Monday, August 31, 2015
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.