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Parents Blog

Susan Boyd blogs on every Monday. A dedicated mother and wife, Susan offers a truly unique perspective into the world of a "Soccer Mom." 
Opinions expressed on the US Youth Soccer Blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of US Youth Soccer.


Crazy Quilt

Susan Boyd

Every week, I come across some fascinating soccer stories that aren’t necessarily worth an entire blog, yet are entertaining. Therefore I’ve gathered a few of these here in a hodge-podge of reports that highlight the wide-ranging impact of soccer on our lives.

This past week, we played host to Pope Francis, who visited Washington, D.C., New York City and Philadelphia. We witnessed the heart-warming incident of a daughter of immigrants appealing to the Holy Father to speak to President Obama about the status of undocumented, watched the Masses performed in the three cities he visited, and heard him address Congress. However, a small item that missed most media outlets appeared in the Washington Post. It seems that D.C. United provided the Pontiff with his own special jersey emblazoned with Pope Francis and the number 10. Francis is well-known to love soccer and is an avid follower of club San Lorenzo from Buenos Aires, Argentina — his boyhood home. He hosted the Argentine and Italian national soccer teams at the Vatican two years ago, and during a public Vatican appearance last year, he was given an Argentine National Team World Cup jersey.

When San Lorenzo won the Copa Libertadores last summer, Argentina’s most prestigious club soccer competition, the team brought the trophy to the Vatican to celebrate their first-ever cup win with their patient life-long supporter. Given this history, Paul Hill (the subject of the film “In the Name of the Father”) suggested to D.C. United’s general manager, Dave Kasper, that it might be a meaningful gesture from the Catholic citizens of D.C. to provide the Pope with a jersey from the city’s MLS team. Hill used to be married to Robert and Ethyl Kennedy’s daughter and D.C. United plays in the RFK stadium. Since Ethyl had VIP access to the Pope’s White House visit, the delivery of the jersey was easily arranged and assured. Well sort of. Apparently Hill’s daughter and RFK’s granddaughter had to ultimately entrust the jersey to a papal aide, who promised that the Pope would receive it. And the number 10? That was easy. It’s Argentine nation soccer hero Diego Maradona’s number, and it’s Lionel Messi’s number. In fact, every self-respecting Argentine soccer fan swears by the number 10. Although maybe I shouldn’t say “swears by” when the Pope is involved.

We’re in the meat of the fall soccer season when youth clubs, most high schools, all colleges and our professional and semi-professional North American teams competing. That means we’re shuttling between our children’s matches and practices, and fields are overscheduled. I drive to or by dozens of fields every weekend, and they are mobbed with players finishing one match as others mill around nearby waiting for their turn to play. Parking lots are chaotic and crowded. I’m sure it’s the same wherever you live. With less than 12 hours out of 24 with any daylight, clubs schedule fields tightly and the effect only gets worse should there be games canceled due to bad weather. Every free, clear day is used to the maximum. So imagine my surprise on a gorgeous, mild weekend day when I arrived for a match at a soccer park to see the place deserted with the exception of the two teams I had come to watch. Six fields were completely competition fallow. I couldn’t believe it. There had been no heavy rains to turn the pitch to mush or threats of electrical storms on the horizon to limit play. Nothing was amiss yet it was a soccer ghost town. With some investigation I found out the culprit was a lack of referees to monitor games because of a tournament elsewhere in town using the available pool. So non-tournament matches were actually canceled and had to be rescheduled. It got me wondering how often this happens nation-wide. In reading message boards, articles, and blogs, I’ve discovered that most states report a severe referee shortage. Utah has stopped sending three refs to high school games because there are only enough certified officials for two at each match. I read reports from North Dakota, Maryland, New York, Western Pennsylvania and California, among others.

Of all the states responding to inquiries about referee shortages I only found one, North Carolina, reporting an actual surplus. Most referee administrators point to the increased verbal and even physical abuse referees endure as a reason for the dearth. The youngest officials have become disenchanted with minimal pay and maximum stress, so are leaving in record numbers which affects the future pool of experienced and older referees. Since most league rules require at least one certified official must be on the pitch before a game can be conducted, the shortage has begun to affect schedules evidenced by what I witnessed last weekend. In fact at that game a third referee did not show up until 20 minutes into the first half. As the number of referees becomes limited so does the professionalism of the game. Without certified assistant referees to assist the center ref, the burden of all decisions falls on one person who can’t possibly be watching for offside while also watching for field fouls. What happened this weekend may become more common and make completing the soccer seasons all the more difficult by adding no refs to the problems of weather and field availability.

