The Worst Thing About Kids Sports Is The Parents

Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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37 Responses

  1. Kazzy says:

    I used to umpire little league baseball when I was in high school. When drawing assignments, the amount of negotiating that went into avoiding the “bad sports parents teams” was intense, with our understand of which teams were which largely predicated upon what we knew of the coaches. The odd thing was, kids were assigned largely at random, so the distribution of bad sports parents should have been random. But it wasn’t. Sure, each team had at least a few bad ones and a few good ones. But the teams with the bad coaches (and by bad, in this sense, I mean those who act as described here… there were other sorts of bad coaches who were apathetic to the point of encouraging uninspired play and a lack of development for their players) always seemed to have more. Which mean that there was indeed some sort of relationship between how the coach acted and how his parents acted.

    I largely ignored it, but seeing as how I was umping games played by kids between 7 and 12, even a teenage Kazzy felt deeply for both boys and girls. There are plenty of things that are going to happen on a youth sports field that could lead even the strongest kid to tears… being berated by an adult, whether it be on your team or another, should never be one of them.

    Personally, I’d like to see the governing bodies of leagues do more to control fan behavior*. Make parents sign a code of conduct agreement as part of registration. Forfeit games by teams whose parents do not abide. If necessary, hire security to remove parents who continue to demonstrate non-compliance and charge them for the service (you’d also have to include language to this effect in the registration agreement).

    Youth sports leagues are for the youths. We wouldn’t tolerate some random whacko running on the field and stealing the ball; the police would be called. We shouldn’t tolerate out of control parents verbally, emotionally, or physically abusing players.

    * I’d extend this to include collegiate and professional leagues, when necessary.Report

  2. Michael Cain says:

    Badly-behaved parents have always been one of the two worst thing about kids’ sports. Badly-behaved coaches (at practices and not just games) are a close second. Even though you’re unlikely to change them, thanks for hammering away at this.

    One of the memorable experiences from when I was a kid in a small/medium town was my third (and last) year of little league baseball. The high-school guidance counselor asked to coach a team — I think he may have played minor league ball when he was young. When asked about which kids he might be looking for, he told the league organizers, “Give me the kids the other coaches don’t want on their teams.” Man, what a bunch of oddballs we must have looked like to the other coaches. It would have been fun to listen in on our coach’s meeting with the parents before practices started. All of the fathers made every practice they could. They and the coach ran drills that none of us had ever seen before, and gave a bunch of misfits a lot of confidence that they could play this game. One of the teams in the league seemed to always get more than their share of the natural athletes and was expected to dominate; we split our two regular-season games with them, and lost to them by one run in the league playoff finals. Whatever the school district was paying that counselor, it wasn’t nearly enough.Report

  3. Christopher Carr says:

    Sports parents need to bestow upon their children that kind of competitive, never-say-die edge that will be the key to their crushing TPS reports later in life.Report

  4. 1) I am entire certain that the Venn diagram showing bad sports parents and the people who are pointlessly rude to my office staff but sweet as pie to me is a solitary circle.

    2) I can already tell that the Critter will be good at sports. I don’t know if he’ll be as good as your youngest, having little sense of these things. But he is very, very enthusiastic about kicking, throwing, and catching, and seems to have a knack for it. I do not know how I will deal with bad sports parents (whatever my defects of character may be, I do not see myself becoming one), but I suspect it will be Not Well. God help the person who laughs if my kid ever gets injured.Report

    • greginak in reply to Russell Saunders says:

      It always amazes me how many people will be rude to my Admin Assistant. They are typically, and wisely, going to be cooperative with me, but do they think the AA doesn’t call back to tell me Mr/Mrs. Smith-Jones just crabbed at her or was a snarling mass of irritation.

      In the class we all should have had called Life 101, if our parent’s didn’t already teach us, one of the first lessons is always be nice to the receptionist/secretary/front desk staff. I know it really saved my bacon once at one agency i worked at. The AA, who was friends with everybody in our department, left a hit piece of a report laying out where i would see it and let me make a copy. I passed in on to my boss who was prepared for the hit when it came. The dufus who tried to get us with his behind the back nasty report never figured out it was the AA who leaked to us.Report

  5. Shazbot5 says:

    My parents watched two or three of my basketball games when I was older, and a few more when I was younger (only because they had to drive me; they usually chatted or read a book). It taught me that the game wasn’t that big a deal. It was for me to have fun at, not to prove I could do something that my parents wanted me to do. That was huge for me.

    Personally, I don’t think parents should be that involved where they act as if they have to go to the games. It is a kid’s game like hide and seek. It doesn’t need to be watched by anyone, except for safety. Kids get cheered too much and jeering kids is insane. Let them play by themselves.

    I might have a rule: “No more than 8 spectators per team” at any sporting function of kids under 15. And spectators would be strongly encouraged not to cheer. Kids 15 and over 15 who are good enough to compete at a level where you might want crowds watching them play will need to be helped by coaches and parents to deal with being cheered and jeered.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Shazbot5 says:

      I respectfully disagree. I liked having my parents be there for my games. In much the same way a parent would attend a ballet or piano recital or school play, watching a game, the culmination of my work and practice, was important. I valued having them there. They generally weren’t big cheerers… my dad because that wasn’t his style and my mom because she largely didn’t know what’s going on (“They all say ‘good eye’ when the ball is thrown over your head. Even someone with a bad eye knows not to swing at that.”).

