I was once at my son’s youth soccer game when one of the parents went off the rails over a call. This was a community league in a small Oregon town. The children playing were between ages 9 and 10. I don’t even remember what the referee called, but this parent wasn’t having it. The guy got all red-faced yelling as if this was the World Cup rather than a kids’ sporting event where parents still bring juice boxes and graham crackers in brown paper bags for after the game.
Eventually, his wife had to walk him to the car. I was blown away by how this dude was acting. I mean, honestly, it’s just a game, right? At a young age like that, kids learn as much from losing as they do from winning. Youth sports are about building grit, gaining coordination, making friends, and getting exercise. But this dude felt it was life or death.
I couldn’t help but think about this experience as I read an article in the New York Times about a Facebook page called Offside. The page was created by Oklahoma youth soccer referee, Brian Barlow, who offers a $100 payment for each embarrassing clip of parents overreacting at youth sporting events. His hope is to use shame to squash out the rising tide of unruly parents.
Is “unruly” the right word here? I’m not sure — that’s the word the Times used, not mine. I’d swap it out with “verbally abusive” or “violent.” Flip through some of the videos on Offside’s page and you will see fathers in cargo shorts and polo shirts throwing punches over a bad call. It’s appalling, really.
This video below is from a semi-final basketball game in Pennsylvania that turned into a brawl when fans collided in the stands and nearly cleared an entire upper section.
Or this video from a youth soccer game, location unknown, where a dad takes a swing at the referee and the children — I repeat, THE CHILDREN — break it up.
Or this charming clip of a man screaming, “You are horrible” over and over at a youth game.
I mean, seriously people. Do you really need to look at a video of yourself acting like a dick to realize that you might be a dick?
Most of Brian Barlow’s message is about how many referees leave the profession (volunteer or paid) because of this sort of abuse. But I’m here to say: grow up. Put your fists in our pockets if you can’t control them, and if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. You were taught that sort of stuff as a child, right? You probably try to teach it to your kids, but when you flip out at a child’s sporting event, all those foundational lessons in how to treat other people go out the window, and suddenly your child thinks it’s cool to punch someone over a bad call.
Your children are soaking it all in. They are learning from you about how to treat other people. They are learning what’s important, and what isn’t. And let me just say, youth sports aren’t that important. They just aren’t. It’s good for children to be involved, sure. But none of it, not one shot, or goal, or touchdown is worth throwing a punch, spewing a bad word, or instigating a brawl. None. And it’s not worth showing your children the wrong way to act when things don’t go your way.
So let’s all take a collective breath and focus on what matters. It’s a game. If your child’s team receives a bad call, turn it into a valuable life lesson on how things don’t always work out the way you want them too. But that’s not a reason to quit, or get in a fight. It’s a reason to try harder, to keep going, and to overcome obstacles. If a child loses a game, help them understand how to overcome and bounce back. And if a parent is acting like a dick at a sporting event, call them out on it. Don’t stand for it, because the fact is that type of behavior is never called for. This is a society, people. We need to care for others, and we need to intervene when someone, or several someones, are acting like jerks.
Now don’t get yourself hurt, naturally. From looking at these videos that is an actual concern. But if enough people put a stop to this sort of behavior, we can all go back to drinking a diet soda, eating some chips, and relaxing while our children exercise.
Doesn’t that sound nice?