USA News and World Report just detailed a study by the Soccer Price Index, which ranked MLS as the world’s worst soccer value among 25 countries considered. This index analyses the value a fan receives as measured by ticket price and quality of competition. England has the most expensive ticket prices, averaging $82.60, but ranks third in the world in terms of competition, so the EPL has an overall value ranking of fourth. Germany ranks 10th in ticket prices at $35.36, and a league ranking of second, which puts that country in first place.

Unfortunately, MLS has the fifth-highest ticket prices at $46.22 and ranks 25th in competition, which places it firmly in last place in the index. Those of us in the U.S. might consider traveling to Mexico, where average ticket prices are 24th at $11.72, beat only by South Africa at $9.55. Mexico is ranked 19th in quality of competition, which gave it a value ranking of 11th. I’m not sure what it all means in the end, since national leagues such as EPL, Bundesliga and MLS don’t really have any competition for fans of that level of soccer competition in their respective countries. We go to see the best we can and pay the price we are offered. Players from some of the top international teams have come to the MLS to finish their careers, but the league will take a big step up in competitive quality when they can start to attract young stars to play in the U.S. — and that requires money, so expect ticket prices to increase and our value to stay low as the MLS works to improve its place in the world.

Finally, ESPN’s 30 for 30 had a soccer series last spring that ran until the eve of the World Cup. I’m not sure how I missed it while it was airing, but I’m glad I caught up with it on the internet. I highly recommend the eight stories that touch upon all different aspects of soccer. First is Hillsborough, detailing a horrific soccer tragedy which has changed the way stadiums are built and fans are admitted. ‘Maradona ‘86’ examines the Argentinian’s masterful performance at the 1986 World Cup. Ceasefire Massacre highlights a tragic killing in Northern Ireland where a Protestant terror group murders six men watching in a bar the 1994 World Cup game between Ireland and Italy. The tragedy led eventually to a ceasefire a few weeks later in the beleaguered country. The Myth of Garrincha details the rise of a Brazilian soccer player who overcame deformed legs to lead his country to two World Cup wins. The Jules Rimet Trophy is the subject of the fifth in the series, Mysteries of the Rimet Trophy, which was awarded to World Cup winners from 1930 to 1970. The origins of the trophy are unknown, and it has been a part of some significant scandals. The agony of defeat shapes the film Barbosa: 

The Man Who Made All of Brazil Cry. Goalkeeper Moacir Barbosa was a national hero until Uruguay scored a winning goal on him in the 1950 World Cup championship. Rounding out the series is White, Blue and White, covering the unusual dilemma of Argentine soccer players Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa, who joined Tottenham Hotspurs of the EPL leading them to the 1981 FA Cup Final. They are lauded as English national heroes but that changed rapidly when Argentina invaded the British-held Falkland Islands. Ardiles quit the Spurs and returned to Buenos Aires while Villa remained in England. Their contrasting stories highlight an international conflict. All but the two-hour Hillsborough documentary are 30 minutes long, and each episode can be found on YouTube. ESPNGo has video clips of these shows but doesn’t offer an entire episode. Amazon has the DVD set for $18 although they don’t stream it on Amazon Prime.

Soccer extends beyond the field, touching various aspects of our lives and those of others. We can see ads with soccer as the context for things as diverse as cereal and life insurance. Human interest stories appear in the media regularly highlighting how soccer has empowered someone, provided a springboard for humanitarian efforts, or gave a player a new lease on life. We use soccer fields as landmarks when giving directions. The media pays much more attention to soccer matches and players, which translates into more Americans knowing about international leagues and following players from around the world. We have a soccer-loving pope, the First Daughters play soccer, and Obama supported a U.S. bid for the World Cup.

