Prep Sports

'Honor the Game' by setting good example

Youth sports: Parents need to follow simple standards during games

Parents need to let the coaches handle any questionable calls an official makes in a game. Here, Cedar Rapids Xavier football coach Duane Schulte talks to a referee last October. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Parents need to let the coaches handle any questionable calls an official makes in a game. Here, Cedar Rapids Xavier football coach Duane Schulte talks to a referee last October. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Editor’s note: Nancy Justis is a former competitive swimmer and college sports information director. She is a partner with Outlier Creative Communications.

I’ve always been told being proactive is better than being reactive.

Or, as Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) notes, “Prevention is the best cure.”

My last column discussed the theory of “mirror processing,” where certain neurons in the brain “fire not only when an individual performs an action, but when that individual witnesses another perform an action ... (these neurons) allow you to not only simulate the actions of others, but the emotions behind those actions.”

I liken it to a “mob” action, where when one parent or coach yells at a referee, then that action spurs more yelling.

I offered suggestions on how coaches can “deal” better with parents when coaching their child.

I’m here to offer more paths to take.

“Honoring the Game” is just one of PCA’s guidelines to help you navigate the world of youth sports. In the article “Intervening on the Sidelines,” PCA notes “coaches who create a team culture based on ‘Honoring the Game’ likely will have fewer problems with parents and fans on the sidelines ... coaches have the responsibility to intervene, to defend the positive sports culture we want for our children.”

Here are some of its suggestions:

  • Cue parents before games. “Today’s game is important for us, and we want to play our best ... I expect everyone associated with our team to make us proud of each other. If there is a bad call by the official, I want you to be silent ... it’s my job to address it, not yours. Your job is to fill the emotional tanks of our players and be a good role model for our kids.”

  • Introduce officials to parents, if the situation allows. “These are the officials for today’s game ... I know we all want to show them the respect they deserve. Let’s give them a hand for being willing to do a tough job.”

  • Check in with the “Culture Keeper.” If you haven’t already asked a parent to be the “Culture Keeper” — to be your ally and promote sideline behavior that “Honors the Game” — do it. Always check in with that person(s) before the game. “Thanks for serving as the team’s Culture Keeper. Make sure to touch base with each parent early in the game. Feel free to remind them that we want to set an example for our kids.”

  • Model the behavior you want to see. If you are calm and focused, it will be easier for others to follow suit.

  • Anticipate. You can usually anticipate situations in which parents are likely to become upset. A close game is more likely to see misbehavior. If a call upsets you, you can expect parents to be unhappy. Monitor what’s going on.

  • Nip problems in the bud. The earlier you respond to bad sideline behavior the better. Let your parents or fans know it’s not OK.

  • Refer to a higher standard. Remind them the higher standard is behavior that “Honors the Game.” Perhaps have your parents sign a Parent Pledge. Remind them of the pledge they signed.

  • Respect people’s personal space: Ever feel like someone is “in your face?” It results in self-protection instincts. Stay at arm’s length and don’t approach in a threatening manner.

  • When parents are upset with you. It’s not only officials who are the target of abuse. In a calm manner, tell them this isn’t the right time to confront the issue. “I need to focus on the kids and the game right now. We can talk when the game is over. Right now just let the kids play.”

  • Recognize the challenge. As a grandparent of a young athlete, and a promoter of “Honor the Game,” I even find it difficult to stay calm and keep my mouth closed. Again, thank fans and parents for setting good examples.

  • What if you don’t intervene perfectly? No one is perfect. Stammer, be too subtle or too abrupt, be nervous in your approach. But you shouldn’t let bad behavior continue. Be the leader of the team and intervene the best you can.

  • Be willing to ask for help. You might have to call on the leaders of your organization to step in and help resolve continuing problems.

These last two columns have addressed problems between coaches and parents. There are situations where coaches are the problem, which can be addressed at a later date.

Let us know what you think. Send comments to njustis@cfu.net

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