They sees their children as a potential Future Meal Ticket should they be scouted by the right rep.

Take into account to that Sporting Figures can earn incredible amounts of money, far beyond the standard correlation between genetic intelligence and financial earning. If he doesn't earn a sporting scholarship, the only University Junior's going to attend is Hamburger U.

Therefore, a referee's call can be taken as possible deprivation of future bling and / or a hummer. You can see how tempers can flare when so much conspicious consumption is at stake, coupled with an unrealistic sense of entitlement.

I've seen it happen, and it's deathly embarrassing for all concerned.

Neddie said...

Well, I'm sure that's part of it, Si, but not all of it.

I was being a bit disingenuous when I said I'd never seen it happen. I personally truly never have, but newspaper accounts have attributed the behavior to people in more or less exactly my income bracket. And Freddie's soccer team really is a classless society: One dad is a pipefitter, and another teaches software programming at a major corporation. That's really the nice thing about league soccer; you get folks from all walks of life.

As I discussed the subject matter of this post with Wonder Woman, she pointed out that she'd heard awful stories from another mom whose son plays ice hockey. In this part fo the world, ice hockey isn't particularly popular, and parents have to make rather enormous sacrifices to get their kids to games that are many miles away, played on rinks that are available to childrens' leagues only at five in the morning. I can see that being an enormous stressor on parents.

But that doesn't explain the otherwise perfectly ordinary parents, of reasonably good incomes, who (the newspapers tell me) behave like utter shits on the sidelines of their kids' games at three in the afternoon at an ordinary neighborhood league game.

JD said...

Simon, having sat silently through an interminable number of youth hockey games, I take issue with your premise that only working class parents raise hell on the sidelines. I have seen doctors, lawyers and assorted highly compensated parents make absolute fools of themselves by screaming and their children and those of others, not to mention the officials. One surgeon with whom I had work contact was particularly offensive.

blue girl said...

Yeah, I disagree about the class thing too. The worst dad I came across over the years blue kid played baseball was actually a family friend who owned his own business and was pretty successful.

But, he showed up at the games after having a few cocktails -- always brought his 3 iron (!) to hit invisible golf balls with out in the grass as he berated not only his son for dropping the ball or whatever, but all the other boys too.

I was on the receiving end of his shenanigans once. He almost brought out the worst in me because I wanted to wring his neck and I let him know it one time when he got exceptionally obnoxious and mouthy. Not that he cared at all. It just made me more obnoxious.

Blue Kid's also experienced atrocious coaches, but I'll stop with the stories now.

blue girl said...

It just made me more obnoxious.

Oops! I meant him!

Freudian slip?


Derryl Murphy said...

Yeah, nothing to do with class as far as I can see: university profs are every bit as likely as loggers to go apeshit. I remember my first experience was with bad coaches when I was a little leaguer, and my dad ended up yanking me from the team. Their attitude was atrocious.

Nowadays I play and coach soccer, and always give my parents the "no hockey parents allowed" speech (this being Canada, that's what goes over easiest). But I've seen parents and coaches go ballistic, I've had to settle some down before they launched - refs for my kids are kids only a little older, still learning the game themselves, but some folks just can't deal with a bad call no matter who makes it - and I've heard of a couple of times over the past 5 years where a parent had to be escorted from the fields (we have a central soccer facility here).

All that said, the vast majority of parents are great and supportive and a joy to work with.


Homefront Radio (Simon) said...

Well, fair enough, you asked if i'd seen examples and i have, many times, but Australia has our class divisions deeply ingrained as a hangover from England, whereas America sells itself as a 'classless society', (that for some reason means a lot of them hire someone else to clean their toilets).

From my personal experience, it's always the woman with the Koala Ears hairdo wearing stretch-leggings and Crocs who speaks up, never the pearl-clutching, long-skirted SUV driver in heels.

It's always the man in thongs, stubbies shorts and a 'Summernats' t-shirt who causes a scene, never the leather elbow-pad, sensible shoes man with the glasses.

Have you ever seen Australian comedy show 'Kath And Kim'?

