Guest Post: Stephanie of So I’ve Been Thinking, on Sports Parents Behaving Badly

photo credit: Kalexanderson via photopin cc
photo credit: Kalexanderson via photopin cc

Do you know Stephanie Rufa? She’s a thinker.

She even writes the blog So I’ve been thinking … and this is how something good always starts. (I’m glad it’s that way for her. For me, it’s usually how tales of woe begin. They end with sprains, stains and sometimes litigation).

But anyway … 

I’m happy to have Stephanie here at the CD today. She’s here to talk about the things we parents do on the sidelines. You know, when we forget that it’s just a game. And set not-so-stellar examples for the kids we brought there.

Incidentally, I’m at her place today, too, like a less-freaky version of Freaky Friday (don’t ask which of us is Lindsay Lohan).

You’ll love it over there. You’ll find Stephanie covers it all, from music to cocktails to sports. I love the sports stuff especially. But you have to make sure and read “January is a weird month.” Trust me on this one.

I’m at her place to tell what it’s like to raise competitive girls. I have a PhD in the subject. Which is why it’s a good thing I’m there. Because I’ve been thinking, too.


Do you watch sports? Play sports? Have kids who play sports?

Is it fun? It should be. Sports should be fun for everyone involved – whether you’re a little kid playing in your first soccer game or a high-school senior playing your last moments on the basketball court – your memories of playing sports should be fun. I think the kids get it or at least they start out “getting it.” I think sometimes we parents forget.

Did you hear about the hockey game where this young, new-ish referee missed a few calls? And made a couple of bad calls? It wasn’t one-sided – the bad and missed calls were pretty much equally shared by both teams on the ice – the ref just made a few mistakes. Rookie mistakes, you know, being new-ish and all.

Some fans in the crowd were having none of it though, they yelled, banged on the glass, and shouted at him. “Get your eyes checked, ref!” “Call it, that’s tripping!” “YOU SUCK!” Other things were said in the stands among the fans, adults and kids, including the ever popular, “This is bullsh*#!”

You know what I’m talking about, right? You’ve heard them. The fans who yell like they need you to hear them – they must, they’re yelling! At the refs! If you’ve ever been to a professional sports event of any sort – not just hockey – you’ve heard these people in the stands.

Except the game I’m talking about wasn’t a pro game.

HockeyThis was a Mite hockey game.

Mites are 8 and 9 years old.

The people yelling? Parents. And coaches.

And you probably didn’t hear about it because it’s not particularly newsworthy – considering it happens all the time.

So maybe you’ve heard about the hockey game where this one lady was so obnoxious she intentionally stood right in the middle of the visiting team’s fans, enthusiastically yelling and cheering for her team, while also cutting down the visiting team’s players, trying to engage (and I assume enrage) the fans around her?

It worked. Some of those fans started yelling back at her. She laughed and yelled more – at the players and now the fans around her. She spent the entire game spewing criticism and hate, enjoying every minute. And by that, I mean she was enjoying all of the attention and anger and frustration of the fans around her.

DLaxThis scene didn’t end in the stands. It carried over as more fans started yelling at each other. When the game ended the fans left the building, the shouting continued, escalated, and in the parking lot the threats started. One guy shouted, “Let’s go!” at another, provoking a fight. Yep, an old-school, throw down fist-fight, right in the parking lot in front of everyone. Including kids.

Someone, sensing things were getting out of control, called the police who stopped the fight before anyone got hurt.

It was a bad scene.

You didn’t hear about it?

That must be because you don’t have a 12 year-old on one of those teams. Yeah, this happened at a Pee Wee hockey game.

The people involved? Their parents.

SoccerShould I go on? I’ve got tons of stories:

–          About this one dad, so loud and critical during the games that a mom from the opposing team charged him in the stands and pushed him against the rails while screaming at him

–          About this one fan (not even a parent) who was so mad about a perceived shortage of playing time given his girlfriend’s son that he shouted at and threatened a coach after the game, in front of lots of people, including kids

–          About this grandmother who brings a stopwatch and note pad to all the games so she can keep track of her grandson’s playing time, you know, to be sure its fair

–          About this one dad who, with 2 minutes and 30 seconds left in the game and his son’s line leaving the ice to return to the bench so the next line could come out, turned and yelled, “Well, this sucks, Timmy (not his real name) won’t be back out now, there’s not enough time left in the game!” He yelled this to the rest of us parents, because yes, it’s a real shame Timmy doesn’t get to play the last two minutes because it is someone else’s turn

Unfortunately the stories are endless. These examples are just a few from my experience over the years but I know I’m not alone in my experience. I’m using hockey as my example today but it’s not limited to hockey. If you have a child in sports or a child who competes you will experience this behavior in some form at some point.

