Dealing with Difficult Parents on the Sidelines

By Erica Salmon, TeamSnap user, team mom, writer and guest author

In a perfect world, we all show up to our children’s sporting events to encourage them lovingly. When they do well, we give a polite golf clap, and when they have a mishap, we smile and remember that they are only kids, learning one play at a time.

Ha! So the real story is … parent behavior on the sidelines runs the gamut from the disinterested dad reading the paper while his kid is batting to over-the-top mom screaming at the ref for a missed foul. I am sure many of us have stories to tell about what we’ve seen at our kids’ sporting events. I know I have way too many stories!

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So, as a sports parent, how do you deal with difficult parents? Here are some suggestions I have found work for me:

1. You cannot beat them, but you don’t have to join them!

I have been known to get caught up in the moment and get carried away verbally. It is usually when my child has done something well, and I over-cheer, or it’s when a child on the other team is being too aggressive and it feels like the ref isn’t calling it. Whatever the case may be, it’s dangerous to start getting too verbal. Whether you realize it or not, you become one of THOSE parents. I have taken a Sideline Vow of Silence because it is better to say nothing at all than to accidentally get caught up in the moment and say things you might regret. Maybe the other (more verbal) parents will follow your lead! Of course, if your child really is in danger, you need to pipe up, but for general sideline behavior, less is more.

2. Separate yourself from the pack.

Do yourself a favor and do not sit next to the loud, obnoxious parents. Politely find a quiet spot under a nice tree and enjoy watching your child without the influence of inappropriate behavior. Afraid you will look like you don’t want to socialize? Good! That’s the message you are trying to subtly send!

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3. Coach.

If you choose to coach, you put yourself in a position where you can (often) select or draft the kids on your team. Choose kids with parents who are not difficult. You might not have the best team in town according to your wins and losses record, but you will have a much more peaceful experience. (Note to difficult parents: If you continue to be obnoxious, coaches will stop choosing your child!)

4. Talk with the coach.

Last year, my son’s coach sent around a “Parent Code of Conduct” we all had to sign before the season started. It was his way of expressing early on that he did not want to deal with difficult parents. If your coach has not done something like this, perhaps you can suggest it to him/her. That way, the message to “be nice” will come from the coach and not from other parents.

5. Move on.

If your child’s youth sports experience is being ruined by a bad batch of parents, move on! Life is too short! Check out neighboring towns or other leagues, or start a club team. The goal is to provide your child with opportunities to explore his or her interests in different activities, not to subject your entire family to difficult parents. Of course, there are difficult parents everywhere, but sometimes, bad behavior breeds bad behavior, and finding a new team (and different parents) might be the solution.

For more on how can we stop bad sports parent behavior, listen to this episode of the TeamSnap Youth Sports Podcast. John Engh, COO of the National Alliance of Youth Sports (NAYS), discusses parents on the sidelines and how we can keep youth sports positive and beneficial to its athletes.

 

Erica Salmon is a TeamSnap Mom, often seen on the sidelines of youth soccer, baseball, field hockey and basketball games as well as at dance recitals, concerts and art shows. Erica is a book author, former fashion analyst for NBC10 (Philadelphia) and the founder of several Websites and blogs including Fantasy Fashion League and Red Carpet Mom. Erica lives in Mullica Hill, NJ, with her husband, three children and their enormous dog Elvis.


Responses...

Mary J.  

I totally disagree with your “Sideline Vow of Silence”. I think my children want to hear their mom cheer for them, and cheer for their teammates as well. Isn’t that why you attend the games? Isn’t that part of the fun? I do NOT ever cheer ‘against’ anyone else’s child, whether on our team or the opposing team, and I do even try to support kids on the other team who make an exceptional play. But sit there in silence? You are missing out on a big part of the experience, for both yourself and your child.

vburley  

I think the vow of silence is not for the parents who want to cheer for the kids/ but the ones who cannot control themselves and is abusive to the referee, coach and just down right obnoxious to the entire team.

