Tuesday, May 9, 2000

Solving the problem of out-of-control parents and fans at youth sports isn’t simple or easy, experts say.

Many parents say officials and referees at the games should control the crowd because that’s their job, says Franklin Chaney, a recreation administrator for the Anne Arundel County Department of Parks and Recreation. But Mr. Chaney says that is wrong.

“The biggest criticism we hear is that we should handle bad people individually and punish them,” Mr. Chaney says. “But the problem with that is we don’t have the staff at every one of our youth games. A lot of people consider referees as our staff, but they’re contracted out. Plus, the ref’s job is not fan behavior; the ref’s job is to officiate the game.”

Jim Ferguson, state president of the Virginia Youth Soccer Association, says individual teams should handle the problem of obnoxious parents, rather than league administrators or boards of directors.

“They’ve got to be willing to tell the obnoxious parent, ‘Don’t do it,’ ” Mr. Ferguson says. “But frequently, the obnoxious parent is the parent of the superstar, and everybody wants to win, so we don’t want him to take his kid somewhere else. But we need to stop doing that. We need to face up to these people.”

The VYSA fines teams $500 to $2,000 for abuse or assault of a game official, but in youth soccer, “abuse” usually involves the threat of physical harm. Many youth leagues, Mr. Ferguson says, don’t have rules covering generally rude or obnoxious behavior, although he says the VYSA is working on a new policy for “egregious behavior” that doesn’t fall under the technical definitions of abuse or assault.

Even then, Mr. Ferguson says, leagues run into problems over how to enforce such policies.

“Most of the fields we play on are public land,” Mr. Ferguson says. “We can only go so far in telling a parent you can’t be on public land. The ref can say you have to get away from the field, because the ref controls the field, but if the person wants to stay around the park or come to games after that, there might be nothing we can do.”

Fred Engh, president of the National Alliance of Youth Sports in West Palm Beach, Fla., says every coach and administrator in youth sports should be certified.

“What parent wouldn’t jump up and say ‘wait a minute’ if they found out their elementary school principal didn’t have some degree in childhood education development?” Mr. Engh says. “We think sports and fields are classrooms for life’s education, too, and if there is a president or administrator of a youth organization that has 10,000 kids involved and [he has] no training whatsoever … I say let’s give them all ongoing education on how to administer and coach a sports program to keep everything in perspective, and if we do that, we can begin to put the focus on what’s important.”

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