FootballIt’s a shame.

And it’s not fun.

I would think that the majority of parents don’t go to a youth sports event with the intention of berating a ref, coach or player; or to provoke the parents and fans of the opposing team; or to do anything other than enjoy watching their child compete. The reality is, however, that poor behavior happens. Otherwise sane people end up “losing their minds” as well as their composure and any respect they may have garnered among the other player’s parents when they get over-involved and can’t maintain the perspective of why they attended in the first place: to watch their child play and have fun.

That’s what it’s all about, right? These kids, no matter age group or level of play, have the desire to be out there on the field, court, or rink because they want to have fun. They choose to play a sport because it looks like fun, they continue because it is fun. The fun is in the training, the challenge of learning something new, the friendships and the competition. The fun is also in knowing they have fans in the stands who cheer for them and enjoy watching them play.

There’s no fun in watching your mom scream at another mom. It’s not fun to hear your dad holler insults at the ref while you’re playing. It’s not fun to sit in the car listening to your parent(s) rip apart every call made during the game. Nor is it fun to hear your dad say the coach stinks because you didn’t get as much playing time as your teammate did.

These parents are ruining the games for their kids, the other parents, the coaches and the refs.

From what I can see, a lot of parents are missing the point. They are forgetting that it’s supposed to be about the kids having fun. They are forgetting that they are the example their children will emulate. They are forgetting that when their kid walks off the field, court or rink, they are looking for a smile, a high-five or a “good game” because someone enjoyed watching them play. They had fun playing – did you have fun watching?

It’s kids sports. It’s supposed to be fun.

Are we having fun, yet?

# # #

If she’s not driving her kids to one sports event or another, she’s readingcooking or making cocktails (for friends, of course!) You can follow Steph on Google+Twitter and Facebook.



  1. Stephanie says:

    Eli, thanks so much for letting me guest post today and for sharing a great post of yours with me! This has been a lot of fun – and no pressure at all! I appreciate the opportunity!

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      It’s an honor to have you here, Stephanie. We try not to put to much pressure on anyone here at the CD – not even red wings fans or vegans.

      Thanks for the visit, and such an awesome post.

      1. Stephanie says:

        Did you know Jimmy Howard is from my hometown? Is that why you pick on the Red Wings? Pubs almost always say Syracuse but he’s from Ogdensburg, NY. He & Rick Carlisle. Not too shabby for a small town.

      2. Eli Pacheco says:

        I didn’t know that. I pick on the wings because I’m an Avalanche fan, and as such, find them a repulsive rival. So, Jimmy Howard, Rick Carlisle and Stephanie Rufa? Not bad for a small town.

      3. Stephanie says:

        lol, I worked for the Hornets, that’s almost comparable, right?

      4. Eli Pacheco says:

        Sure it is! What did you do for the Hornets? They were one of my first assignments out of college.

  2. Eli, the talent on your roster is endless!

    Thanks for an awesome guest post, Stephanie! Yes, youth sports teach our children important lessons about sportmanship and discipline, but if they’re not fun for the kids playing, what’s the point? And those parents should be ashamed of the examples they’re setting for their children! Every time I attend a youth running event, I’m appalled at the level of negativity from some of the parents. Directed at their own children! Run faster. You’re not trying hard enough. You’re not going to beat your time. What happened to Way to Go?

    1. Stephanie says:

      Thank you! I agree Nicole, it’s sad all the way around when you hear it from the parents and then you see the pressure affect the kids. I love competition as much as the next person but the overestimation of the importance of winning and being the best and scoring the most at this level is something I just cannot relate to.

      1. Eli Pacheco says:

        “Win at all costs” is a dangerous value to instill in a child, isn’t it?

    2. Eli Pacheco says:

      All-stars – but, you knew that, Nicole. And yeah, a lot of times, we forget that the best thing to applaud in youth sports is effort.

      I’d like to see some of these parents attempt some of the things the kids do.

  3. vitatrain4life says:

    I love seeing you here Stephanie…but I do wish you had better news. I hear so much of this and I’m dreading being a spectator of it when my kids start REALLY playing sports. Right now, at age 5, no one gets that intense about the “learn to skate” program or “skills and drills” soccer. Lucky me. For now…

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      Coaches can help get things under control. I left my sideline last year in the middle of a game to address a parent on the other side. One of our parents.

      He was a bit shocked to find his kid’s coach standing next to him while the game was on. I put my hand on his shoulder and told him he can’t say the things he’s been saying. I told him he’d be thrown out and I’d be fine with that.

