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Time to take control of fan behavior
Justis column: Here’s a guide to handling inappropriate fans during sporting events
Nancy Justis - correspondent
Aug. 29, 2022 2:02 pm
Summer is basically over. Competitive sports at all levels have begun practices and the first competitive events are here.
It must be time to take control of inappropriate fan behavior.
There have been many instances in the last few months that have made the games not enjoyable. A softball game between Charles City and Waterloo East High Schools was interrupted when East players made allegations of racist slurs by fans.
The mayor of a city was ejected from a high school basketball game after threatening a referee. A volleyball official was followed off the court by a coach shouting obscenities. Continued poor parent behavior led a youth basketball league to end the season early.
Sports are supposed to exist to teach life lessons, to treat everyone equally and with respect. Clubs and schools must establish a culture with a no-tolerance policy regarding behavior that shows disrespect toward another person.
The problem has become so rampant that the National Federation of State High School Associations has made sportsmanship its No. 1 point of emphasis in all sports for the upcoming school year.
It’s true that much of the conflict occurs because fans dislike the judgments of event officials. But as noted above, immature and hateful interactions can occur at any time and place.
Scott Garvis, CMAA, Bound AD in Residence and author of two books designed to help athletics directors maneuver their daily responsibilities, has provided techniques that are useful to help diffuse conflict and find a resolution.
- Diffusing the conflict. Break the tension. Try discussing the issue with humor. Develop positive relations with fans prior to having issues. Humor can gently pull the guilty fan out of the “mob mentality.” Humor can help fans bounce back and overcome adversity during an event. Humor won’t always work, but it will give a chance to distract or redirect the anger so thoughts can be gathered to work toward a solution.
- Administration Strategy. “I had a fellow AD who used to have a pocket full of suckers and would go up, sit down and say, ”Why don’t you put this in your mouth and enjoy the game?’” Submitted by Bill Fitzgerald, Nebraska Interscholastic Athletic Administrator Association Executive Director. Communicate and adhere to district and state association sportsmanship policies. Discuss fan expectations at sports parent meetings. Work with booster organizations to communicate guidelines. Display signage with fan expectations. Have announcer read sportsmanship communications during the event. Use social media to promote sportsmanship. And “try to visit with fans as they walk in the facility. Identify issues early in the stands. Go up and sit next to the offender, introduce yourself and remind them they are at a HS (or youth) event, where we encourage sportsmanship. Give them the warning that next time likely will mean removal from the event. Always have other administrative help, as well as law enforcement present. Be calm and polite, but firm, and always refund the ticket if you have to remove them from the contest,” Fitzgerald said.
- Be Proactive and Act Quickly. Create a Super Fan Council. Consider hosting a student sportsmanship summit. Work the event, not watch the event.
Garvis said finding a resolution involves:
- Identifying the problem by talking calmly and listening.
- Clarifying your understanding by allowing the fan to describe their side of the issue, repeat back to them that you understand their frustration, then allow the fan to add more information.
- Checking for verbal and non-verbal cues to check for the fan’s understanding.
Finding a solution also involves asking the following questions:
- What can we do so we are on the same page?
- How can we work together to improve fan behavior?
- If the issue cannot be resolved right away, what can we do to work toward resolution?
Lastly, follow through.
The Robert D. and Billie Ray Center, home of Character Counts, has provided information about how active student bystanders may be the last, best hope in reducing bad fan behavior or bullying. It notes:
- Reduce the audience that a bully craves.
- Mobilize the compassion of witnesses to step in and stop the bullying.
- Support the victim and reduce the trauma.
- Be a positive influence in curbing a bullying episode.
- Encourage other students to support a school climate of caring.
- Report a bullying incident since 85 percent of the time, bullying occurs when an adult is NOT present.
The key is in diffusing conflict effectively and quickly.
Nancy Justis is a former competitive swimmer and college sports information director. She is a partner with Outlier Creative Communications. Let her know what you think at email@example.com