Unruly Fan Behavior And The Culture Surrounding Youth Sports

Schools are back in session and the fall sports season is underway. We all have heard the horror stories of angry parents on the stands yelling at the coach, the referee, other parents and even student athletes. Last week, the Iowa High School Athletic Association released a statement addressing parent and adult fan behavior at sporting events. They give six ways to behave at games for parents and fans, including “act their age.” Read the IHSAA's full statement here

Credit Camilla Knight / Institute for the Study of Youth Sports Michigan State University

“The number of officials is declining dramatically," said Tom Keating, Executive Director of the Iowa High School Ahtletic Association, "and quite honestly it’s threatening the future of youth and high school sports.” According to the IHSAA, "almost 60% of new officials registered in Iowa in 2016-17 did not return to officiate  in 2017-18, and unruly parents and adult fans are often cited as a major reason why."   

Kent Sesker has been officiating high school football, wrestling, baseball and softball in Iowa since 1993 and attributes the decline in officials to young people having more employment opportunities and having difficulties coping with the intensity of coaches and fans.

“The thing about being an official is nobody cares that you’re new," said Sesker, "they expect you to get it right every time regardless of your experience level. An official once said it’s the only job that you’ll ever have where you’re expected to be perfect on day one and then get better as you go.”  

Dan Gould is the Director of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports and a Professor of Kinesiology at Michigan State University and believes that not only has the professionalization of youth sports helped create a more contentious game-day experience but also because of a shift in culture at large.

“I think you should shake your opponents hand, honor the game, honor the official," said Gould "And the culture is kind of taking us away from that. I think we need to more directly talk about it, deal with it, enforce it in our programs,” he said.

On this edition of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe speaks with Keating, Sesker and Gould about how the culture surrounding youth sports has changed over time, how fans and parents can improve behavior at sporting events and the important role physical activity and teamwork play in a young person's life. 

Gould wants parents to remember that, "You want your child to have fun, but you also want them to learn some life lessons... most of the kids are going to play their last game in high school. How can we make it a great educational experience." He also recommends that parents avoid analyzing the game or tournament in the car on the way home. He says the most important discussion to have at that point is where you should go to get ice cream. 

Guests Include:

  • Tom Keating, Executive Director, Iowa High School Athletic Association
  • Kent Sesker, Iowa high school referee, football, wrestling, softball and baseball. 
  • Dan Gould, Director of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports and a Professor of Kinesiology at Michigan State University.