      He was good. For the rest of that game.

    2. Stephanie says:

      Thank you! I know this was a bit gloomy but not all parents are like this – they are just the ones who get your attention. Strategic positioning on the sidelines is key and you can enjoy the game without all that drama. One of the reasons I bring my camera – I can move away and enjoy the game in peace.

      1. Eli Pacheco says:

        You should snap a few shots of the parents.

  4. ksbeth says:

    fantastic post, stephanie and it makes me sad/mad to read about these things. and we all know it goes on, even at the youngest levels, as you pointed out. the whole idea is to model behavior for kids, showing them what a citizen of the world, who is an adult, looks like. imagine what these negative behaviors teach their children? beth

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      beth, the funny thing is, my older kids feel like parents are often bad influences! they’ve tuned them out. which is good and sad all at once.

      1. ksbeth says:

        yea, that’s a bit bittersweet, but I’m happy at least the kids are ‘getting it.’

    2. Stephanie says:

      I know. I hope it isn’t like that at home – kids need a positive example at least the majority of the time. When I see an aggressive parent’s child throw a cheap shot I cringe because you know they didn’t get there on their own.

      1. Eli Pacheco says:

        I think so many parents want their kid to be ‘aggressive,’ and when smart, spirited play isn’t enough … well, maybe an elbow will be.

  5. It’s sad isn’t it? I have noticed it calms a little as the kids get older…maybe as parents start to realize Johnny is not going to be playing pro? The youngest teams seem to have the worst parent offenders. It is sad too, because while having fun is always important, it’s crucial during those young years for developing a love of playing sports. You wonder how much of that is taken away by a screaming parent on the sidelines.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      We lose a lot of kids on the U6 fields. Not like, lose them or not know where they went, but if it isn’t fun, they won’t play again. They can compete and have fun.

      Silent Saturday isn’t a bad idea. It’s tough for a coach even to shut up and let them play, but it’s a great reminder of why we’re there.

    2. Eli Pacheco says:

      p.s. And then we wonder why our kids are so noisy in the car? They learn it from watching parents on the sidelines!

    3. Stephanie says:

      It is crucial in these young years to develop that love. When a child plays, has fun, but then hears a barrage of negativity in the car…they get conflicted and can’t trust their own instincts and lose the joy for the sport to misunderstanding and being confused about why/what they are playing for.

      1. Eli Pacheco says:

        Let the game be the teacher – not the misguided parent in the car. Man, I sound so anti-parent today.

  6. leadourlives says:

    Great post! A great way to make visible the stories of unconscious parents, teaching their children how to bully by their very example. Shame is born in those moments and carried for a lifetime. When we heal our own wounds, we don’t inflict them on others…including the most innocent among us, our children.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      the ride home is also important – instead of telling your kid all the stuff they did wrong, why not just say, ‘hey, great game – where should we go for lunch?’

      1. leadourlives says:

        so very true, Eli. 😉

    2. Stephanie says:

      “Shame is born in those moments…” I love that statement. Since I wrote this I’ve had a few people tell me some of their stories and shameful is the only word for the behavior. Unfortunately those who do it probably won’t read anything like this or identify with it even if they did.

      1. Eli Pacheco says:

        What if referees could call fouls on parents?

      2. leadourlives says:

        Until those who read it become more self aware, they will continue project their own past hurts…not being seen by someone they loved or trusted. They will continue to behave unconsciously, and add to the pile of shame being inflicted on others. As we heal ourselves, we also heal our children…and the planet. In the mean time, providing some refs with the power to call fouls is a consideration…and there are consequences for that as well; some intended and perhaps others unintended. Very thought provoking post. I hope it provides the impetus to wait up some parents.

      3. Eli Pacheco says:

        We all just need to relax!

  7. I loved yet again that you two did this today and Stephanie you are so right it is supposed to be fun, but some of these parents are just plain rude and crazy, too. Just so sad and seriously it is one thing to be a bit competitive, but it is totally another for these parents to cause fights and make scenes. Just really have to wonder what they are teaching their kids on this. Totally makes you sit up and think.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      Maybe the parents are trying to show a bad example as a learning tool?

      1. I would love that to be true, but have a feeling this is not the case.

      2. Eli Pacheco says:

        I wonder if they’ll be any better than we are when they are parents.

    2. Stephanie says:

      It does make you think, and it should. I think twice before I comment or cheer. If my daughters soccer team is up 5-0 I may clap but I’m not shouting and cheering as if they just dropped a last second, close-game, game winning goal. There’s a difference and good sportsmanship applies to everyone.

