This past summer, a 12-and-under USA Softball tournament in Kingsport, Tennessee, appeared to be just another place where girls could have fun in a competitive environment. But it wasn’t the play on the field that earned the tournament national headlines.
A melee broke out between the parents of two North Carolina teams, and a video from the stands quickly went viral. It was an ugly scene that finished with the sounds of the players in tears. The kids were visibly frustrated with the actions of the parents.
Parental misbehavior is a well-documented challenge in youth sports, and the effects are serious. In the case of the tournament in Tennessee, the players on the involved teams were barred from finishing the tournament. Officials, too, are frequent targets.
A quick internet search pulls up countless videos showing parents berating officials, often using salty language to do so. The problem has gotten so bad that many officials and umpires have decided enough is enough and hung up their whistles. The National Federation of State High School Associations recently said 80 percent of their officials end up quitting before their third year.
One official who has put matters into his own hands is Brian Barlow. The Oklahoma youth soccer referee started a Facebook page called Offside. Barlow pays $100 for any video clip of a parent misbehaving. The videos go up on the Facebook page, where Barlow says they are intended more as a teaching opportunity than to embarrass an angry parent.
“When people see themselves, they change their own dynamics,'' Barlow told NBC’s Gadi Schwartz. “You've got to hold people accountable. That's all it is. It's holding adults accountable.”
The page has become popular enough that it was featured on the "Today" show. To go along with that, Barlow has started a program called S.T.O.P., which stands for Stop Tormenting Officials Permanently.
This program is all about taking action. Signs are distributed at youth sports complexes that display the organization’s title loud and proud. It’s just one more way Barlow is working to curb this problem.
“I do it to hold people accountable — to identify and call out the small percentage of parents who nonetheless create a toxic environment at youth sports,” Barlow told The New York Times. “It’s a very visual deterrent, and not just to the person caught on video but to others who ask themselves: Do I look like that jerk?”
As Barlow said, this isn’t every parent. But this is becoming enough of an issue where many feel like it’s time to speak up.
“(Parents) need to remember that many of the officials at this level are doing it to give back to kids, remember that the kids don't play a perfect game, coaches don't coach a perfect game and certainly our officials aren't going to officiate a perfect game,” former NFHS executive director Bob Gardner said on "Today" in March.
From GameChanger and Ryan Williamson