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A Model For Better Youth Sports Through Education

Coaches' training

The training of coaches should include many components, but the focus here is on those that will enhance the relationship between coaches, parents and officials.

In developing this aspect of a training program for coaches, it needs to be recognized that:

  • Coaches are ultimately responsible for parents' behavior. The coach is the one with the most influence over the behavior and attitude of the parents on the sidelines. While some coaches would argue that they have enough to worry about in a game and should not have to worry about what spectators are doing, parents can unfortunately create an environment where kids can't do their best on the field. The coach needs to accept the fact that if officials have any trouble with fans, the coach will be the first person approached to control parental behavior. If the coach cannot change the behavior of the parent, it is likely that the team will be penalized. While this may seem unfair to players, it is necessary to give parents and coaches the necessary incentive to work together to create a positive environment. 
  • The time for setting behavioral expectations is before the season starts. It is easier to prevent problems from happening then to clean them up. 
  • Coaches must always model good behavior towards players, parents and officials. Unfortunately, too many coaches do not know how to behave properly towards their players and officials. They need to be taught that physical or emotional intimidation toward players of any age is simply not acceptable. The coach needs to show how to properly communicate with officials, recognizing that he or she not need to agree with every call but always modeling appropriate ways to disagree with an official that are not abusive. When the coach uses these positive styles of communication with the officials, it helps parents to also keep their comments positive.

Officials' training

Officials set the tone during competition. Oftentimes, youth sports officials, due to youth, inexperience, or lack of training, do not know how to control the game environment. The training of officials should therefore include teaching crowd control:

  • An ounce of prevention can prevent an unpleasant outcome on the playing field. Officials need to meet with coaches before every contest to inform them of the behavioral rules they will expect parents, players and coaches to follow.
  • The coach, in turn, will be much more likely to inform parents as to the importance of proper behavior.
  • When the official does not use this preventative strategy, the coach and crowd are more likely to test to see how far they can go to intimidate the official's calling of the game, emulating a practice in professional sports where abuse of officials is all too common.
  • Officials receive respect when they expect respect.

Designating Spectator Areas

Setting up designated spectator areas can help parents keep things positive on the sidelines and reduce the risk of confrontations

  • Where there are no permanent bleachers: Parents should stand or sit on the same sideline as their children's team. Not only does this arrangement put parents in close proximity to the coach, who is responsible for their behavior, it lets the coach more effectively model positive sideline behavior for the parents. In addition, if an official needs to issue a warning to the coach for poor behavior (whether it be for misconduct by player, parent or coach), there will be no mistaking to whom the warning is directed.
  • Where there are permanent stands: Different sections should be set aside for each team's supporters. When there is a problem, the game official will know which coach is responsible.

If every league or club follows these guidelines, visiting teams from different clubs or leagues will always know where their fans should stand or sit. Setting up the physical arrangement in a positive, healthy way will help other teams comply, even though parents may not have been through the same training as in your league.