“Youth league umpire walks off the field after parents continuously berate him”

That was the headline of a recent story in USA Today.

In an accompanying video of the incident, the umpire says to the temper-tantrum parents, “If you want to have a game here, quiet down.”

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One parent admonishes the umpire to “stay professional for the kids and just do your job.”

Then, yet another toxic voice from the peanut gallery remarks, “Are you mad because the kids are taller than you?” 

Reading that got me to ponder—for the umpteenth time—the general malaise of undisciplined adults soiling youth sports. It happens everywhere, all the time. I posted the USA Today story to social media, and the responses moved me to write about it here. That’s easier said than done, though. What’s the best approach to take in tackling this thorny topic.

Would a sympathetic tone work? You know, like instead of the typical finger-wagging lecture, how about trying a new tack, like suggesting that those of us who look down at such behavior perhaps should pity them for dealing with whatever demons possess a parent to act that way. Maybe we need to be more tolerant and try harder to understand their plight. Maybe they just can’t help themselves, like a form of Tourette’s Syndrome, a very real and serious affliction.

Do these adults harass and shout at umpires and coaches -- and even pint-size players— because they were award-winning athletes in their youth and now apply the same exacting standards to others? 

Or is it because they were underwhelming athletes in their youth whose frustration now is visited on others? 

Is the source of their unleashed anger or impulsive interference as transitory as having a bad day at the office— or is it congenital behavior that’s seems perfectly normal to them? 

No, that wouldn’t be right to write that. After all, who are we passive wimps to judge such impressively Alpha behavior. Besides, what if that kind of speculation is misinterpreted as facetious rather than sincere, or dismissed as precious psychobabble? 

Welcome to my world. When commenting on anyone’s anti-social behavior, there are certain occupational hazards faced by an ink-stained wretch (like moi) navel-gazing over a keyboard.  

We don’t want to sound patronizing, predictable, hackneyed, or like a holier-than-thou know-it-all. 

Wait a minute! I think I just described those back-seat drivers at youth sporting contests who deem it fair game to “continuously berate” coaches, officials, even their own kids on the field—or variations thereof, like parents who specify to a coach which position their child needs to play. (Can’t blame them for trying to game the system, I guess. They just didn’t get the memo that youth sports doesn’t work that way, for very good reason.) 

So that’s how I struggled while deciding the best way to write this piece. Then, an epiphany: Why not step aside and let others have their say. I’ll just be the messenger. 

Here’s a condensed selection of comments that appeared under my social media posting of that aforementioned USA Today article…

One commenter suggested the umpire should have shouted back at the parent who made fun of his height, “The kids are bigger than you,” meaning they are more mature than the sad adult who made the juvenile remark. 

A local youth sports supervisor wrote, “This story is tame, to say the least. It gets a lot worse out there — and it is the parents.”

Other comments: “Some people are maniac sports parents” and “My dad showed me the way to behave at a son or daughter’s athletic event: show up and shut up.”

A woman from my high school class chimed in, “I have officiated high school sports in 4 states, for the last 31 years in Texas.

Many officials are not staying involved due to the treatment from parents.”

One highly visible sign of how the good people who volunteer to run youth sports programs are pushing back against those who are quicker to complain than to volunteer is the number of actual signs popping up at playing venues. 

Here are a sampling of the best such signs I found online...

Not happy with what’s happening on our field?

Volunteer applications are now being accepted. 
1. These are kids.
2. This is their game.
3. Coaches and officials are human.
4. This is for fun.
5. Positive cheering is encouraged.
6. Your child is not being scouted by the Yankees today.
[National Alliance for Youth Sports—NAYS.org]
● Kids are #1
● Fun — not winning — is everything
● Fans only cheer, and only coaches coach
● No yelling in anger
● Respect the volunteer referees
● No swearing
● No smoking
● Leave no trash behind
● Set a proper example for our children

If you can agree to the above, we welcome you.

[American Youth Soccer Organization—AYSO.org]

And, finally, for the sake of acknowledging that, yes, every so often even a well-meaning volunteer—such as a coach—needs to be reprimanded for unwise words or action aimed at officials, or players, or well-behaved parents, there’s this meme I found that’s worth noting... 

“I know I’m just a volunteer youth sports coach, but I feel if I yell at the kids and umpires, a pro scout might see me and give me a REAL coaching job.”

That’s an apt reminder that crossing the line or acting out-of-line can happen both inside and outside the lines. 

The proper way to end these musings is with the sacred words of immortal sportswriter Grantland Rice, who left us this poetic paean to sportsmanlike conduct...

"For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, he writes not that you won or lost, but how you played the game.”