Erica  

Yes – the “vow of silence” was meant for stopping negative comments. By all means – cheer for the good stuff! When my son hit his first over-the-fence home run, I cheered like a proud mom! I do think he would have been disappointed if I hadn’t. I meant in the article that sometimes we slip into “instructional banter” (we are giving our kids and other people’s kids instructions a mile a minute, often critically) which slips into negative behavior (yelling at refs, cheering when the other team makes an error, etc.) before we know it.

Jen Cannon  

Very well said Erica! Our family’s momentary stint in soccer included a very positive experience for our daughter (Syd) being coached by your (calm, kind) husband. These days the kids play lacrosse and I’d love to see coaches send out a Parent Code of Conduct. Have to say, we had a great group of kids AND parents this season (my husband coaches as well). Great article!

Nick  

My daughter plays net on a very competitive U17 team. I feel the ref are not calling a lot of the bad things that happen to her and others on the field, full cleats in the stomach, i see top and bottom cleats on her stomach, i see some many strikers drag their feet over the keeper as they jump over top. I also see keeper’s come out feet first, which my daughter has been trained to go hands first. Point is, if i see ref’s not making the calls, what re-course do you suggest. I don’t want to be that dad, but the refs aren’t worried about their safety. The coaches don’t have an option with the soccer league, because if you protest, you never win, even if you feel you’re standing up for thier safety. How do you handle the safety issues, when you feel the ref’s are not making the call?

Jar Jar Binks  

Nick,

One option you have is taking videos of the games and anytime you have these type fouls on video you can then send them to the league or head ref for review. You there are forums your coaches, league staff and refs frequent you can take that a step further by posting the clips on a public forum.

In our area posting potentially negative videos in the public arena gets a lot of peoples hair up, but it has served it purpose.

For you, a GoPro camera in goal would be ideal. The catch is putting it in a position so it does not interfere with the ball. I do exactly this during the indoor season and have got some amazing footage including a goalie tackling a player with their arms and a goalie getting kicked in the throat.

In addition to Nicks quandary, video is a marvelous means to grab the antics of the obnoxious parents and bring it to everyone’s attention by posting it on YouTube.

Nicole  

Erica,
Do you have any suggestions for how to deal with the situation when the obnoxious, negative parent is your own spouse? After many many conversations, my husband still doesn’t seem to get it. Even when promising me silence, he still lets a few slip. I’m at my wit’s end! Our son (8) is very good at soccer, but it never seems to be good enough for his father. Any suggestions? Thanks!

John  

Erica,

Very well put the things that you say. I have had the honour of coaching Hockey, Soccer and baseball. I have to say that of all the sports hockey has to be the worst for dealing with parent,s. Most of them feel that their children our the next NHL star and that if you dont play them all the time you are harming them. I at the begining of each year have a meeting with my parents and let them know how i am going to teach there children. I talk to them about how much there critisim can hurt the children and that i don,t want to here any of that kind of stuff. I make all of the children and the parents help out all year with small drills and get everyone involved. As for the ref,s or umpires i believe that it is our reponsibilites as coachs and mentors to bring it to there attention when they make a wrong call. There is a right way and a wrong way to do that and you need to make them feel that yes you did make that call and i accept that you made it but maybe next time you might look at it from this angle and you will see a differnet aspect to the call you made.

Al Bundy  

Two things that the author missed to point out are, 1) parents’ involvement should be different at different competitive levels; 2) For many times, it is not an easy thing for a responsible parent showing no reaction when there is a bad call, bad ref or bad coach.

You would think parents with older kids going through sports, would learn a thing or two when their one is playing. A mom and dad was ready to give up his kid for a sport because he made a B team and had a very year; then one day magically the kid is treated by a coach as the best kid on the team, you would not believe how the mom behaves during the game – laughing the other team’s head off. This is a parent who has a daughter playing D1 sports now. I was like … hmm, the other team would not take that well. Of course.

