Bringing sportsmanship back to gameSoccer Moms and Little League Dads have probably been riding the refs ever since Cain and Abel batted an apple around with a stick, or kicked a pomegranate between a couple palm trees.
By: By Mike Nichols, Superior Telegram
Soccer Moms and Little League Dads have probably been riding the refs ever since Cain and Abel batted an apple around with a stick, or kicked a pomegranate between a couple palm trees.
It used to be that it was primarily overbearing parents with rulebooks in their pockets who did most of the screaming, though. Nowadays, you often have a new breed of yeller, Jim Launder, director of coaching for the Wisconsin Youth Soccer Association (WYSA), told me at “The State Cup” in Appleton the other day.
“Now,” said Launder, “you get a lot of people who don’t know if the ball is blown up or stuffed.”
That sounds about right. People who haven’t run 20 yards in 20 years admonish junior to sprint a little faster and can’t fathom why the referee won’t give him a touchdown just for that. Never mind that it’s a soccer game. Everybody’s an expert, a vocal one.
Except that, in Appleton at least, something has changed. And it’s both a very positive development and a very sad commentary.
About 10 years ago already, WYSA officials had enough. They did something that Peter Mariahazy, the president of WYSA’s board of directors, thinks might be unique. They started awarding — or penalizing — teams playing in the “group play” round of the state championships, commonly known as “The State Cup” for how the parents of the players acted on the sidelines.
Yeah, I know. In a perfect world, it wouldn’t be fair to penalize the kids because the people raising them can’t keep their epithets to themselves. But it’s a far-from-perfect world. And also, it’s not fair to let the parents influence the kids.
That was a big part of the problem. Parents were yelling at the refs without consequence, and pretty soon, the players were yelling at them, too. And some of the coaches joined in — although the coaches are often the best behaved. And the kids are often pretty respectful as well, come to think of it.
“I have seen kids after a game say, ‘Dad, you can’t yell like that,’” said Mariahazy. “‘You’re embarrassing me on the field.’”
Determined to improve sportsmanship, the WYSA directed officiating crews to award a maximum of 15 sportsmanship points to teams for each game during “group play,” the phase in which teams advance based on points accumulated during a series of games against a number of opponents.
“Negative behavior designed to threaten or incite violence or injury, intimidate, disparage or harass, or promote unfair and/or dangerous play, including taunts with overtones of racial, ethnic or sexually oriented statements targeting any other person, including officials, administrators and/or volunteers” are not tolerated, according to the association.
Officials award a maximum of five sportsmanship points to coaches, five to players and — the unique part — five to parents. In truth, the points hardly ever make a difference because they only factor in when teams are tied after considering numbers of wins during group play, goals scored and goals allowed. But sportsmanship points did determine which team moved on to the semi-finals in one instance six or seven years ago, according to Mariahazy, and — more importantly — just the act of awarding the points after every game has changed the tenor of the sidelines.
“Absolutely, no doubt in my mind,” said Mariahazy. “I can tell you 10 years ago there was a lot more yelling, challenging, complaining from players, parents and coaches.”
Having stood on many a sideline over the years, I don’t blame the WYSA a bit. They did the right and necessary thing. Still, it’s kind of pathetic, isn’t it?
We used to debate whether parents should be held responsible for the misdeeds of their kids. Now we live in a world in which it’s necessary to penalize the kids for the actions of their parents.
Mike Nichols is a syndicated columnist who spent 18 years writing about Wisconsin for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He is now a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. This column represents only his personal opinion. Contact him at MRNichols@