"Kimmy", (yellow outfit), standing on the sidelines clutching a bottle of Passion Pop, (Australia's cheapest wine, known collaquially as 'the two buck chuck'), is EXACTLY what i'm talking about. "I could give a fat rats!" I bet you just think she's an exaggerated caricature. *shudder*

You want to know how uncultured Australia is? My town is having it's annual low-rent alternative festival in a few weeks, and the headliner is Vanilla Ice.

Yes, that one.

Andrew said...

I played in public sports leagues all through the 90s. I witnessed parents cross the line of acceptable spectating and coaching several times. However, I never saw anything more serious than a screaming match, but given that one of the participants in that dialog was soused to the gills, it easily could've escalated.

Once the kids hit high school, bad parent behavior became a non-issue. Even in the summer leagues where parents coached the teams. Something to do with the players being burgeoning adults, maybe.

I also played club sports in college. Parents don't really show up for those games and definitely aren't coaching them. It's amazing how much more relaxed that atmosphere was than anything I'd experienced before.

Now, playing in adult recreational leagues, it's just over-competitive meathead players that you have to watch out for. Douchebags are everywhere.

andrew said...

Oh, as for class: my leagues spanned everything from blue collar workers to well-known restaurateurs.

You couldn't really predict who'd be mouthy.

david said...

I tend to disagree with the class breakdown but I do think it's some sort of twisted compensatory behaviour, "My boy's gonna make it like I never could". People from all walks of life have problems with self esteem, which is what it all comes down to, just being comfortable in your own skin.
BTW - my wife, who speaks English as a second (or third) language has always pronounced the word as 'fist and cuffs' which I find utterly charming and just as accurate.

cope said...

My POV: this is my 19th year coaching high school soccer and I coached my son's club teams for 5 or 6 years. I also played soccer in college (not in HS, they didn't have it at that level for public high schools in the Plasticene Period).

The worst I have ever seen: an on-field altercation during district play-offs (bad foul from behind by their guy, a punch thrown by our guy) that whipped the fans into a frenzy. One of their parents called the cops, parents were screaming at each other in the stands, our on-duty assistant principal and school resource officer took the field to keep everybody in the stands. End result: the game was suspended and finished up the following afternoon with no fans allowed in the stadium (we lost). The parents of the punched player sued our school district (they were from another) and pressed criminal charges. The charges were dropped but our school board folded like a hankie and settled out of court for an unknown sum.

I have seen individual parents engage in loud verbal assaults on head coaches after a game and seen parents go down on the sidelines to do the coaching of their precious child themselves during the game.

That said, considering the number of games I have played and coached, the variety of venues and the variable levels of parent involvement present in all those games, I really can't say that there is a pervasive problem solvable only by mass social engineering requiring boring, poorly produced videos, PowerPoint presentations and required "contracts". Nor can I say any one group of players or parents is more likely than another to cause mischief.

I am of the "let 'em play" frame of mind. If we coaches are doing our job, the parents will know the drill and fall in line. If the parents don't get the message, guess what: at least in high school sports, we coaches decide who is on the team.

Other than that, what can I say? We live in litigious times, one version of the American Dream involves hoping for a "million dollar wound" and sport is not necessarily for fun anymore.

mac said...

Most of the time I love going to my daughters tennis matches. Some schools in the area (Northern Va.) have quite the reputation for asinine behavior. At one match some of the opposing players and parents would politely clap—when their opponents made a mistake. It was pretty unnerving to less experienced players and disgusting to watch. My son's soccer games were much more laid back.

Anonymous said...

I've seen nasty words exchanged, and folks restrained by cooler heads. I had an opposing coach pull his team off the field in a blizzard of blue language (u14 girls soccer) when a player on his side was hurt on a clean tackle. This was a guy who coahced his kids to go after the other team (you could hear him on the sideline shouting to his team to "hit em" - yes 13 year old girls) My son was in little league and stopped going to games because one of the non-coaching parents just rode the kids from the stands. So, yeah, I've seen some pretty crass behavior at kiddie sporting events. This was in a nice chicago suburb. These were average middle class folks - class wasn't the issue.

As far as pro games - I'm a bears fan, as well as a white sox fan. I can tell you that they get a bit goofy too - it's something about the teams being too tightly would to the fan's identity that triggers it. once the behavior becomes acceptable, it becomes normal, then it becomes part of the ritual, independent of the game - sorta like football hooligans in britain. the team and game are just a reason to get together and act stupid.