Anonymous  

Most parents don’t hear the message. Yes the refs will not always call the game the way they should but that’s not a license for bad behavior. Wait until you play at high levels of any competitive sport. Parents through chairs, use profanity and pace up and down the sidelines in frustration….about your kid who didn’t pass the ball to their kid.
Wait until you’re not invited to the team dinner because your kid scored the winning goal instead of the other kid on the team. Parents behavior is replicated by their kids on and off the field and most often the target is a teammate.
The team and sport should not define who the parents or child is but for far too many…playing time, starting the game, being Captain, getting recognition is sadly more important to parents than players. But the message during the ride home or at dinner that night from these parents to their kids is frightening. It’s all or nothing for so many parents and there you are on Monday dropping off your kid at practice with a group of angry, frustrated kids who have learned from their parents that their teammates are the ones in the way of their success.
I agree you should not socialize with teammates and parents. Kids need other interests and activities in order to appreciate what they enjoy about their sport. Parents need to understand the importance of academic scholarships and the lifetime of opportunity available through a great education.
I’m sorry but your kid is not Derek Jeter, Peyton Manning or Mia Ham. If they were they’d be signed by a college at 14 years old as many of the great athletes are identified at young ages.
Relax, enjoy the game, be positive and be sure to promote expectations of a great education. That’s where parents can really make a difference.

Trebor  

Most parents don’t hear the message. Yes the refs will not always call the game the way they should but that’s not a license for bad behavior. Wait until you play at high levels of any competitive sport. Parents through chairs, use profanity and pace up and down the sidelines in frustration….about your kid who didn’t pass the ball to their kid.
Wait until you’re not invited to the team dinner because your kid scored the winning goal instead of the other kid on the team. Parents behavior is replicated by their kids on and off the field and most often the target is a teammate.
The team and sport should not define who the parents or child is but for far too many…playing time, starting the game, being Captain, getting recognition is sadly more important to parents than players. But the message during the ride home or at dinner that night from these parents to their kids is frightening. It’s all or nothing for so many parents and there you are on Monday dropping off your kid at practice with a group of angry, frustrated kids who have learned from their parents that their teammates are the ones in the way of their success.
I agree you should not socialize with teammates and parents. Kids need other interests and activities in order to appreciate what they enjoy about their sport. Parents need to understand the importance of academic scholarships and the lifetime of opportunity available through a great education.
I’m sorry but your kid is not Derek Jeter, Peyton Manning or Mia Ham. If they were they’d be signed by a college at 14 years old as many of the great athletes are identified at young ages.
Relax, enjoy the game, be positive and be sure to promote expectations of a great education. That’s where parents can really make a difference.

jp  

Some very good suggestions. But very sad to read #3. Disheartening to learn that a parent/coach thinks it’s OK to shun a child and deprive them of the opportunity to play team sports because they don’t like the parent. Ban the parent, not the child.

Al Bundy  

Lots of the so-called bad behaviors from parents are brought upon by the coach too. John’s comment is classic, that a coach assumed that every parent thinks their little Johnny or Jenny is the future NHL, NBA, NFL or whatever, and that is why they behave in the certain way. Not always right! Many parents coach, they coach to enhance their own kid’s opportunity, which typically do not blend well with the rest of the team and create frictions and your so-called bad behaviors.

One example, a parent coaching a baseball team, who would have his kid bat 2nd and play in-field every single innings on a team with 12 players. His son was a decent player when he was young and make little or no progress through the years so he is one of the weakest players on the team. He makes more errors than normal plays, and he has more strike-outs than hits through the season. Even the parents from other town call him the ‘daddy ball’.

Anonymous  

What suggestions do you have for dealing with parents on the opposing team yelling at the refs for perceived bad calls? In one game I told a guy to stop whining and in another I couldn’t take it anymore so I told the guy to shut up. In both cases they were constantly riding the refs and yelling loudly. Obviously, both guys didn’t take too kindly to my retorts and threatened to get physical with me. I understand getting passionate about the game and angry at bad calls, but not at crossing the line where the focus of the game is on the complaining parent(s). I need to find a better way to deal with these situations. Is silence the only answer?