Therefore, we come in contact with soccer on a daily basis beyond watching our own kids play. It’s that variety of experiences that not only gives the sport validity for our kids’ choice of sports but also opens it up to become a part of our daily lives. I encourage you to take note of soccer stories and bring them to your children’s attention. These stories make great dinner table or driving to practice conversation. We don’t need to just discuss the results from league games or the injury reports of players. We can also talk about whether or not soccer was portrayed properly in last night’s episode of Modern Family or about the news report of soccer playing dogs. Soccer is everywhere, so we should celebrate that.

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Roughing the Ref

Susan Boyd

We love them. We hate them. Officials, referees, umpires. Since “referee” is actually defined as the arbitrator of disputes, controversy is a central part of their job description. So it’s no wonder that we view with suspicion and occasional derision these men and women with whistles and loud voices who have the power to affect the outcome of a game by disallowing a goal, awarding a PK, issuing yellow and, worse, red cards, or calling back a play. Our emotions run high during a game, and officiating only further inflames our ire or our joy. We cheer them or jeer them depending on how they rule, but we don’t interfere. Fans and players are traditionally restrained when it comes to physically accosting the official. In professional sports, games have been remarkably free of conflict between player and referee other than verbal scoffs, some dirt kicking, and an occasional finger in the chest. Perhaps the threat of a loss of income or even their job keep players in line. However there has been a recent disturbing trend in youth sports of actual physical attacks on the referees which may be indicative of growing open disrespect that young people express toward adults.

This growth has been documented in statistics, but we all have witnessed the increase in media reports. Reflecting this trend, The National Association of Sports Officials (NASO), now has a choice on its phone answering system for a caller to report an assault. The increase in reports prompted NASO to add assault coverage to its liability insurance that every member has a chance to purchase. There are 450,000 sports officials in the United States and 22,000 avail themselves of this insurance with the number increasing each year. The president of NASO, Barry Mano, stated to USA Today that the biggest need for the insurance has come from rec and youth leagues covering officials for all games no matter who sanctions the event.

Two recent incidents highlighted the dangerous situations in which referees have found themselves. In San Antonio early in this season, two high school players assaulted an official, Robert Watts, at a game. First, one player came from behind and tackled the ref, then the second player dove at him helmet first. Luckily, Watts was shaken but not seriously injured, although the results could have been worse. The attack was filmed and made YouTube, getting thousands of views and national attention. But Mano points out that in 2011 and 2013 two soccer officials were killed in separate incidents within 17 months of one another, but because there was no social media response, the cases were virtually unreported. One was at a youth game and the other was at an adult recreation game, and both attacks were by players. Mano used to counsel his umpires to avoid the parents who have a huge emotional investment in their kids’ games, but since 2011 more and more injuries to referees have come from players, many of them younger than 19. NASO now keeps track of assaults on its members, beginning in 1996, and there are have been dozens, many of them resulting in convictions for assault. In 2014 alone, reported player attacks on officials in amateur youth competitions occurred in sports as varied as boxing, soccer, basketball, softball and football. We have no idea how many other attacks there were against officials without affiliation with NASO or that never generated a police report. Presently, 20 states have legislated criminal laws addressing assault of sports officials by either identifying a new specific crime or adding penalties to existing criminal legislation. Two states have dealt with the problems by instituting new civil statues.

Normally we might accuse the behavior of professional athletes for influencing youth players to behave badly, but for the most part professionals confine their officiating objections to bad language and side line tantrums without directly confronting any referees. The real culprits seem to be a combination of overly zealous parents and a notable decrease in respect and civility toward referees. Kids understand how huge an investment their parents have in the outcome of a game and how significant their expectations are in the child’s play. When things don’t go as desired, a player will project his or her disappointment on the referees, whose calls might have set their success back. The intensity of their feelings and their need for the achievement they feel is necessary for approval, added to their immaturity, leads to impulsive and wrong-headed decisions. If parents continually don’t regard officials with respect, that behavior is often mimicked by the youth who lack the natural restraint to avoid resorting to a violent response. They often don’t understand the consequences of their actions, concentrating only the perceived injustice and avenging it. Both of the officials who died were felled with a single punch, nothing more than that, with the right power and placement to cause irrevocable damage.

