EDITOR'S NOTE: Men of a variety of ages take on a question about sports and parenting in this extra edition of the regular 20-40-60 Etiquette column that runs in The Oklahoman and on NewsOK.com.
QUESTION: My child plays team sports and it has been a great place for him to learn to play by the rules and to learn respect for his teammates and opponents. It has not been a great way for him to watch other parents yelling at the referee and the coaches and questioning every referee call. What makes a parent put so much emphasis on winning or seeing his child play that he becomes totally oblivious to everyone else? Should such a parent be asked to leave the game?
NICK TANKERSLEY, 30s, Web editor, NewsOK:
I played many, many little league sports. I began at the age of 3 and continued through multiple soccer, baseball, basketball and, eventually, football seasons a year. I also refereed soccer for a 10-and-under team for a couple of years, so I have seen exactly what you're talking about and I have been at the receiving end of many parental tantrums. While I can't pretend to know why an individual parent would act like this, I can say that when they do, there is nothing more satisfying than sending them packing.
I remember when I was 8, my cousin played for a really skilled team that was in an age group a couple of years ahead. The team was known for having a very vocal coach. During one game the coach lost it and laid into the referee, who said that if he stepped over the sideline one more time he would be expelled. The ref's bluff was called and then immediately was revealed not to be a bluff. The coach was ejected from the game; he retreated to the parking lot, grabbed a pair of binoculars and attempted to coach the game through one of those giant '80s cellphones talking with his wife, who was still down at the sidelines.
Many spectators go to college and professional games and act like animals, screaming at every call, booing whomever they please and basically just being part of the mob. What I think is that when those same people get to a little league game, their brains are unable to process the difference between the two sporting events. It's as though the very act of being around a competitive sporting competition triggers some deep down mutation that turns them into freaks, and to a certain degree, we cultivate that in people as a culture.
We pride ourselves in Oklahoma on being the loudest fans, the most intense fans, and also are very vocal about how lousy the officiating is in basically every game. Once those traits are wired in, it is hard not to flip that switch the minute a whistle is blown, starting regulation play.
FORD SANGER, 30s, local businessman:
I can understand the emphasis on winning and seeing that a parent's child plays in the match. I do not agree that a parent has the right to yell at the referee and the coaches. Parents with that much passion and emotion need to direct it positively into the child, rather then letting everyone else hear their thoughts.
If the parent truthfully feels that their child is good enough to possibly achieve a calling in sports, professional or collegiately, then they need to be working with the appropriate instructors and developing a plan. If they are there to just yell and scream on a Saturday or Sunday, maybe they are better off being asked to leave so they are not yelling at the instructors that are trying to teach their children how to exist with others.
JOEY STIPEK, 30s, NewsOK's Online Communities intern:
Parents get worked up about sports for the same reasons they get worked up over their child's academic performance in school: in hopes their child will compensate for their own shortcomings as an adult. There's nothing wrong with wanting the best for your child, but parents tend to lose focus of the situation when it becomes more about being competitive with other parents on your child's team, or whether you're worried about your status in the community. If this is the case, maybe the parents should re-evaluate why they have an intense interest in a child's succeeding in a team sport.
If the parent gets out of hand with swearing and screaming constantly, then they should be asked to leave the premises.
BRAD MCNEILL, 40s, owner, A&B Paving:
I think most parents need to take a deep breath and understand this is little league, involving children, and not highly paid athletes. However, some people become unhinged when watching their little Johnnys play ball, and we have all seen them behave as if winning is the only thing in life. There is nothing wrong with winning and, personally, I believe the scoreboard teaches winning and losing just like everything else in life.
However, there are extremes to everything, and losing is not the end of the world; usually we learn from our losses. Needless to say, having a conversation about etiquette with these people may be a fruitless endeavor. Asking them to leave would be a high-risk situation that probably would not end well. No matter what league, in any city across America, you will find this temperamental parent, so you can't hide from it. I would encourage you to speak to your children about the parent's behavior and illustrate how silly they look yelling at the referees or coaches. This would be a quality “teachable moment” on how NOT to behave.
SCOTT KINNAIRD, 50s, chief executive officer of Al La Mode Inc.:
Whether or not a parent should be asked to leave a child's sporting event due to their behavior must be decided on a case-by-case basis. However, talking to your child about that parent's poor behavior is actually a great learning opportunity. Balanced people attend their children's games for the enjoyment of watching their children play a sport. Imbalanced people lose sight of what's important, focus on performance metrics and aim their suppressed rage at the mistakes of unpaid volunteers. Those games are often a great place to point out examples of behavior you want your child to avoid.
CLAY HEALEY, 50s, Owner, AIC Title Service, LLC:
What a great question about parents' actions at sporting events! After coaching more than 1,500 football, basketball, and baseball games and having two great sons who also participated in sports, you can imagine that I might have something to say about this! In my experience, parents were much less of a problem in football and basketball; maybe there was some rumbling about how much time a child was getting on the field, but never as loony as baseball. Good Lord, those people who involved their children in baseball just flat-out lost their minds! I've seen more fights at baseball games than anywhere else.
You, as a parent, are responsible for knowing your child. It is your responsibility to place them with a team that matches his or her ability. If you ignore your child's natural ability, and place them with a team that is too advanced, you just might be setting them up for failure. Is it the child's fault? NEVER. Give your child a chance to do well and do not set them up for failure.
But as to your question of why: Why do parents act like this at sporting events, setting bad examples in an environment that is designed to teach children sportsmanship and teamwork? Misplaced anger, projection of parental wants and desires — who can really get into the mind of someone who is acting crazy? The powder keg generally explodes when a child is placed in a situation of constantly “failing” in front of everybody at every turn, such as when a child is placed on a team that isn't right for them. But there would be no explosion without the helping hand of quite a few nuts out there. I have seen new wives beaten with bats by ex-wives, fathers storming the dugout and hitting the coach, mothers on the same team fighting in the stands, fathers from opposite teams fighting in parking lots — this is clearly not the work of rational people!
So what do you do? Please leave them alone. They are irrational. A powder keg that will explode. Remember, this is about the kids. Humiliating or beating up little Billy's dad in front of Billy and his teammates is not a good thing. Just walk away.
Ask your coach after the game — not at the ball field — to ask the parent to find a new team for the child. If the coach won't, do it yourself by finding a new team for your child. Don't whine about your child not getting to play with his friends; just get him off the team. You might not like this answer, but that is how you shield your child from the parents who are acting out and behaving poorly at games. Be the better person, swallow your anger, and remember that this is a positive lesson your kid will quietly learn — that you ignore irrational people and take action yourself to find a better spot. This is a great chance to teach your kid, and maybe even yourself, that we all have control in our own lives and do not have to suffer fools, nuts or crazies to participate in the sports and events we love.
RON JAMES, 60s, independent oil producer:
At the heart of this issue is that same old problem that is way too common today. Showing respect and courtesy to another person just seems to be out of vogue. Exactly why should a young athlete act respectfully when his or her parent will not show respect for a coach's decision or a referee's call? The cost of winning can exceed the benefit of playing. I do think that an abusive parent should be asked to leave the game.