Bad Sportsmanship Among Parents at Children's Sporting Events

By — American Association of School Administrators
Updated on Feb 17, 2011
Taming uncivil behavior, especially by parents in the stands, is becoming an unavoidable initiative in school districts.

Superintendent David Prescott heard about the verbal pressure, the parents calling coaches to complain about the player who wasn’t any good, the play they couldn’t comprehend and the playing time their kids didn’t get. He witnessed the bad behavior of raucous spectators at sporting events heckling and ranting vitriol under the watchful eye of impressionable youngsters.
He grew concerned as good coaches resigned and others threatened to, and he noticed that able coaching prospects often were reluctant to step up to the plate because it was not worth their time and sanity to withstand the berating and taunting of out-of-bounds spectators.

“We have actually asked people to leave sporting events, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be better the next time,” says Prescott, superintendent of the 3,700-student Albert Lea Area Schools in south-central Minnesota. “Most people will cool it when you talk to them. But the others, you can pick them out because they’re usually sitting alone because nobody wants to sit with them. Angry people. And what they yell certainly doesn’t set the right tone for our students.”

Behavorial Rules

Spurred on by incidents of bad sportsmanship, the Albert Lea district, working through a committee of stakeholders, published a set of standards that spell out for players, coaches, students, parents and community members the school district’s expectations for good sportsmanship at interscholastic athletic events. Taking effect this year with the winter season, players and their coaches and families were asked to sign, before play commenced, a compact to uphold the principles of appropriate behavior relative to each group. A parent, for example, signs a promise not to berate or taunt officials, coaches or opposing teams; a coach signs a promise not to force athletes to specialize too soon in one sport at the expense of all others.

The document, titled “Athletics the Right Way,” was influenced by last year’s “Sports Done Right” report produced at the University of Maine. It takes a broad look at a myriad of issues involving many groups — with a notable focus on spectators at interscholastic sports events in Albert Lea.

Indeed, many school districts have begun to use the comprehensive “Sports Done Right” report, which emphasizes seven core principles and supporting core practices for creating an environment conducive to “discipline, respect, responsibility, fairness, trustworthiness and good citizenship.” The report identifies “out-of-bounds” issues — troubling trends in behavior on and off the field — that should be remedied.

“The biggest problem we have at interscholastic events is with parents because how do we discipline parents?” Prescott says. “We don’t have much control over them. What we’re trying to do with this document is encourage peer pressure from other parents. Parents know appropriate behavior, and when they see inappropriate behavior, we hope they will intercede.”

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