Bad Behaviour at Childrens Sport may be closer than you think
THERE'S a guy I've seen regularly over the years at my son's footy matches. He's big, loud and totally abusive.
Every time I see him, his huge face is red, veins are popping out of his neck, and his eyes are bulging with anger.
"Get the ball, you idiot," he'll yell. "How could you have missed that?"
And my favourite: "You're playing like a bloody girl."
The target of his anger is his nine-year-old son, a dreamy sort of kid who doesn't seem at home among the rough-and-tumble of the footy field. But the father, a promising junior footballer whose career was ended by injury, seems determined to bully and berate his son every step of the way to the AFL.
This weekend brings another round of club, community and school sporting matches and, sadly, too many parents who can't control themselves. Whether they are screaming blue murder while watching AFL matches on TV, or abusing their own offspring from the sidelines, they're the ugly underside of Australian sport.
Ask just about anyone and they'll tell you about the woman who's always swearing at her daughter for missing a goal at basketball, or the man who makes humiliation the cornerstone of his coaching.
There are the teachers who call the seconds "B" team the "hopeless" team and coaches who tell seven-year-olds they're "pathetic" when they lose.
And there are the parents who ignore the effort the kids put in and focus solely on the numbers on the scoreboard. If their kids aren't winning, they're on the warpath, blaming everyone from umpires to coaches and other parents.
Some of the more extreme cases even hit the media: parents hitting their children because they don't win a football match, assaulting other adults and even bombarding clubs with legal actions over coaching decisions.
It's no wonder that some teams are withholding cash handouts for clubs whose parents behave badly and disqualifying kids whose parents abuse others.
A new study published in the latest Asia-Pacific Journal of Health, Sport and Physical Education offers some interesting insights into this phenomenon. It finds that although many parents think other mums and dads behave badly, we don't think we do it ourselves.
Researchers Samuel Elliott and Murray Drummond of Flinders University in South Australia questioned mother and fathers about the role parents play at junior football matches.
They found many think other parents' use inappropriate methods of coercion to motivate effort or attain competitive success. That includes providing excessive instruction, coaching from the boundary and verbally jousting with their children during matches.
Parents coaching juniors were often singled out for condemnation, particularly because of their tendency to abuse players verbally and over-emphasise winning. But no parent interviewed for the study admitted to doing it themselves.
Obviously, parents who are at fault are in denial. Many justify their own behaviour by saying it's good for kids to be "encouraged" in this way. They tell themselves that such humiliation will spur their kids on to greater heights. Neither is true.
Interestingly, Elliott and Drummond found that those who make the most investment expect the best return in terms of sporting results. Presumably, they also feel the most aggrieved when things don't go their way.
The huge cost and time investment parents are required to make is undoubtedly part of the problem. Parents often pay $100 or more for a uniform, $50-$100 for equipment such as bags and jackets, and $300 in fees. Throw in the cost of food and drink at the games, and the time and effort involved in getting kids to games in various locations week after week and you've got a pretty significant investment.
IT'S no wonder the study also found that although parents think winning is not the "be all and end all", they also think "it is increasingly important for kids to win, more than ever before".
I understand the passion many parents feel. My son has played cricket, footy, futsal and basketball, so I've spent many weekends traipsing around watching him at far flung bare church halls to lush ovals with Yarra views.
I don't really care if he wins or loses, but I do want him to feel good about his efforts. So that means I do resent umpires who somehow just don't count goals his team has kicked, or coaches who allow on-field bullies to monster him.
Yes, I understand the passion. I share the passion. But for my son's sake I keep my feelings to myself.
Sadly, too many parents cross the line and think their passion for their kids' sport justifies them being physically and verbally abusive from the sidelines.
Clearly, it's time for everyone to calm down. Parents need to stop reliving their own sporting dreams through their children. Kids are playing for themselves, not us.
Parents need to remember that kids don't need the additional pressure provided by angry, abusive adults on the sidelines. In any case, few kids respond well to such "encouragement"; those bullied into success rarely feel any satisfaction from their achievements. Children will play to their own standard and level, regardless of any external pressure.
But there's one thing we all seem to agree on: that the problem is "other" parents, never ourselves.
Link to article in Herald Sun