For any kid, scoring the winning goal or hitting a walk-off home run is the ultimate dream. He or she imagines that being followed up by a celebration with their teammates and the fans in the stands. However, some have argued that there shouldn’t be any fans in the stands when it comes to youth sports.
Requiring silence or having fan-free games in youth sports may sound like a foreign concept or even a little harsh. Both have been introduced by youth leagues around the world to eliminate the problem of abusive behavior in youth sports.
In 2014, some soccer parents in Ireland organized a “Silent Sideline Weekend.” Applause was allowed, but no other verbal communication — positive or negative — could be uttered. Some sports leagues have taken stronger measures, banishing all spectators and playing games with empty bleachers.
In an article published on GrandstandCentral.com, a group of panelists weighed in on this sensitive topic. Greg Bach, senior director of communications and content at the National Association for Youth Sports, said abusive behavior on the sidelines is a problem, and the individuals responsible should be removed. But punishing everyone for the transgressions of a few, he said, isn’t the right thing to do.
“Kids need their parents there — watching, cheering and encouraging,” Bach stated in the article. “What fun is it for a youngster to dive for a loose ball or make a great pass, only to glance over to the stands and see no one there to acknowledge the effort? Or to hear nothing but silence?”
The other panelists consisted of staff writers from Grandstand Central, along with Jim Mullin, a sports broadcaster in Vancouver, British Columbia. Each of them stopped short of recommending an all-out ban of spectators.
For his part, Mullin said he believes kids at younger levels should play more pickup games, to encourage problem-solving on their own. He also suggests one practice a week and select games that are spectator-free.
One writer pointed out that banning parents entirely would cripple most organizations, particularly when it comes to volunteering.
“In my view, you just can’t have youth sports without some level of parental involvement,” he said. “To actively discourage parents from being involved, they would need to have an incredible core of officials in place – something that is almost unheard of.”
Still, some youth leagues have resorted to the practice of temporary or permanent bans to control parent violence. After a 2008 incident where several parents became abusive toward a referee at a Bethesda, Maryland, girls’ soccer game, all parents of the offending team were required to watch the first two games of the following season from at least 100 yards away.
Similarly, an investigation conducted by the Orlando Sun Sentinel revealed that after parents displayed similar behavior toward referees and others in the stands during soccer games in Florida, six dads and an entire team of parents were banned from watching their children’s games.
There are occasions where complete silence in the stands is warranted, particularly at golf and tennis matches. In beep baseball, a modified form of baseball played by blind athletes, fans must be completely quiet during play, so players can hear the beeping ball and buzzing bases. But even in those instances, cheering is allowed after the play has been completed.
One way to handle the problem of parental outbursts in youth sports is to deal directly with the specific offenders, rather than implement a blanket ban on all spectators. Many schools and organizations require parents to sign “code of conduct” documents that address behavior at events, outlining the consequences for violent outbursts.
Finding the ultimate solution is difficult. But many coaches, sports psychologists and other insiders agree on one thing: Children need encouragement and support from parents at their games. When a kid hits an imaginary home run in his backyard, he or she dreams of their family and thousands of other fans cheering wildly, not total silence.
From GameChanger and Stephen Kerr
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