Spectators, who are generally parents, have been implicated in several attacks on referees, however the largest group of adult offenders are the coaches. Again, here’s a group who should be modeling character and good sportsmanship to youth players, who have instead added to the melee. In one case a coach in Cyprus actually bombed the car of a youth soccer referee. We might say, that’s not America, but we have our fair share of ugly incidents. A 34-year-old coach attacked a 16-year-old referee officiating a U-11 game, then attacked the 20-year-old assistant referee who came to the referee’s defense. A coach in Pennsylvania attempted to bribe referees in the Catholic Youth Organization (yes, a church group), and when that was uncovered he began to harass and threaten the coaches to get them to refrain from testifying against him. A coach’s attack on a New Jersey youth baseball umpire led to the state enacting Sports Rage legislation.

While nearly every incident recorded in the last 20 years has involved male attackers, female players, coaches and parents have also been guilty of boorish behavior. A youth female goalkeeper upset with a call attacked a male referee last year with a Kung Fu chop, and a female Chinese fan stormed the pitch attacking a soccer referee during a youth match. A woman in Iowa attacked a referee over a call during a youth basketball game. Behaving lady-like may garner an entirely new mixed martial arts connotation if the trend continues.

Besides offering assault insurance, requiring expulsion, and pursuing prosecution, which are all after-the-fact solutions, what can we do about this violence? Most obviously, we can demand as parents that our children behave with decorum. We need to make it clear that no matter what the school rules may be, the law, or the coach’s instructions, we expect that our players will refrain from any physical contact with officials. However, if we don’t model the proper behaviors, then we’re sending mixed messages which will only lead kids to respond with whatever immediate knee-jerk reaction seems most appropriate. We need to keep our anxiety about their success on the field from dictating our angry responses if we feel they are “failing” due to an official’s calls. We should redefine success to include the ability to behave coolly and rationally under the pressure and adverse conditions of any game. Even if we perceive a loss was due to bad officiating, or if we feel our child was unduly singled out, we need to focus on the positives and not place blame. It’s possible a bad decision by a referee could affect the outcome of a match, but in general the give and take of officiating simply spreads out the frustration to both sides. Call it tough luck when a ruling goes against your team or your child rather than calling out the person rendering the decision. We need to remember that our amateur players are being officiated by amateur referees. They may get a small stipend for their efforts, but the reality is that they do it for the love of the game, just as our kids play for their own love. Teach our children to respect the referees, even if they believe they are incompetent. Without them, the game could degenerate into a free-for-all, with a lot more brawls and injuries. If you must, call them a necessary evil, but one that should be valued for maintaining order. Next time you feel the urge to yell out at an umpire or a referee, think about who’s around listening and how your comments will affect the way they regard the authority of an official.

We won’t prevent all violent contact with referees. The nature of the job means that half the people will love them and half will hate them at every competition, and occasionally that hate will boil over into physicality. However, we can hopefully reduce some of the acting out by practicing restraint and teaching our kids to have it as well. When pro players know that if they attack a ref they will most likely lose their place on any team for life, they have learned to control their rage. If kids know the adults won’t tolerate any physical, even aggressive verbal, retaliation, they may also learn to curb their impulsive behaviors. Before more children become YouTube sensations for the wrong reasons we need to step in and give them both guidance and firm limits on which they can base their responses.

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Pet Peeves

Susan Boyd

When we have kids in youth sports, it means we have to suffer impositions. Even if we don’t have extensive travel to deal with, we still have tight schedules, odd meal times, frustrating games, elusive fields, and cranky kids. There are enough aggravations without adding those quirky behaviors and needling intrusions that prevent our days from running happily and efficiently. My own list of pet peeves may align with yours or it may be a complete deviation, but the effect is the same – they irritate us. My list has had some alterations, but the core has been consistent over the years. I wish I were a better person who could simply ignore that which aggravates me, but when I’m at my weakest, when things are topsy-turvy, when I most need some peace, they crop up to vex me.

