Responsible Sporting: Sidelined Parents

May 26th, 2009 by Kathy McManus

When parents act irresponsibly, should they get a time-out?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

When parents act irresponsibly, should they get a time-out?

A group of soccer parents in Bethesda, Maryland was recently ordered away from the game and exiled to a nearby hill, where they needed binoculars to see their daughters play. 

The banishment was punishment for the adults’ “unsportsmanlike” conduct at a Washington Area Girls Soccer League match, where a parent loudly accused a referee of making a bad call. The league has levied fines against parents in the past for over-the-top behavior, but some have simply paid the money without lowering the volume. 

So when the parent raised his voice at the ref, and others piled on in an “aggressive” tone that culminated with one yelling at the referee’s daughter, “Your father should be fired,” the league’s disciplinary committee deemed that collective punishment was in order. All parents of girls on the Bethesda Legacy team were sidelined to the hill for two games, guarded by an additional ref who made sure none ventured within 100 yards of the playing field. 

“For parents to be shrieking on the sidelines and belittling people goes against everything we’re trying to do,” said the league president. “It’s not acceptable behavior.” The disciplinary committee’s report noted that parents’ “egregious” behavior has “no place in youth sports.” 

Chastised parents were tight-lipped. “It’s embarrassing,” said one. “This is seventh grade soccer.” 

“We’ve got to shut up and keep going,” said another. “You just have to sit on the sidelines and not say anything.” 

But some questioned this latest entry into the parental playbook. “Since when did it become a crime to yell at the referees for a bad call?” a Bethesda resident wrote in a letter to the newspaper editor. “In my view, parents are simply expressing their passion.” 

Tell us what you think: Is it irresponsible for parents to yell at their kids’ referee? Where do you draw the line between expressing “passion” and unsportsmanlike behavior? In this case, does the crime fit the collective punishment? 

For information about creating positive sports experiences for kids, log on to ResponsibleSports.com. Sponsored by Liberty Mutual, the site offers parents and coaches tips, tools, and advice designed to help maximize their kids’ youth sports experience. Parents can also take part in online discussions, asking questions and sharing experiences about how best to help kids apply the life lessons of sports--on and off the field. Because, as The Home Run reminds us, there’s more to the game than winning.