There’s a little crazy parent in all of us
Before my oldest son’s seventh- and eighth-grade rec league co-ed team took the basketball court today, we were treated to an exciting game by two of the high school league teams. We also were treated to appalling conduct by some of what I assumed were the players’ parents.
The yelling at the referees was incessant, more than I had ever heard at games involving younger kids. So much for Hansen’s Youth Sports Law. The refs kicked one particularly angry father out of the gym, but others took up the slack. The one benefit was my brother-in-law and I being able to point to them to show the lesson how ridiculous you look when you’re constantly worried about the officials.
I’ve written about referee abuse before, about how it’s considered so endemic some state legislatures are passing laws instituting tougher punishment for attacking an official than attacking your next-door neighbor. And today I was going to do it again.
Then I read the first comment on the bottom of a story (actually, the last comment in chronological order) in the Calgary Herald about the local hockey association instituted a zero-tolerance policy on ref abuse after a parent shoved an official.
I’ll reproduce it here, but I want to summarize what I think is its major point. The assumption often is that crazy parents have major-league dreams for their kids, and that’s why they act crazily. That is not necessarily so. What these parents have in common is the natural desire to protect their children — something any good parent has — and the knowledge that the youth sports system has politics that work against those parents who fail to speak up. What they also have in common is their inability to handle these feelings constructively.
The post doesn’t mention why parents would take this out on referees (though at the bottom you’ll see some interesting proposals to make sure these conflicts are nipped in the bud before they ever grow). I think it’s one part a long tradition of yelling at officials at all levels, one part a visceral reaction to competition and one part a visceral reaction to bad things happening against your child added to a base of projecting frustrations onto a rulemaker how some might project their frustrations in real life on a lawyer or politician.
The Calgary Herald post, in its entirely (all typos are sic, and I have separated the post into paragraphs for readability):
“I understand that there is a big challenge in discipline within the operations of Hockey Calgary. What is extremely tired and boring, however, is how Hockey Calgary , the media and ignorant people keep banging the drum that parents who are upset at officiating or coaching or whatever are thinking their kids have a shot at the NHL and this is the parents’ motivation for their actions. Get off it. You are extremely out of touch if you believe that is what parents believe.
“Parents motivation for these actions are not because of NHL aspirations, it is because of an intense sense of competition and desire to protect their child from what the parent perceives is happening to him/her. Now, there are perceptions and realities and whether or not the parent is right or wrong about what is really going on…that is the motivation. To lay this tired and ongoing copout that the problems are because of parents thinking their son/daughter is going to the NHL and this or that coach or manager or ref or association is constraining that dream is overplayed, overhyped and patently wrong and irresponsible.
“Everyone knows a player who did not make a team they should have (read: coaches picks) Many of us have seen a player picked on the bottom end of a team because he lives nearby the coach, is family friends—I have seen it continuously for the past 6 years in minor hockey. I have been lucky as my son has never expeienced this because of his God given abilities. I have seen it EVERY year, though where everyone says and asks why is that kid on a team—he is a coaches pick. I know that bottom of a division team or top of the team below are interchangeable, but nonetheless, the logical pick is rarely the pick, just the player that fits into the right mold of having been with that coach for a while, friend of the coach or whatever.
“Now, I do not believe this is a problem in minor hockey, but it demonstrates that some players do not always get a fair shake and parents want to protect them in any way they can. You would be a liar if you told me that you did not know a player that got passed over or raised an eyebrow when hearing about a certain player on a given team. It is not the NHL dream that gets parents fired up, it is a perception that there kid or team is getting screwed over and some people make poor decisions on how to handle this.
“As crazy as this sounds, it would be more beneficial to the problem to have minor hockey officials at a ton of games at the beginning of the season and not just observe parent, coach behavior, but identify oneself to parents during a game when there are inappropriate actions by parents…nip it at the bud right away and demonstrate to parents and coaches that this will not be tolerated…getting involved after the fact is grandstanding, really. You need to be involved at the game level, not just after the fact.
“You can have all the commercial campaigns you want, but if you only react after something egregious has occurred, it will only be a short term solution. It can be volunteers who choose to work a few games one a weekend or one weekend a month or whatever, but dealing with everything after the fact is nonsense. If one were admonished or gently pulled aside during a game, then the impact on that parent and others attending the game would be extremely meaningful. To argue that is too difficult, and I know it would be very difficult, is choosing to go down the same path every year of incident-punishment, incident-punishment. It is obvious that the campaigns do little. Please stop banging your head against the wall.”