My strongest pet peeve is children who scream. I’m not talking about the delighted squeals of children at play, chasing one another through the yard or riding piggy back on their fathers. I’m not complaining about the happy yelps when something special occurs or there’s a wonderful gift. I’m talking about those ear-splitting shrieks that come out of nowhere at the restaurant or movie theater either to get attention or because a child’s been denied something. When they’re under 2, it might be excused if parents at least made an effort to stifle the outbursts or remove the child from the gathering, but that’s rarely the case. Which is probably why kids as old as 9 or 10 are heard screeching unrestrained. They make my ears hurt, which makes my head hurt, which puts me in a foul mood. I find myself wanting to join them in their primeval expressions just to relieve myself of the pent up frustrations. Surprisingly, I can bear crying children. Crying seems somehow warranted in many circumstances. But screaming does not unless we’re all at a Wes Craven film festival.

You can find many of those squealing kids in fast food restaurants, which are also heavily frequented by us soccer families looking for a quick, inexpensive, and familiar meal. We all know the menus by heart. However, when there is a line to order, there always seems to be a mother and child who stand in line visiting and when they reach the counter suddenly look to the menu as if it morphed into an entirely foreign presentation. They hem and haw, ask the clerk questions, and take time to consider the answers. Finally they order, change their order, add to it, subtract from it, and then call to the other six members covertly lurking at a table to get their orders. At last everyone has agreed upon the size, flavors, and condiments for their meals, but naturally the mother also realizes she left her wallet in the car, which leads to a panicked toss of the keys to one of the kids while she holds her place in the line. Personally, I think if an order takes more than two minutes, the customer should get a small electric shock every three seconds. I will gladly administer it. I have learned, however, that there is no active or passive aggressive action on my part that will speed the process along because these people are oblivious. I can feel the tension of those behind me and I’m well-aware of their eye rolls, sighs, toe taps, and OMGs, which only heightens my own tension as if I’m responsible to solve this situation because I am closest to the source. These customers have to be the ones who also drive 50 mph in front of me in the left lane on every trip I take, another pet peeve. I shout out to no one in particular “It’s a passing lane,” which of course does nothing. Where’s a shrieking child when you need one?

Which brings me to my third pet peeve. I can’t do much about traffic, and I certainly drove in my share of it, four or five days a week in rush hour through Chicago to get Robbie to his soccer practices in Romeoville and Naperville. There was no escape. I just had to creep for scores of miles bumper to bumper. Although I really hate traffic, it can’t qualify as a pet peeve since no human has the power to resolve it. But I can talk about being assaulted during those slow drives by the number of ridiculously arrogant, occasionally profane, and profoundly rude vanity plates and bumper stickers I have had to read. The vanity plates that are clever and even self-deprecating provide a welcome breath of fresh air. A van with a teacher union sticker had a plate that read MYDG8IT. Cleverness is not the operative word for the plate that read 2BUSY. Really?  You have a monopoly on having to juggle life? I think every soccer parent, heck every parent, would qualify for that plate. In my own, albeit non-scientific, study I have concluded that doctors have the most egotistical plates. I have seen ICUREM, IFXBONS, IFXHEDS (I wasn’t sure if this was a neurologist, a psychiatrist or a yacht worker), MRSMD (come on – get your own life!), BESTMD, and TOPDOC. There are the “My child is a (insert school) honor student” stickers, which always seem to be exclusively for elementary and middle schools. And the counter opinion stickers “My kid can beat up your honor student,” as if the world can only be categorized as brain or brawn. “World’s Best…” whatever seems to be a favorite, although I did love the World’s Best Home Appraiser because it was so unique and got me wondering was the occupant the best because he or she gave tough or lax appraisals? Best for the bank would not be best for the home buyer. The strangest juxtaposition was a huge boat of a gas-guzzling, environmentally corrupt Hummer with the vanity plate OLDHIPY. The plate MNYMAKR seems more appropriate for that vehicle, but was on a Porsche, so it still fits to rub our faces in the message. The obscene stickers we’ve all seen, primarily on semis and pick-ups (not stereotyping when it’s true). I can’t repeat them here, but they involve sexism, racism, and alarmism with either language, images, or both. Most fall under the “what were they thinking” first when they bought these decals and then when they actually applied them. Most lack cleverness, nuance, and intelligence which explains why the same ones show up dozens of times during a three hour drive – mass production substituting as wit. When my boys learned to read I got plenty of questions when stopped behind one of these traveling billboards for poor taste, most of which I didn’t think I would need to answer until they were at least teenagers. On the opposite end was a plate GDBHVOR, which I am assuming was a released convict or a nun or a released convict nun. Not to be too picky, but I really hate vanity plates I can’t decode. They occupy way too much of my brain power and distract from my defensive driving. I’m thinking I should create my own plate with random letters and numbers just to confuse the people following me.

