Parents screaming in the stands? Here’s what you can do

The Respect in Sport Parent program empowers parent bystanders to take appropriate action to reduce abuse from the stands.

Respect in Sport e-learning programs have educated thousands of coaches and parents across Canada in correct behaviors at the rink and the sports field. The Parent program is especially important as it addresses problem behaviors that can escalate to verbal abuse and even spectator violence.

“Sport organizations have to deal with a lot of unruly and disrespectful parents,” says Wayne McNeil, a founder of the Respect Group. “These parents have a negative effect on the team, the other parents, and even their own children.”

Many would argue that every sport organization in Canada should be mandating the course for their parents.

McNeil co-founded the Group with Canadian NHL hockey player Sheldon Kennedy. Kennedy revealed in 1997 that his junior hockey coach, Graham James, had sexually assaulted him during his years as a junior player. (Calgary Flames alumnus Theo Fleury admitted in 2009 that he was also a victim of Graham James.)

James was eventually convicted and served time in prison, but Kennedy’s experience made him determined to help protect other children from any form of abuse in sports.

He and McNeil thus began to create online courses to educate coaches, parents, and teachers in abuse prevention and respectful behavior.

“We had a coaching symposium in 2007 where there were probably 250 coaches in attendance,” recounts McNeil. “The almost unanimous message was that we needed to develop a parent program using the same online platform.”

The coaches told Kennedy and McNeil that the parents needed to be educated because they were definitely contributing to the problem of kids quitting sports. They were also having a negative impact on coaches, referees, and officials.

“We developed the program and we sort of had this illusion that it would be a no-brainer,” says McNeil. “But it took three years to get an organization to say, you know what, we’re going to put it in, and we’re going to mandate it, and it’s going to stick. That was Hockey Calgary.”

The Parent program is an interactive online e-learning course that takes between 30-60 minutes to complete. It teaches parents positive and effective communication and it establishes standards for the kind of respectful behavior that we would all like to see on the sidelines at our children’s sporting events.

The program can be delivered two ways. Sport organizations can pay for an entire package for all of their parents, and they can log on and complete the course with a code provided to the club.

Alternatively, parents can log on individually and pay with their credit card.

Since Respect in Sport began offering the Parent program, McNeil has heard of instances where one parent has playfully teased another parent on the sidelines, “Hey, I didn’t see that behavior modeled in the Respect in Sport Parent program!” And the two parents have shared a good-natured laugh as the offender dutifully buttons his lip.

“Instead of confronting another parent in an angry way, parents are using the program as a buffer,” says McNeil. “It’s giving people a common language so they can talk to other parents in a way that’s non-confrontational.”

One of the most effective lessons in the Parent program is the 24-Hour Rule.

“Rather than get upset at something your kid did, or the coach did, or the referee did, simply remain calm and sit on it for 24 hours,” says McNeil. “If it’s still bothering you 24 hours later, then maybe it’s worth talking about. But 90% of incidents are not worth talking about 24 hours later.”

Kennedy and McNeil understand how reasonable people might forget themselves during a sports event.

“When emotions are running high during a game, we can say and do things that we would never do at the doctors office, a school meeting, or at work,” says McNeil. “But we’ll do it in a sport environment and regret it later. So if you can develop the habit of holding off for 24 hours, maybe you won’t embarrass yourself or your kid.”

Parents and sports clubs can learn more about Respect Group and their online programs by visiting their website. Specific information about the Respect in Sport Parent program can be found at the Parent program page.

One response to “Parents screaming in the stands? Here’s what you can do

  1. I hope that I am lucky enough not to have to deal with these issues when my son is old enough to participate in organized sports.

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