What Makes Sport Parents “Angry”?

angry-man_istock_000005831286xsmall_croppedToday I spent the day finishing up (well almost) a paper on what makes sport parents angry during their child’s sport events. I alluded in my last blog that snacks cause a fair amount of parent anger…now to the main finding. What percentage of sport parents claim they “never get angry”? If you guessed about one third, you would be correct! Now you might be thinking that seems a bit high…I do. I think that almost all sport parents get angry at something at some point during their child’s sporting endeavors. The other two thirds of (honest) parents that do report getting angry have a variety of things that set them off. What or who do you think is the #1 Anger Culprit? If you guessed the Incompetence of the Referee, you would be correct!Football referee blowing whistle Remember though, it is the parent’s perception of incompetence that makes them angry…we don’t know in reality if the referee is truly incompetent or not.

Given that retaining and recruiting youth sport referees is a MAJOR issue—just ask NASO which estimates a ~35% attrition rate each year—could parental anger over referee incompetence be a contributing factor in the high attrition rate? Needless to say that many youth sport referees are adolescents who take on the “job” for the love of the game and quit in part because of the abuse they take from adults on the sidelines. Obviously, yelling at the referee is not unique to youth sports but it does become a more important issue when children and youth are the indirect (as athletes) and direct (as the referee) recipients of angry yelling. Yelling at the referee is also the #1 most frequent “bad” or “poor” sport behavior on youth sport sidelines reported from the perspective of youth athletes, parents, and coaches alike. What I’ve found interesting in the 4-5 studies I’ve done in the context of youth sport is that the referee ALWAYS comes up as a source of contention. There is a future research question in here somewhere…..but you’d be surprised at how little research has been done on referees or taken the referee perspective into account. More to come in the future on “what makes sport parents angry”…..

3 Replies to “What Makes Sport Parents “Angry”?”

  1. I could never be a ref for this exact reason. I’ve watched my “little sister’s” softball games and seen parents get pretty nasty. I’m embarrassed for the kids and feel sorry for the umpires.

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  2. I think an interesting, but difficult, experiment would be to have a game officiated by a parent combo (one from each team) in the first half, and a trained official in the second half. I wonder if you would get any takers. The parents would first be required to take a test regarding the rules of the game. It always amazes me how many think they know the rules, but don’t actually

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  3. Refs always get the shorthand of the stick when it comes to parents being angry. As someone who has reffed in the past parents were my biggest complaint. They yell for no apparent reason, normally out of ignorance for the game, and by doing so make fools of themselves. Personally, I think the question that needs to be looked at is, “how do we get parents to see understand the game at a higher level (than just kick the ball), so that they are not looking to blame uncontrollable aspects of the game when things are not going right?”
    This past weekend coaching in a MYSA soccer tournament we had to have 2 senior refs be “floaters” to just monitor sidelines. The field marshal would call them in to look at and handle unruly parents that otherwise would have continued to be out of control. For youth sports to have gotten to that point is sad. Many officials are young kids just looking to make some extra money that they otherwise would not have had. Parents need to remember this and see the job for what it is, an interpretation of a 100 page rule book coupled with young inexperienced players.
    Trying to teach good sporting behavior is good, but at the end of the day if parents get upset they do not always think about what they heard in some night session. They need to have steeper consequences for their actions than currently exist. The officials listen to a lot of yelling depending on the game and if a few more officials actually stopped play and took ownership of the sidelines a change might occur. The ref is in control of not only what goes on inside the four lines, but also the people who affect the game from the outside those lines. I am not sure how well this would work, but it would be at least worth a shot.

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