‘Children’s sport in Yorkshire should not be a battleground for parents’

Have you had issues with other parents when watching children's sports?
Have you had issues with other parents when watching children's sports?
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FOR many families this weekend will be spent ferrying children from one sports fixture to another.

Most will wish their offspring good luck and reserve further comment until asking “How did it go?” on the journey home.

There is, however, an unpleasant – and definitely vocal – minority who can, at the drop of a ball, transform sports fields into battlegrounds.

Just last week footballer turned pundit Robbie Savage called for yellow and red cards to be shown to offenders after witnessing some shocking behaviour at his children’s junior games.

His idea is clever. If the incident warrants a red card, the aggressor’s child would also have to do the walk of shame and leave the game. So the culprit would not only be shown up themselves; but their child would also pay a penalty for the parent’s bad behaviour.

Junior football isn’t the only sport to see unsportsmanlike argy-bargy among parents.

Just last weekend, one of our offspring was playing hockey and another player’s father unleashed the most awful tirade.

Our children have all-but grown up down the local rugby club, so they are used to touchline banter and colourful language. But this verbal assault left our normally tough cookie visibly shaken and unable to sleep for thinking about it.

Both the referee and captain were young and presumably intimidated themselves as they did nothing. The upshot is that The Husband and I have been summoned to attend the match this weekend.

“I don’t want to play again if you’re not there,” came the plea. Bang goes The Archers omnibus but it will be worth it to introduce ourselves to this particular bully if he attempts a repeat performance.

The fact the referee was young (early 20s) in our family’s particular incident is interesting. It always amazes this correspondent why anybody would put themselves forward to referee any kind of sports match. But thankfully, for the future of sport, there is a steady stream of volunteers who want to give something back to the game they love.

To go back to Savage (yes, there is some irony in the name), he thinks it’s not fair to ask often young referees to marshal parents’ foul conduct.

His idea is that referees get on with what they are supposed to do – helping the match run safely and fairly – and leave a designated safeguarding officer to patrol the parents.

“You can’t expect referees, some of whom are teenagers who have just qualified, to show aggressive dads red cards – it would be too intimidating,” says Savage. “Also, maybe the parents would listen to a fellow adult with the powers to intervene.”

He’s also keen for other sports to pinch the idea of sin bins from the rugby pitch; somewhere to cool off for bad tackles, offensive gestures, answering back to referees and unsavoury language. The theory being that if the children are being sorted out, maybe the parents wouldn’t feel quite the same urge to wade in themselves.

To be fair, we’ve witnessed sub-standard behaviour at rugby matches. Other examples of below-par parental conduct have come at showjumping and other equestrian competitions.

Horsey parents have long had a bad name and this red-head must admit to the odd expletive over the years. In mitigation, such slip-ups were more frequent when our riders were young and a succession of naughty ponies (straight out of the famous Thelwell cartoons) would take great pleasure in depositing them with no mercy.

Ashamed as this correspondent is, her behaviour isn’t a patch on some. One mother regularly used to shout at her daughters (and anybody else’s children) to “get some guts” and reduce them to tears if they didn’t want to try bigger jumps.

“Do you ride?” she was once asked. Of course she didn’t and this all-the-gear-no-idea parent is at the rotten core of bad behaviour in many sports. While it’s hard to resist pointing out mistakes, somebody who has actually played a certain sport must surely be less likely to bully a child who is having a go? They know that inner confidence is the secret to success. Once that is dented by some gobby spectator, it can take an awful lot of winning back. Often it’s gone forever.

Money, or rather the amount spent by parents hoping their children will achieve sporting success, must surely be a factor in this modern-day dilemma.

The Son says some of his mates have football boots costing over £200. We go into a well-known high street sporting chain with a strict upper limit. Whatever they want, trainers, rugby boots – they won’t get a penny over £35 out of their mother. If their father took them, they’d be lucky to get £20. Well, his £17.50 Dunlop Green Flash still serve him well.

Then, as for the horsey world, it’s no exaggeration to say you could buy a half-decent racehorse for the same money some ambitious families are paying for ponies.

We will never get back to the halcyon jumpers-for-goalposts sporting fun of our youth, but we owe it to our children to remember these times. Especially the smiles on our faces whether we’d won or lost...