My final pet peeve is people who put down soccer. I don’t expect everyone will be a fan, although the two most popular sports in the world are soccer followed by cricket. Not being a fan doesn’t mean you have to be nasty. In July, Miller Park, home of the Milwaukee Brewers, was turned into a soccer venue for a friendly match between Newcastle and Club Atlas. When the Brewers catcher, Jonathan Lucroy, was asked about soccer he replied, “I don’t much like it. I like a game where there’s some action and some scoring.” Really? Baseball is my second-favorite spectator sport, but I will readily admit that there are huge stretches of time when nothing is happening: inning breaks, pitching changes, call disputes, injury time-outs, and just plain slow play. Football stops every 3 to 10 seconds for a huddle or time out or an injury, yet no one would accuse it of not being an action sport. Do I hate baseball games that end up 1-0 or 2-1 because they lack scoring? No, because I appreciate the many facets of the sport that lead to that score:  amazing fielding, strong pitching, nail-biting bases loaded and nobody out, and cutting down the runner at second. An athlete like Lucroy should at least value the skill behind the sport and certainly not accuse soccer of lacking action, which he can’t defend. Few sports run virtually uninterrupted for 45 minutes. Soccer is drama from the close strikes, to the contention on the field, and even to the “injury” flops. People have their favorite sports and teams for their own reasons, but it doesn’t have to be at the expense of the reputation of other sports. When I’m at a party or the pool and I mention my sons play soccer, I hate being met with a superior sneer of, “I hate soccer. It’s boring,” as if that should be the final verdict on the subject. Sure it might be boring to some people, especially if they don’t understand the level of training and skill required to play the sport, but that doesn’t make it a bad choice for either a player or a fan. Baseball is boring to many people around the world. Cricket is pretty boring to most Americans. Yet these sports also generate lots of fan enthusiasm and interest. We live in a bubble here in the States because professional sports is big money and soccer is down low on that scale. We equate profits with likeability. Ask the NFL how well their European League did. How many Germans know who Alex Rodriguez is, or Aaron Rodgers for that matter?  I just want some respect for the sport my kids chose to play and still enjoy playing and watching. That’s a pet peeve that might actually get resolved in time.

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Civility Requested

Susan Boyd

Just preceding this year’s football season, Baraboo (WI) High School issued a directive to students, coaches and parents. First, there will be no coaching from the sidelines. Second, no one may jeer, taunt or belittle the spectators, players and coaches of the opposition or the officials. Third, no one can post negative comments on social media about a game, the handling of a game, individual players, or a team. These directives come with consequences, which range from an admonishment to being removed from a game to suspension, even as extreme as expulsion for serious infractions. Players might be benched for a game or even a season. Additionally, the reprimands for parents could be enforced on their children as well. The various degrees of punishment are clearly spelled out and will be administered by a disciplinary committee. Baraboo is serious about requiring civility at school functions. News outlets across the states picked up the story and hustled to various football practices to get people’s opinions. If the reports can be believed, everyone supports Baraboo’s policy.

We constantly hear about behaviors getting out of hand at youth sporting events due to the dangerous combination of heightened emotions, parental expectations, and pride. Most youth programs have addressed the issue of civility asking its fans, players, coaches and officials to practice respect for one another. My grandson’s soccer team had parents sign a form affirming that they would not be negative on the sidelines. Of course grandparents, neighbors, and friends aren’t a part of those pacts. When we came to Archer’s game, my daughter gently let me know of what was expected, but I’m sure not every parent spoke to the outsiders they brought to the matches. Robbie’s team had several hot-headed parents who got in verbal and nearly physical battles with parents of the opposing team several times a season. Many college fans will regularly sit behind the goal nets and taunt the keeper. Fan chants and cheers often center on brow-beating the opponents, so it’s no wonder people feel the freedom to be snarky. Since we watch much of our sports televised in the quiet and anonymity of our homes, we get used to yelling at teams, players, coaches, and officials freely and even obscenely. It’s not surprising we carry that behavior onto the field. The obvious question is will a policy with clear consequences help curb the negative and occasionally violent fan behavior.

