OBNOXIOUS SPORTS PARENTS: American Parents Don’t Have A Monopoly on Bad Behavior
Insights Into British Youth Sports
By Doug Abrams
Last week, the Birmingham Mail’s headline drew my attention — “’Blame It On the Pushy Parents’: Report Reveals Rising Violence and Abuse in Youth Football.” Here we go again, I thought. Yet another story about American parents who embarrass themselves and their families, this time in Alabama.
I jumped the gun, and I was wrong. It turns out that “Birmingham” meant Birmingham, England, the country’s second most populous city (after London). And “youth football” in the headline meant what Americans call youth soccer. What a relief to hear yet again that the United States holds no monopoly on troublesome youth sports parents!
The article prodded me to check out what has been happening lately in British youth sports, so I did some digging. Among the articles I found from the past year are these five:
“I Wish Dad Would Shut Up”
The Birmingham Mail article itself reported that youth soccer in that city “has been swept by a rising tide of violence, abuse and sendings off” (players thrown out of the game after receiving a red card). The article described “head-butting, spitting and serious foul play” in games for children as young as seven.
The Birmingham Football Association’s disciplinary manager pointed the finger directly at the adults: “It is not the majority of players who are the problem – it is parents, spectators and club officials. . . . Football is a game to be enjoyed and the sooner certain adults realise this and start to give good examples of supportive behaviour and respect,” the better off the players will be.
The disciplinary manager told the Mail’s Mike Lockley about the association’s recent survey of the soccer players themselves. When asked to name their greatest desire, what did they say most often? “I wish dad would shut up.”
Kids Copy the Pros
Earlier this week, the Coventry Telegraph reported that several youth soccer games in Coventry and Warwickshire (near Birmingham) were “abandoned” (terminated before completion) last season because of misconduct that included headbutting, spitting, brawls, fighting, and attacks on referees. The local football association’s discipline manager blamed the example set by pro soccer players. “When these younger players see something in professional football, they will copy it.”
“A couple of World Cups ago, when the players started diving to win penalties,” the manager explained, “there was a big increase in diving. Now we see [professional] players swearing at referees and young players and copying it.”
“Shut Up and Get On With the Game”
On June 22, the Plymouth Herald reported that “[a] father whose son was involved in an offside dispute during a youth football match has ended up in the dock [on trial] after he was accused of punching the manager of the rival team” in the face. (Plymouth, about 190 miles southwest of London, is the city from which the Pilgrims sailed to North America in 1620.)
The confrontation began when the 17-year-old son verbally abused the referee who called him offside. The opposing manager told the boy to “shut up and get on with the game.” The father admitted throwing the punch that cut the manager’s lip and left him with a headache for a few days, but the father said that he acted in self-defense after the manager “put his head close to his face.”
The city magistrates who heard the case found no evidence of self-defense and convicted the father after deliberating for only fifteen minutes. They sentenced him to 120 hours of community service, and ordered him to pay 100 pounds (about $ 156) in compensation to the manager and 500 pounds (about $ 780) toward prosecution costs.
“Held By the Scruff of the Neck Like a Cat”
On January 26, a father admitted assaulting his 12-year-old son for “disrespecting his football teammates” during a game. The Express and Echo, Exeter’s daily paper, reported that the father had been shouting at the boy throughout the game before the boy finally told him to “shut up.” According to the prosecutor, “When [the boy] came off the pitch [the field], his father approached him and grabbed his neck. The victim described it as being held by the scruff of the neck like a cat.” The father’s side of the story? “I told him off as he deserved to be told off.”
The court sentenced the father to a 20 months’ probation and ordered him to pay court costs of 125 pounds (about $195).
“We Do Not Want Our Game Spoilt by Adults”
On September 5, 2011, the London Daily Mail reported that “the blight of foul-mouthed spectators is no longer unique to football,” but has spread to “angry mothers and fathers . . . at children’s rugby games.”
Writer Eleanor Harding reported that rugby “[o]fficials at junior games are increasingly being assaulted. Games have had to be abandoned because of fights – with one man even pulling out a knife at a children’s match in Wales.”
A national rugby foundation has responded by enlisting players to help keep their elders in line. Captains of youth teams hand spectators a letter reminding them that, “As young players we are taught to follow the core values of rugby and it is important that you do too. . . . We do not want our game spoilt by the bad behaviour of adults.”
One Rugby Football Union official hopes that “if these letters come from the kids, it will have greater impact on the parents.”
Two weeks ago, I wrote about a 2010 international survey, conducted by Reuters News and the marketing research firm Ipsos, that ranked American parents as the world’s “worst behaved” parents at children’s sports events. Sixty percent of U.S. adults who had attended youth sports contests reported that had seen parents become verbally or physically abusive toward coaches or officials; runners-up were parents in India (59%), Italy (55%), Argentina (54%), Canada (53%) and Australia (50%). Britain took a backseat in ninth place, at 37%.
Perhaps only the worst incidents reach the newspapers. The confrontations described in the news stories presented here, however, make you wonder about how bad things are in the six countries that finished so much higher than Britain in the worldwide adult-misbehavior survey — including the United States, which took the gold medal.
[Sources: Four In 10 (37%) Global Citizens Have Been To Children's Sports Event, http://www.marketwire.com/press-release/Four-In-10-37-Global-Citizens-Have-Been-To-Childrens-sports-Even-1143748.htm; Mike Lockley, ‘Blame It on the Pushy Parents’: Report Reveals Rising Violence and Abuse in Youth Football, Birmingham Mail, July 31, 2012, p. 5; Touchline Bust-up Lands Dad in Court, Plymouth Herald, June 22, 2012, p. 1; Martin Bagot, Rising Toll of Bad Behaviour on Pitch, Coventry Telegraph, Aug. 6, 2012, p. 5; Stuart Abel, Guilty: Dad Who Hit Youth Football Boss, Plymouth Herald, June 23, 2012, p. 4; Dad Admits Assaulting Son, 12, Express and Echo, Jan. 26, 2012, p. 14; Eleanor Harding, Rugby Blows the Whistle on Touchline Tantrums of Parents, Daily Mail, Sept. 5, 2011]