Anybody who started playing sports at a young age was likely told: “It’s just a game.” Unfortunately, there are too many people who have forgotten this adage when they became adults.
One of the biggest issues plaguing youth sports today is bad behavior by fans, usually parents. It’s become all too common to go to a high school or youth sporting event and hear fans shout all manner of criticism and bile at officials, coaches, other fans and even sometimes the players themselves.
Things have gotten so out of hand that certain organizations have begun to take unprecedented action to curb this bad behavior.
Earlier this month, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) approved a new spectator regulation that will take effect beginning in the 2023-24 school year. The new system amounts to a three-strike blueprint. Any spectator deemed to be causing a disturbance will be given a warning by an on-site school administrator. A second warning will involve a personal discussion and reminder of the consequences of a third incident.
Those who reach strike three will be removed from the contest and will have the option of either receiving a one-game suspension or taking an online course on fan behavior which would allow them to attend the next event.
Fans can also be removed immediately if their comments are deemed egregious enough.
This is a welcome step and will undoubtedly serve to curb some of the bad behavior of youth sports fans. But it is just one step. It bears watching just how strictly these new rules will be enforced. There is the possibility that these warnings could result in even more confrontations that could disrupt games and cause a miserable experience for fans and players alike.
It’s also unclear what will happen to repeat offenders and if it would even be possible to enforce a multi-game, or even permanent, ban on certain individuals.
Certain organizations have already taken it upon themselves to implement their own rules for policing unruly fans. The Deptford Township Little League in New Jersey instituted a new policy to combat the increasing number of confrontations between fans and umpires.
Any spectator who is involved in an altercation with an official must themselves umpire three games before they are allowed back to watch from the stands. League officials have said that they aren’t looking to convert fans into umpires but rather to show them how difficult and thankless their jobs are.
As mentioned earlier, it will be interesting to see just how enforceable rules like these are, but the idea behind it is an admirable one because it forces unruly fans to remove their blinders and see things from another point of view.
And if empathy doesn’t work, shame might have to do the trick. Certain youth leagues begin games by having an athlete read the league’s code of conduct beforehand for all to hear. Making sure everyone in the stands knows the score before they open their mouths can prove effective.
In certain extreme cases, the power of social media can be employed. Everybody records everything these days, so why not identify those who physically confront officials or coaches and share their misconduct for all to see? Fans who rush onto the field and insert themselves into the middle of things forfeit any right to privacy and need to be held accountable for their actions.
Bad fan behavior across all levels of youth sports is causing a massive official shortage that is already having direct consequences on the field: the 2023 field hockey season in Western New York is in serious jeopardy due to a severe shortage of referees. If things keep progressing the way they are, other sports in other areas will soon follow.
Beyond the lack of officials, would it surprise anybody if young athletes don’t want to play sports if they know that every time they take the field some obnoxious spectator might ruin everything?
Sports matter; how fans conduct themselves should matter as well.
— Daily Star, Oneonta
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