Naturally, it’s discouraging to even ask the question. We shouldn’t need penalties to ensure decency. Yet it has become an unfortunate reality that behaviors have grown more and more boorish. As parents and players measure success as moving to the next level with a winning record, it becomes more likely that the stakes will be cloaked in deep emotion. Parents take it upon themselves to bear the slings and arrows kids experience during play and may react with anger, disbelief and physical confrontation. Parents’ vicarious feelings of failure can lead to language and actions which don’t promote politeness. It’s regrettable that decorum has deteriorated to the point that a school has to implement a disciplinary policy to address the issue of civility. We should all be able to control our behaviors without the threat of punishment hanging over us to keep us in line. Nevertheless, we’ve seen courtesy diminish in all areas of our lives. We experience insolent salespersons and managers. People cut ahead in lines. Road rage incidents have increased 7 percent per year since 1990, escalating beyond verbal battles to more and more physical confrontations. The incidents are prompted by people not using courtesy when driving and other drivers not being able to let go of being disrespected. AAA suggests that to avoid being a victim of road rage drivers should practice considerate techniques. Though this may seem a bit like putting the burden on a victim for someone else’s bad behaviors, AAA recognizes that there are drivers out there who ignore the polite rules of the road for their own selfish reasons, which comes across as an act of defiance and being discourteous. All these behaviors rarely have consequences and occur nearly daily. The reasons are anxiety, narcissism, lack of morals, and just thoughtlessness.

Perhaps policies established by clubs and schools can help control one part of this downturn in good manners and in so doing help us adjust our attitudes in other areas of our lives. It’s a monumental task. Putting the responsibility for this change on our institutions ignores the fact that it really should begin in our homes. Parents should be modeling good behaviors for our kids, but we often fall short. I discovered early on that I could control my outbursts at games better if I was sitting than if I was up and pacing. I also had to be diligent. It required teaching myself some catch phrases so I could avoid shouting out something negative: Unlucky, too bad, oops, tough play. I also had to force myself to be more positive locating a good moment to highlight rather than anxiously awaiting disaster. In no way was I perfect or even close to perfect. As late as Robbie’s last year in college soccer I ended up shouting out about the opposing goal keeper crossing the goal line before executing a punt. I clearly remember Robbie’s sharp look up in my direction – a rebuke I absolutely deserved. We do get caught up in the moment and we do want to somehow be able to manipulate the outcome by rattling the opposition, questioning the officials, or coaching our own kids. When we feel slighted or abused, we naturally lash out, and we often take our kids’ perceived injustices personally so we tend to act out at games. However, we need to work on two factors:  Not taking what happens to our kids as happening personally to us and practicing self-control in our reactions. Our children watch what we do, so when they see us being rude at games it gives them permission to do likewise.

I’ve seen teams rattling a coffee can filled with coins dropped in by parents every time the team scores a goal. We also know of “swear” jars where family members have to drop in a quarter for every curse word uttered. I wonder if teams shouldn’t have a “civility” can where parents who shout out negative comments, question officials, demean opposing players, or have a physical confrontation must pay fines on a scale measured by the infraction. This system has a double benefit:  It makes money for a team project or event and it puts parents on notice that discourteousness won’t be tolerated. We shouldn’t need punitive punishments to insure that we all behave, but unfortunately we don’t seem able to control ourselves. If we can develop better manners at youth sports hopefully it will spill over into other areas of our lives. They say kindness is contagious which is wonderful, but I also think rudeness is equally contagious. No one wants to be on the receiving end of criticism, especially discourteous criticism, so we tend to fight back which only keeps the tit for tat going and intensifying. We have to be willing to say “enough.”  Finding ways to stay positive, remind those around us to refrain from negative comments, and not responding to the taunts of others will go a long way to diffusing situations and in so doing increasing civility. Our kids won’t win every match, likewise we don’t need to be right in every circumstance. Learning to pick our battles, being okay with some rudeness, and not answering in kind should have a ripple effect not only in our lives, but the lives of our children and those with whom we come in contact.

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