How to Handle 'Sidelines Sports Rage'

Aug. 13, 2005 — -- Sideline sports rage -- out-of-control arguments and violent incidents involving fans -- is making the news again.

It's happening not at professional ball games, but at Little League games where the fans are the parents of the children out on the field. For those parents, playing isn't as important as winning.

These moms and dads have an "unhealthy reliance" on their children's performance out on the field, said Dr. Greg Dale, a sports psychologist and sports ethics professor from Duke University, and author of "The Fulfilling Ride: A Parent's Guide to Helping Athletes Have a Successful Sport Experience."

"Some people perceive sport as the be-all and end-all of one's youth," said Dale. "And when you get into that situation, you're headed to the excess zone."

Parents who have "lost perspective on the importance of the game" are the worst offenders, said Dale.

"They don't have much of a life outside their kid's sports," said Dale. "They'll focus all family vacation around the child's sports activity."

How do you know if you're one of these parents who loses control at sporting events? Dale offered an easy way to tell.

"One good indication is if your spouse won't sit next to you," he said.

Season Suspended Because of Parents

Last month in New Bedford, Mass., two mothers got into a fist fight in the stands of a Little League game. One woman's son jumped the playing field fence and helped his mother attack the other woman. The following week, parents angry about a loss threatened the umpire. Officials decided to suspend the season for one week, scheduling mandatory meetings with players and their parents, hoping to prevent more violence.

Many remember perhaps the most egregious story of parental sideline rage: Thomas Junta. In a pick-up game of hockey, Junta beat another father to death in front of their children in 2000. Junta is serving a six-year prison sentence.

But even if parents at your child's sporting events aren't killing anybody, they may be robbing the fun from the experience.

"Parents are much more involved in their kids lives than ever before," Dale said. "They are spending so much more time and money. The investment that they're hoping to get a return on is a great contract or a college scholarship, and the odds are against that."

Parents may be dreaming they have the next Tiger Woods, but they need to face reality. Fewer than 2 percent of high school athletes will ever receive a college athletic scholarship and one in 13,000 high school athletes will receive a paycheck from a professional team, according to the National Collegiate Athletic Association.


Dale provided these tips on what parents can do about bad behavior at kids' sporting events:

Stop it before it starts. Parents should be proactive and designate "parent ambassadors" for each team to get training on how to deal with parents who are out of control. Other parents can turn to these ambassadors to complain about misbehavior.

Ambassadors can be creative in how they handle the parents: One Little League team hands out lollipops to the parents when they arrive at the game. When people start yelling, other parents tell them to suck on the lollipop. If you're yelling too much, you'll get two.

Ask parents to sign a parental code of ethics. Before parents even get to the field, they should agree to a code of conduct for the games. It doesn't guarantee that parents will uphold their agreements, but at least they have said they are going to.

Parents need to understand that when they comment at professional sports events, screaming at the players about what went wrong, they are one of thousands. When they make negative comments at a Little League game, there's a good chance they are sitting next to that child's family member, who might get upset and react.

Remove yourself from the situation. If you hear someone talking about your kid, or if they are saying things about the officials that upset you, the worst thing you can do is to intervene. If you engage an out-of-control person, there's no telling what he or she will do.

Remember, it's about the kids. Parents, check your ego at the gate. You had your time when you were out in the field. Now it's their chance to shine. Also, when you see other parents misbehaving, putting them in their place is not as important as setting a good example of sportsmanship that the children can follow.