Frank Workman on sports: Keep the fun in youth sports - don't be THAT parent

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Photo courtesy Shoreline Sports Foundation
By Frank Workman

Days before he was to become Elizabeth Taylor’s eighth (!) husband, Virginia Senator John Warner confided with friends “I know what I’m supposed to do on my wedding night, I’m just not sure how to make it new and exciting”.

I’ve written and commented frequently in the past about fan (parental) behavior at youth sporting events.

I’m not sure if this will be new and exciting, either, but given that every year there are parents who are new to the business of watching their kids play ball, this may prove helpful. And for those who are veterans of the process, maybe this can serve as review.

A recent local news item in The Seattle Times detailing the arrest of a mom (for assault) following a sixth-grade Catholic girls basketball game suggests that a reminder may be in order.

Don’t be THAT parent.

In my experience as a coach, fan, umpire, and announcer, I know that for every arrest, ejection, or expulsion from a youth sporting event that occurs, there are dozens-to-hundreds of instances where parental behavior crosses the line of civil, acceptable, and appropriate behavior, without extreme action being taken against the offenders.

When the task was mine to publicly address fans at our high school sporting events, I always reminded / admonished them of the following: “Root for your team. Be loud. Be proud. Be Positive. But most of all, have fun”.

Let me unpack all five elements of that, in reverse order.

# 5 - Have fun. You’re getting to watch your son or daughter play a sport they love. How cool is that? Just remember, it’s their game, not yours. Keep it fun for them.

Enjoy the action, the drama, the ebb and flow of the game. If you spend any of your energy focused on the performance of the umps and refs, it’ll take away from your fun, and your kid’s. 

Look, are you going to disagree with some of the calls? Of course. And you get 1.5 seconds to react to those calls, about the same amount of time you let your kids gripe when you tell them it’s bedtime.

Remember, not every call that goes against your team is a bad one. And not every bad call goes against your team. 

Accept the calls and move on to the next play. It’s what the coaches encourage their players to do. Leave the officiating to the officials. Same with the coaching. The coaches have earned the right to fill out the lineup card in any way they see fit. Accept their decisions. You want your kids to respect authority. Do that very thing at their games.

Your greatest fun comes from socializing with the other parents and going on the roller-coaster ride that a sports season represents.

#4 - Be Positive. Assume anything you say about other players (or coach) will be heard by their parents (or spouse). Every mom’s best advice is apt at ballgames - ‘if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all’.

#3 - Be Proud. The players have devoted much time and energy to their sport. You may be proud of their efforts, even of your own contributions to their success. Just keep in mind, it’s their hard work that creates success, not yours. All you did was write the checks and drive them to practice.

#2 - Be Loud. Did the boss yell at you at work today? Did you overcook your supper? Almost miss the kickoff/tipoff/first pitch because you were stuck in traffic, singing the I-5 Blues? Games are your chance to let out the day’s frustrations. Immerse yourself in the entertainment of the game, forget your cares and worries, let your voice be heard (keeping #4 in mind).

#1 - Root For Your Team. Your team. When the game’s going on, whether there’s 5, 9, or 11 of them on the field at a time, each of them becomes your child, not just the one you tuck into bed at night. 

Root for all of them. Set the example of calling out ‘good play’ by teammates other than your child. 

You are your child’s best teacher. You teach them to be unselfish and considerate of others away from sports - reinforce that philosophy at their games, especially when their attention is more focused and the memories more lasting.

As you watch your child play over the years, you’re going to make judgements about the various teammates and parents you’ll be spending so much time with. And they’ll be judging you.

So behave yourself.

You (and your kid) will have more fun that way.


Scott Vermeys,  August 7, 2018 at 2:07 PM  

Excellent article, Frank! Being positive is the key. I even applaud a good play by either team, as they deserve it too.

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