      Now, we still ought to have standards to which we hold parents with regards to their cheering. There are ways in which competition can be healthy and good for kids. Sports allows an outlet for that and being cheered when you succeed is a good thing. When success alludes you, depending on your age, support of varying degrees is in order. We need not reduce ourselves to cheering for everything all the time or nothing at all. The problem is, we’ve really lost sight of how to lose graciously, of how to recognize struggles as the times in life during which we learn most, and the value of facing obstacles.Report

  6. Shawn says:

    I wonder if it tends to happen more with parents of boys. My daughter’s been playing travel soccer for years and I’ve never seen it. We just got home from a tournament this weekend and everyone was pleasant and supportive, as per usual. Luck of the draw? Or is it partly driven by the whole fantasy that “my boy is going to be a huge star and make me rich and be the star that I failed to be”?Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to Shawn says:

      The worst coach I’ve ever experienced was in middle school rec league girl’s basketball. He thought he was Pat Riley, taught his team to trap aggressively on every single possession, and whined every time one of his little muggers was called for a foul. His team finished first, of course, since it’s a great tactic against a player who’s still learning dribbling and passing skills.Report

    • Kimsie in reply to Shawn says:

      I think it has more to do with how drunk the parents get before the games.Report

  7. NewDealer says:

    I wonder if you did detailed biographical studies whether these bad sports parents would consider junior high school and/or high school to be the best years of their lives? Do they remember rulers of the roost back then?

    Everything you said about bad sports parents can be translated to stage parents including the heard mentality.

    Though I don’t think it stops after high school. I heard faculty at my alma mater complaining about getting calls from irate parents when their kids were not cast well or not cast at all. I was shocked by this.

    I guess this kind of bad behavior is a form of hostage taking because most people are reasonable and do not want to make a scene or get involved in a long and drawn out fight so they just give into the bullies.Report

  8. NewDealer says:

    IIRC there was a story a few years ago about a fistfight between two bad sport parents that resulted in death.Report

  9. Peter says:

    If there were more – or *any* – opportunities for adults to play team sports, some of these “bad parents” could channel their energies into their own activities. Or at least they wouldn’t be living vicariously through their children. Unfortunately, in most places there are very few adult team sports leagues, especially for people over 30 or so.Report

    • Miss Mary in reply to Peter says:

      I wouldn’t want to do roller derby with any of the parents that Tod was describing. I’ve seen adult tennis, roller derby, softball, etc. In small towns, too. Maybe I’ve just been lucky? Maybe you’ve just got to know where to look?Report

    • mark boggs in reply to Peter says:

      And, in my experience playing Hispanic League soccer as an adult, bad sports parents will probably tend to be bad sports participants. Which translates into the same amount of jawing and trash talk, but also means a greater ability to do physical harm to the opposition.Report

  10. Patrick says:

    We’re at the stage now where we’re starting to see inklings of this, at Jack’s level.

    I suspect within two years, we’ll have an actual real problem. I have a solution, though!

    I have a friend who is 6’1″, 203, built like a pissed-off fireplug, who is tattooed and plays death metal and rides a motorcycle. He has several friends who fit the mold, as well. He’s a really nice guy, but he doesn’t mind playing Scary Dude at all.

    If we have a problem with a team in one of Jack’s leagues, I’m just going to ask Aaron to come to the next game with that team and stand behind home plate, between both groups of parents, with his buddies. And if someone starts jawing, to have him suggest that they ought to shut up and let the kids play.

    It’s the “Hell’s Angels sit between the Westboro Baptists and the funeral” ploy.Report

    • Miss Mary in reply to Patrick says:

      My ex-husband fits the mold as well, in case Junior is ever interested in sports. How do I solve the problem of keeping girls away from him though? He’s going to be a very handsome young man and I already want to protect him from any girls who might draw his attention away from school. My ex-husband is not so on board with that idea.Report

      • Patrick in reply to Miss Mary says:

        I already want to protect him from any girls who might draw his attention away from school.

        If he’s like every other boy, ever (at least the ones of heterosexual bent), the girls will be sufficient to draw his attention away from school regardless of any direct interventions applied by either parental unit.

        Just focus on making sure he’s paying enough attention to school, that’s about all you can hope for, really. If you focus on that lesson, there’s a chance they’ll take it with them to college/adulthood, where direct interventions are off the plate anyway. Get your work done first, then fool around but try not to be too foolish about it.

        That’s my current inkling of a game plan, anyway.Report

  11. Mike Schilling says:

    Is there a cure for this phenomenon?

    Yes, a simple one, but it requires the league to be committed to stopping it. It also requires an adult who represents the league to be present at each game. (It can be a ref, if there are adult refs.) Before each game, this representative explains what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior from parents and other spectators. Violations result in warnings; repeated violations in ejections and (this is the killer for the bad parents) forfeits. This is entirely feasible if the majority of good parents feel strongly enough about the bad ones to make it happen.Report

  12. Damon says:

    We had a bad family that talked smack when I was in Little League. The wife was the worst. She’d insult the Ref, the opposing team, her kid’s coach, and her kid’s teammates. It was never he kid’s failing, always someone else.

    I seem to recall that we had a rule that the umpire could eject ANYONE for unsportsmanlike conduct (parents included) made sometime during my game years. I think that eventually shut her up.

    It really sucked too, since she had several boys and was at the fields all day “rooting” her kids on in sucession. Ugh.Report