      1. Eli Pacheco says:

        Sometimes, they smell blood – if their team is up five or six goals, they want everyone to score. It’s almost comical to hear them call for more.

  8. tamaralikecamera says:

    Can we just reference the Jodie Foster version of Freaky Friday instead??
    This is so strange. I wonder if there’s a psychological reason for this and what it’s called. “Sports Rage.” It’s like road rage..but maybe even worse.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      At least in road rage, there’s usually just f-bombs and middle fingers. In sports rage, you can sometimes wind up in the paper.

      I’d be fine with the Jodie Foster version.

    2. Stephanie says:

      I’m good with either version, although I’ve seen neither, but I’m pretty sure I don’t want to be Li-Lo. I’m going for worse than road rage – generally speaking road rage is contained to inside the vehicle, showing off your crazy in front of lots of other parents and kids – way worse.

      1. Eli Pacheco says:

        I wonder if darts laced with sedatives would be considered over-the-top.

  9. Tamara says:

    Doesn’t hockey make for the best stories… I am a new hockey mom and pretty surprised (to put it nicely) to discover how pushy some parents can be. And my son is in the youngest age group. The other night the Dad of a little one who could barely keep up skating and had to be helped up when he fell, told him in the locker room “you know, we’ll have to tape your stick better, your shot suffered from it!” Baahahahaha, get a life!

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading this!

    PS: With 2 minutes and 30 seconds left in the game, the other line could manage to tie and force an overtime. Plenty of opportunity for little Timmy to score. Or Jimmy, the goalie, to prevent anything from happening.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      We just have to get out of the way and let them play, right?

    2. Stephanie says:

      You are in for a lot of fun and a lot of crazy spectators, if your son sticks with it. We love it even though it is one of the longest seasons, the games really can be fun to watch especially as the kids get better and better.

      1. Eli Pacheco says:

        He’s going to be the next Mike Modano before you know it, Tamara!

  10. djmatticus says:

    I fear for my future.
    If the Little Prince (just about to turn 1), decides he wants to play soccer at some point in the coming years, I fear for the fan/parent/lunatic I will become. It would almost be better for him to get involved in a sport I’m less passionate about. Almost. It would break my heart if he doesn’t love soccer. But, I can see myself getting on refs and coaches for bad calls and decisions. I can see myself running the sideline shouting out encouragement and derision in equal measure. Fun? What’s that…? Soccer is about winning, right?
    I’m only partially joking. I’m far too introverted to actually verbally attack a ref, coach or player unless I’m coming to the defense of my son. But, I know the feelings will be there whether I act on them or not.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      It’s impossible to deny the fire inside, friend, especially when it’s your kid on the field or court – and that’s both the greatest and potentially most fearsome thing about the whole game!

    2. Stephanie says:

      You may already be a step ahead because you are aware of your potential crazy haha and that will probably help you to not act on them. I think coming to the defense of your child is certainly a whole other situation and exactly where a parent should step in.

      1. Eli Pacheco says:

        You’d hope the refs would take care of this.

  11. laurie27wsmith says:

    I think many of these parents who go off like this Eli are reliving their lives through their children, and of course the child is usually the ego extension of the parent. So the parent takes it all very personally.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      My girls eclipsed my athletic accomplishments in one game each, so maybe it’s easy for me to sit back and enjoy.

      1. laurie27wsmith says:

        That and the fact that you enjoy the game no matter what.

      2. Eli Pacheco says:

        The love of the game, right mate?

      3. laurie27wsmith says:

        Dead right!

    2. Stephanie says:

      I agree, living through the kids and not checking egos at the door. There is just no place for a parents ego – whether spectator or coach.

      1. Eli Pacheco says:

        Some coaches think the kids are there to make them look good; actually, the coaches are there to make the kids look good.

      2. laurie27wsmith says:

        Too true Stephanie.

  12. Sandy Ramsey says:

    I see this at my kids’ games and I can’t stand it. I haven’t seen it to these extremes (yet!) but I’ve seen enough. Sure, I get frustrated by things that happen at the games sometimes but I’m not about to embarrass my kid by standing up and showing my ass. They are there to have fun. It amazes me that the kids show much better sportsmanship than their parents. One other thing I can’t stand is a parent on the sidelines yelling at their kid when they make a mistake, totally beating them down mentally. Breaks my heart.
    Great post!

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      Do they still teach home economics in school? Maybe they should add a semester of Becoming a Youth Sports Parent.

    2. Stephanie says:

      It’s tough to watch isn’t it? I always feel bad for the kids whose parent is behaving that way – you know they see it and hear it and it really has to be humiliating, especially since they have no control over their parents.

