By Scott Westfall
MSU Institute for the Study of Youth Sports
NOTE: This is the second of a two-part viewpoint explaining the importance of coaches and parents setting proper examples for young athletes in their treatment of game officials. Click to read Part 1.
From time to time, even the most well-intentioned parents yell at officials things they are not proud of later.
As the head coach, it is essential to communicate expectations at the annual preseason parent meeting. Let parents know you want this to be classy program, and you need their help. Inform them that you, your assistant coaches, and the players (their children) will not be yelling at officials, and that you would be grateful if they would do the same.
Let them know that although other teams and their fans might holler at the officials, this team will be above the fray.
Encourage parents to applaud players from both sides. While they undoubtedly want your team to win, it is a sign of class to applaud the opposition for a good effort and/or performance at the end of the contest. In addition, ask your parents to sign a Parent Pledge Form stating that they will hold themselves to a higher standard. See an example below:
I. I pledge to respect the sport. I understand the importance of setting a good example for my child. No matter what others may do, I will show respect for all involved including coaches, players, opposing coaches, opposing players, opposing fans and officials. I understand that officials make mistakes. If the official makes a bad call against our team, I will respect the sport and remain silent.
Initials: ________ Initials: ________
II. I pledge to contribute to a positive team culture. I will not be the parent in the stands or behind the scenes who puts down the kids or the team. I understand this creates a negative atmosphere and can damage a team’s culture. If I have any problem, I pledge to either bring it to the coach with a solution-oriented mindset, or choose to remain silent. In either case, I will contribute only in a positive way to my child’s team culture.
Initials: ________ Initials: ________
After instituting this practice, the first season might seem like more of an experiment. The second season may become a work in progress. But by the time the kids and parents have been in the program for three and four years, it will have become the norm and soon a tradition that is gladly passed down to the new families in the program.
The mantra of your parents will change, and they will take pride in acting differently than what they see at other schools. Other teams will see your parents stand up and applaud participants from both sides during wins and losses, and this act of class will become your team’s identity.
Respecting authority is essential in any society. This respect must be given to judges, policemen and school principals, to teachers, coaches and even referees.
Reinstituting this respect for officials is going to be a challenge, but a challenge that is worthwhile. A coach has the power to transform a program, which will in turn affect the way assistant coaches, parents, and fans conduct themselves.
In the end, the individuals who will receive the greatest benefit are the ones you are doing your job for in the first place – the kids.
Scott Westfall has spent the last 10 years as a teacher, coach, and athletic director in Fort Collins, Colo. He currently is working on his Doctorate at Michigan State University, with an emphasis in Sport Psychology and Athletic Administration, and assisting the MHSAA with its student leadership programs. Westfall is a former athlete who participated in football, wrestling, tennis and cross country at the high school level, and rugby at the collegiate level. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.