This past weekend, I had the unpleasant experience of suffering through the most egregious, despicable display of spectator behavior I have ever witnessed as a hockey parent. And, as the mother of two hockey players who has been to hundreds (a thousand?) youth hockey games, that is not an insignificant pronouncement.
We've all heard the stories. We've read about (and witnessed) embarrassing, objectionable and occasionally downright illegal behavior of parents at their children's sporting events. And many of us have yelled something we regret at some point in our years of watching our kids play. I'm not pretending to be the poster child for perfect parenting here; I've yelled a time or two at one of my boys' games. Mea culpa.
There's a huge difference, however, in shouting out "HEEEYYY" when your kids gets slammed into the boards, or a call is blatantly missed, and screaming at the ref or the players on the other- or your- team. Calling out "Use your body" is different than screaming "HURT HIM." And I'm not talking about the parent who cheers loudly (Ahem. Although I'm better than I once was.) for her team (GO HAWKS!) but about the parent who constantly harps about the refs, the opposing coaches and the young players.
I'm talking about the parent who screams at the ref that he has been paid off by the other team. And the parent who yells that the other team can only win because of the penalties called in their favor. I'm talking about the parent who screams at a player on the ice (or field, or court) that he is "pathetic" or a "criminal."
This past weekend, my youngest son participated in a hockey showcase in Indianapolis. Teams from all over the Midwest, as well as Texas, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and New Jersey, participated. It was an opportunity for the players to play outside of their leagues, as well an opportunity to be scouted. (My son's team won all four games they played, by the way.)
In the strange and sometimes exasperating way of these things, one of our games was against a St. Louis team that is in our home league. Meh, we thought, it will give our players a chance to check them out before they play a league game. Every game is a learning experience, we told our players.
What we learned is that their team's parents are obnoxious, rude, disrespectful and despicable. We learned that they will ignore a tournament director's directive to leave the rink. We learned that they blame the refs when their sons get 29 penalties (and 3 ejections) in 51 minutes of play. We learned that they think that refs can be bought and sold by teams.
And after the game, we learned that they are looking forward to our team playing in their "house" in two weeks, something I'm dreading.
Their parents refused to follow official directives. They showed their children that when you are doing poorly, you should blame others. Not only should you blame others, you should accuse them of malfeasance and ignorance and unethical behavior, in an attempt to deflect attention from your blatant breaking of the rules.
One of their players attempted to trip a ref and was subsequently ejected from the game -- and then the parents of his team promptly excused his actions as acceptable because the ref "deserved" it.
Other sports have bad parents. Youth sports governing bodies have tried to crack down on them by enacting tough zero tolerance policies. What can be done when a parent, or group of parents, refuse to follow the rules and no one enforces them?
If you have suggestions, I'd love to hear them.