We’ve all seen that parent screaming on the sidelines, getting red in the face, and threatening the referee. We may laugh and scoff, but some cities are taking action.
New signs at the ball field in Buffalo Grove Park District in Illinois encourage parents to keep their cool. The signs read: “This is a game being played by children. If they win or lose every game of the season, it will not impact what college they attend or their future potential income.” The signs highlight the words “game” and “children.”
The new sign campaign, which began this month, is relatively low-key. You might not even notice the small blue signs if you weren’t standing right by them. But they speak to a growing movement in youth sports—aimed at reining in parents who, many say, are too involved, too competitive, and in need of a little perspective.
“I just want to get back to what I was brought up with as a child—and that’s, ‘Let the kids play,’” says Dan Schimmel, the park district’s executive director.
Some youth sports leagues require parents to sign codes of conduct or recite pledges before games, making them promise in front of their children that they will behave. If parents slip up, referees might pull them aside for a conversation or kick them out of the game if the warning doesn’t work.
In Newark, N.J., violent behavior led to criminal charges when parents allegedly beat up a Little League baseball umpire because he wouldn’t call a game after dark.
Haley Small, a 19-year-old college student in Ithaca, N.Y., who played soccer and softball in high school said, “We’d joke about it, but it’s serious. Some of my friends were walking on eggshells. We hear a lot more than people think.” It got so bad that some players wished their parents would just stay home, she said.
Some teams assign certain parents to be “culture keepers,” asking others to keep the yelling and negativity to a minimum. Culture keepers even hand out lollipops to help keep unruly parents quiet. Other leagues occasionally have “silent” games, where parents and sometimes even coaches can only offer encouragement or cheer and clap.
For more instruction, parents can go online to the blog “Taking You Beyond the Game,” a site with recommended rules for parents as they cheer on their little athletes.