Are you conducting yourself with class in the dugout and on the sidelines?
My kids were watching some old home videos of little league games they recently found in storage, and aside from commenting on how much more black hair I had ten years ago, they couldn’t get over the soundtrack of trash talking and negative comments they heard coming from the fans.
Comments about the opposing players, the umps, the other coaches, even about the mistakes made by our own players. It was hard to listen to, especially when we were able to connect a voice with a friend.
What struck me was how embarrassed I felt for the person doing the trash talking. I also felt kinda bad that the video-taped record of my kid’s game was smudged by the no-class soundtrack of the parents on my own sideline, and I wished I’d been tuned in enough to have done something about it back then.
Unfortunately, it’s easy to find class-less behavior at most youth league sporting events. Considering the sheer number of people associated with the average game, the odds are pretty high that somebody is going to make a bonehead remark, yell something inappropriate at an official, or worse, say something disparaging to an opposing player.
Why do people feel justified in hurling inflammatory and mean-spirited jabs at people just playing a kid’s game? Do spectators possess some birthright to add their personal commentary to any and all sporting events?
You could argue that we’ve been raised this way, watching the pros kick dirt on umpires, charge the mound, and talking trash in the media. As kids grow up working hard to emulate the athletic achievements of their favorite players, attitude, good or bad, becomes just one of the ingredients of their recipe for success.
Talk to Your Players
As part of your regular coaching plan, make it a weekly practice to sit with your team to discuss an example of an athlete in the news demonstrating how not to act, on the field or off. Keeping it short and to the point, explain why the behavior is unacceptable and what the player might have done differently to display class instead of a lack of class.
Kids implicitly know right from wrong, and we parents know they don’t mind telling us when they’re right and we’re wrong. Empowering your players with the underpinnings of class behavior will give them the tools they need to recognize poor behavior in their own parents, and fight the natural tendency to imitate them.
Talk to Your Parents
In your parent letter you should have already made it crystal clear that trash talking and derisive comments, to game officials, to other parents, to opposing players and to opposing coaches, is absolutely unacceptable and will not be tolerated. If your youth organization has a provision for disciplinary measures in its charter for this, you will have included that in your parent letter package.
It’s important that the precedent you set early on is one of zero tolerance for this type of behavior. Letting it slide when your best buddy or his wife comments loudly about a bad call will give other parents implicit permission to do the same, lowering your standard for team class and setting the stage for poor behavior in the future.
When you have an incident during a game, it’s usually enough to walk over to the offending parent and respectfully ask them to stop. Sometimes people don’t even know they’re doing it and all they need is a reminder. If you have multiple parents misbehaving, call a brief, mandatory meeting at your earliest convenience to review your policy and the organization’s policy on the matter and then be ready to stick to your guns.
Every now and then you’re going to run into a parent who either doesn’t get it or doesn’t want to get it. On these rare occasions you may have to let a player go for the good of the team. While this may seem harsh to the kid, it’s the best thing for the greater good of all and it’ll send a resounding message to your players, their parents and your youth organization, that you hold these values high and expect them to do the same.
So next time you’re coaching or sitting on the sidelines, ask yourself if you’d be comfortable knowing every word you said was going to wind up on somebody’s home movie.
Are you setting an example of class for your players and the parents and coaches around you, or are you trading in class and dignity for a cheap laugh at the expense of someone else or to get into the head of an opponent?
How do you promote class behavior on your team?