Problem parents ruining youth sports for everyone involved

By Scott Petersen

It’s embarrassing that it even came to this point: parents in Moncton, N.B., signing contracts that guarantee they’ll be on their best behaviour at children’s sporting events.

That’s right, a rule designed for those overbearing parents who can’t distinguish between a life-and-death situation and a simple setback for their child.

Apparently, kids’ sports are supposed to be fun, not extremely serious, and the City of Moncton has taken the latest step to hammer that point home to those who believe otherwise.

Parents and guardians of children who use the city’s facilities must sign a code of conduct contract before being allowed to watch the games.

This contract allows for people to be ejected from the crowd at any point in time, and possibly even expelled under a three-strike rule.

Though the policy may sound like a crackdown, it’s actually a liberation of sorts. It’s an attempt to allow kids to be kids, and have fun while they’re doing it.

Instead of being privy to the rants, heckles and bickering of a few obnoxious spectators (the problem), it’s hoped the rule will allow kids to hear more words of encouragement from their own parents (the solution).

In a perfect world, the policy would have its desired effect and leave the kids to play.

No longer would expletive-laced insults rain down from the stands and onto the ice at minor hockey games. No longer would youngsters be heckled over the course of a baseball game. No longer would threats of bodily harm be directed at young referees trying to make a few extra dollars at a basketball game.

Unfortunately, the policy may be difficult to enforce, since the responsibility to eject a person falls solely upon the coach and referee.

If the ejected person refuses to leave, the game could be cancelled, which also punishes the kids.

But even if it accomplishes nothing else, this latest attempt to curb fan-rage has served to highlight a serious problem. In recent years, several major incidents have been reported, and countless others have not.

Two year ago, Thomas Junta was convicted of involuntary manslaughter after he beat the coach of his son’s minor hockey team to death over what he considered rough play at a practice. Last year, a father in Winnipeg was arrested and charged with threatening another parent during his nine-year-old’s hockey game.

Last month, footage of a brawl at a youth football game in Los Angeles, Calif., involving approximately 25 parents, was broadcast on television stations.

Referees, the brunt of most spectator abuse, are often the only on-site officials, left to fend for themselves.

Examples of referees needing police escorts from rinks, courts and fields are as prevalent as they are saddening.

In Port Dover, Ont., during a hockey game for 12-and 13-year-olds, all 200 spectators were ejected from the game after coins, a plastic water bottle and a broom were tossed onto the ice in response to a referee’s call. In Nanaimo, B.C., referees boycotted several youth games in response to fan abuse.

In Ottawa, most sports organizations leave decisions on fan abuse and whether to call the game up to the referees.

But, increasing numbers of leagues in the city and across the country are trying to increase parent accountability by having them sign a code of ethics before their kids can play.

In the end, whether Ottawa adopts similar policies or not, it probably won’t fix the situation. More emphasis on educating parents on proper conduct at games and making them aware of the problems could help, but also isn’t the solution.

Instead, resolutions will eventually have to come from the parents themselves.

Nobody can police moms and dads at their youngster’s game, but then again, no one should have to.