      I hate the “correction yells” too. Practice is for correcting not games – at least not shouting the corrections during games. My son’s hockey team plays another team coached by a very famous NHL player (his son plays). You could hear a pin drop when those boys are on the ice – none of the coaches shout, none of the parents shout corrections (could you imagine!), those boys and girls play clean, get coached during time outs and period breaks, and it is fantastic. Maybe he should give parent classes, maybe then they’d get it.

      1. Eli Pacheco says:

        I love when parents yell stuff contradictory to what I have taught them. I love it more when their own kid tells them to stop and let them listen to their coach!

  13. My kids weren’t into sports…but this, this sounds like a typical day in the school parking lot. It’s not fun! 🙂

      1. Eli Pacheco says:

        I want a good seat at y’alls parking lot.

    1. Stephanie says:

      Yeah, I don’t think it’s exclusive to sports, for sure.

      1. Eli Pacheco says:

        Were our parents this bad too?

    2. Eli Pacheco says:

      Wow – you Canadians really get after it!

  14. My son just moved up from Squirt to Pee Wee (That’s hockey talk for those of you out there scratching your head!) And my 7yo daughter just started playing this winter. So far, she loves it. Not too many crazy hockey parents just yet. BUT I see them ALL THE TIME EVEN ON MY OWN TEAM come spring when my son plays travel baseball. I’m thinking that some people put WAY too much stock into the whole Travel or Select thing vs. house or recreational. Just play and have fun. And Travel or Select doesn’t mean you’re going pro. It means that it’s slightly more competitive (usually it’s kids who want to play vs. kids who are just there cuz Mom and Dad think it’s good to try sports!) and that’s it. Calm down everyone!

    1. Stephanie says:

      I can amen a comment, right?


      1. Eli Pacheco says:

        Can I get a witness?

    2. Eli Pacheco says:

      Maybe they should issue chill pills at the gate.

  15. Ray says:

    WOW!!! I think I have been a lucky sports mum. Living the dream in the suburbs of Chicago, and my daughters, yes daughters have been involved in many sports. The oldest as a 5 to 8 grader in wrestling on an all boys team of 48. The 11 y/o tow years on the boys LaCrosse team, oldest no runs cross country and track and youngest rides horses. We yell and cheer on all of them… Never really heard the negative. It is a shame that parents lose focus of what they are there to do, which is support their child and team as a whole. SHOW GOOD SPORTSMANSHIP!

    My oldest ALWAYS shakes the hands of whom ever she is going to run against at the start line. She learnt this in wrestling, and has taken it to the track. Her team mates have started to do the same thing. At the end of a XC run she tells everyone around her good job… Last year she made it to the USA TF Junior Olympics in NC…. What an amazing bunch of athletes to be around. From all over the USA, and as parents we sat in the stands and watch and cheered on all the athletes.
    As for the youngest, YOU CAN’T YELL around a horse…. Any idiot parent that would do that, well…. Lets just not go there…

    Great post. Stopping by from SITSgirls ShareFest.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      So glad you came by Ray – the examples you shared are things that reflect the kind of character we’d all love to see become commonplace in competitive athletics.

      One kid at a time …

      1. Ray says:

        For sure one child at a time, or one team…. The teams that they are both on really do show good sportsmanship.

      2. Eli Pacheco says:

        It’s not a big deal if the coach believes in it … the problem is, making sure the coach believes in it!

    2. Stephanie says:

      Thanks Ray, I do hope people realize that not everyone acts this way – it’s just tough to watch/be around when some people do. It can make for a very long season if even one family/parents behave like this. And we just came off a long season! Thank you for stopping by!

      1. Ray says:

        Hey Stephanie,

        Oh for sure people realize it, I have never seen it but have heard of it from friends. It is just a shame that people don’t remember where they are, and who is really listening… (Children) I also leave the coaching up to the coaches, no matter how my girls do, I always tell them, I love coming out and watching you, run, ride or whatever they are doing, thank you for sharing. It is not my place to berate them or lift them to high. That is the coaches job, I am there as a support system and a mum. 🙂

      2. Eli Pacheco says:

        I think I want your kid on the teams I coach, Ray.

      3. Ray says:

        Both my girls know that sportsmanship comes first. Being first is great but it is how you get there…. The journey is a big part of it.

      4. Eli Pacheco says:

        I’d argue the journey is the biggest part – and if you’re doing the journey the right way, the wins will come.

      5. Ray says:

        Agreed!!!! 🙂

      6. Eli Pacheco says:

        Plus, nice parents are all boring and stuff.

        It’s good to be boring.

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