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Unruly Parents
Illustration: Lauren Rebbeck.

Tips for Dealing with Unruly Sideline Parents

Follow these expert tips the next time there's an ornery parent disrupting your child's sporting event.

At almost all of my kid’s soccer games, there are parents who yell and scream at the kids, coaches, and referees throughout the game, making it miserable for the rest of us. Despite the coach setting rules that this behavior is unacceptable, it continues. Are there other options for dealing with unruly parents on the sidelines?

Jay Solomon, a former youth sports coach for 15 years in Denver, shares the following tips for parents:

Without question, it’s the coach’s responsibility to set the tone and establish guidelines for proper behavior during a game —for the players on the field and parents on the sidelines. Many coaches address spectator etiquette early in the season at parent meetings and via email. Too often, as the season progresses, the guardrails come off and some parents shift from cheering for their team to yelling at officials, coaching from the sidelines, and disrupting the game.

Stay out of it.

Parents confronting other parents about unruly behavior rarely ends well. Parents may listen to authority figures who offer their expertise (such as child psychologists, journalists, or parenting authors) but tend to bristle at the slightest admonition or “lecture” from their peers.

Involve the coach.

If the goal is long-term behavioral modification, it really is up to the coach to put their foot down. Concerned parents should insist the coach meet with the team’s parents (a simple email will not do) and clarify that there’s a big difference between positive cheering for the team and ruining the game by screaming. The message has to be crystal clear: If the behavior continues, offending parents are welcome to watch the rest of the game…from the parking lot.

Cut down on the clutter.

Aside from parents modeling poor sportsmanship, the reasoning is obvious: Youth athletes are already overloaded with a cacophony of voices on the field. Their teammates are shouting, opponents are trash-talking, and coaches are barking out commands. Young players do not need to hear distracting comments coming from the stands. Parents cheering loudly, yes; shouting instructions or arguing with referees, no.

Keep perspective.

When my son was a soccer referee as a teenager, there was a particularly hotly-contested game on the verge of being tainted by a few obnoxious adults. He stopped the match and walked over to the sidelines. “No parent in the history of soccer has ever changed the outcome of a game,” he told them. “Let the players decide who wins or loses.”

It took a teenage referee to bring a bunch of overzealous adults back to their senses. Let the players play, the coaches coach, and the fans do what they do best: cheer.

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