I’m not much of a sports fan, nor was I ever a competitive athlete in school.
I did, however, spend two horrific summers in Little League baseball. I’m still trying to figure out whose bright idea that was because it certainly wasn’t mine. I was, instead, a band nerd. I weathered four years in the freezing cold at Friday night football, cursing every touchdown as I peeled my frozen saxophone reed from my lip before honking out the school fight song.
That said, there is no irony lost in that I ended up a hockey parent. My stepson played from a young age through college and into the minor league pros. In hockey, I always expect a good knock-down-drag-out. What’s the old saying? “I went to a fight, and a hockey game broke out.” Usually, the uproar was confined to the ice.
But when some of the parents got nasty, wow, look out. They can get pretty fired up regardless of the sport. They shout at the kids, the other parents, the officials, everyone. Sometimes, things come to fisticuffs, and that usually involves the cops. Although some of the altercations are between parents and other bystanders, most of that very public anger and frustration is directed at the coaches and officials — and it’s worsening.
A recent story by USA Today reported the results of a survey by the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO). It showed that 69 percent of men and women from every level of sports said the issue of poor sportsmanship is getting worse. More than 50 percent of them said they have often felt unsafe just doing the job.
As if it’s not hard enough to get people to volunteer for things, I’m told that recruiting officiators for youth sports has become more difficult for this very reason. One man even shared that he was once followed to his car by a parent after a night game and threatened in the parking lot.
In the last decade, confrontations between spectators and officials have become increasingly threatening and violent. In October of 2023, Shaquille Latimore of St. Louis, a coach of 9 and 10-year-olds in youth football, was shot four times by a parent who was angry about his son’s playing time.
As it turns out, some parents see coaches and officials as obstacles to their kids’ athletic careers. Often, parents will make every effort to remove them from that path of high achievement, even if that means violence. Fortunately, Coach Latimore survived. But, seriously, people?
Some of you probably think your kid will be the next superstar, and you don’t want anything to get in their way. But we shouldn’t need police as additional referees on the sidelines, so what gives?
Even if the parents aren’t overtly violent or threatening the safety of the officials, they often still feel the need (or entitlement) to inject themselves into the game. We’ve all had to contend with that obnoxious parent constantly shouting at the players, coaches, and referees. It’s unnerving, and don’t get me started about the poor example it is to the kids.
Most of us want the best for our children regardless of their chosen path. But some parents are just over the top. Fortunately, my stepson finished college, played for the pros for several years, and recently retired from hockey. He does some coaching now, so he must deal with all kinds of parents — the good, the bad, and the ugly.
I can’t imagine how things have deteriorated since I was up there watching his games, so I’m glad to be out of that environment. But, if you’re still hip-deep, here’s what I suggest to improve the experience for yourself and the kids.
Listen (or rather, read) very closely. This is the best advice I can give you. Sit down and shut up. You read that right. Ignore the angry loudmouth across the bleachers, mind your business, and focus on your child’s game. And please, for the love of Mike, let the officials do their jobs, stop swearing at them, and stay out of it. After all (and I realize some of you won’t like hearing this, but) … it’s just a game.
Gery Deer is a Greene County resident and columnist. He can be reached at www.gldcommunications.com.