Keith Hannah  

As far as the kids are concerned there is no difference to them when they play in the backyard or when they play on a team, they are playing to have fun. When they play in the backyard do you stand there yelling and screaming? Then why do we do it when they are playing for a team? I’ve heard so many parents embarrass themselves because of lack of knowledge of the game or yelling at the referee for what they think should be a call. We keep forgetting the kids are there to have fun, so let them have fun. As a parent, we should sit back and relax and let the kids play. Everybody makes mistakes including the referee.

Keith Hannah  

Parents need to stop yelling at referee’s. People feel because they’ve played the sport or watched it for years the know all of the rules. Everybody see the game differently but a referee see’s the game from both sides. Unlike parents who look at it from their team’s side. Trying looking at it from your opponents side. Before you yell at an official for a penalty ask yourself if it was called against tour team would it be warranted? Everybody cries out for penalties but when they’re called against your team it’s a bad call.

Dave  

My only experience with a ‘team sport’ is with Rugby, where we get our share of obnoxious behaviour from spectators, usually directed at referees. Rugby is a very physical sport played without protective equipment. On the field the referees word is law, no matter what occurs. Only the Captain can speak to the ref and then only to ask respectfully for clarification. Referee abuse is not tolerated from anyone.

Fortunately we have a mechanism for dealing with this which comes from the IRB (International Rugby Board) and applies worldwide. The responsibility for spectator & Coach behaviour rests with the Home Club. A Club representative “has a word” with anyone who is out of line and, if there is no cooperation, can ask the person to leave. It seems to work as most games are played on “Club Grounds”, which are private property or are rented by the Club.
Most referees can handle a certain amount of negative comment, however issues do occur when young referees (14 to 18 yrs) are reffing junior games. At our club we have a zero-tolerance policy for excessive and/or abusive comments from spectators directed at our junior referees, and when it occurs we submit an incident report to our Provincial Rugby Union. This can result in a fine for the club with whom the individual is involved and in extreme cases a ban for the individual (if it is a parent of a player then the player may be banned). Fortunately this is extremely rare.

If the “Administration” of the sport is not clear about the code of conduct for coaches, players and spectators, it is unfair for everyone who wants a good experience for themselves and their kids.
My advice, start with the “top”!

Jodi Murphy  

I read a pretty harsh rule the coach made for his team—if the parent acted up the player was penalized and benched for the next game. Sounds harsh, but he said it curtailed even the worst sideline parents right quick.

Michele  

Jodi – I also saw this same rule that was included in a Parent Code of Conduct for a Club that my kids formerly played at. I’m undecided on this particular rule and I’ll explain. I don’t think this is a fair rule for younger kids (12 and under in our case, soccer). Players generally want to please their parents. Imagine yourself at 9 years old having to call out your parent(s) about sideline behavior so they can be sure they plan in the next game. Nah…I think that takes focus off the player and they spend too much time worrying about their parents and how it may impact their playing time that week. The older kids, maybe, but I still have trouble with putting extra pressure on a child to call out their parent(s) on their potentially bad behavior. And I only say this from my point of view and from a few close friends who, honestly, don’t let their children try to discuss things with them on a peer-to-peer level. I do support something to hold parents accountable for their unacceptable behavior. Unfortunately, I have myself done some of these things but try hard to make sure I don’t anymore. My oldest son has played soccer for 10 years now and will probably play in college, I can say that I’ve seen almost everything too. My daughter plays u11 and my youngest son plays u9 soccer as well. The younger parents seem to be the worst. Occasionally with the oldest team, u17 we will encounter some parents who think they know everything but once they start screaming at the players & the refs everyone can see how foolish they are. At that point it’s just noise and very annoying.
I wish our Clubs would have monthly meetings for parents, coaches and administrators & directors to talk things out. But set a time limit. Have parents submit questions first. Only allow one rep from each team to talk at the forum so as to cut down the time. I don’t know exactly but maybe something like this could get some dialogue going.

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