How to deal with an unruly parent

As a youth soccer coach you are responsible for maintaining peace on the sidelines. If you are to succeed in this you need to be aware that your behaviour – good or bad – is contagious.

A wild coach incites wild behavior by both players and fans. Usually a well-behaved coach is supported by well-behaved fans, but occasionally there may be an individual on the sidelines who continuously berates and abuses the referees and opposing players. This is perhaps the most difficult problem the coach must face.

Inappropriate behavior by parents at youth sporting events undermines the effort of the most well-intentioned coach in teaching sportsmanship and fair play. It sends a powerful message to young players that such behavior is acceptable. But how should the coach handle a disruptive parent or fan?

A proactive approach can be the key to avoiding problems with unruly parents. Before the season starts, the coach should meet with all the parents and discuss the objectives and philosophies of the program and his own personal coaching philosophy. Issues such as the role of winning and losing, playing time and discipline are important topics at this meeting. Just as important is an explanation of what parents can expect from the coaching staff and what the coaching staff expects from the parents.

I take this opportunity to explain to parents that the coaches are dedicated to providing a safe and positive sports experience for the children, that we have pledged to observe a coaches code of ethics and that we expect to be held responsible for our actions. I then ask for their pledge, as parents, to support the team in a positive manner and discuss specific unacceptable behavior patterns as they might relate to the players, the game officials and our opponents. Thus, bad behavior on the part of adults is established up front as unacceptable and the groundwork has been laid should future conversations with unruly parents become necessary.

Unacceptable behavior by adults at youth sporting events should never be ignored. However, confronting an angry and disruptive parent during the heat of a game may add fuel to a potential fire. Rather than confronting the offensive individual, the coach should appeal to the immediate group of fans for encouraging and positive support. This indirect plea by the coach often settles the disruptive fan. After the game, the coach can approach the individual discretely, directly and diplomatically remind him or her of their pre-season pledge and explain that such actions embarrass the players, undermine the youngsters’ sports experience and do not help the team. Encourage the parent to be positive in the future and to remember that the game is for the children not the adults.

If, after this reminder, inappropriate behavior continues, take the matter to league officials. Posting an official such as the program commissioner conspicuously in the stands to observe the trouble maker may keep the disruptive individual quiet, at least temporarily. The league should follow up this action with a letter notifying the offender that continuing irresponsible behavior could result in banishment from games.