Due to poor behaviour on the touchline the game of rugby union which prided itself on the behaviour of its players, parents, coaches and referees has recently introduced sanctions in competitions that could lead to schools being docked points or being thrown out of  competitions.

Have things finally gone too far?

There is no doubt that there has been an increase in aggression on the side-lines of children’s sport over the last decade.  What has caused this?

  • With the ever increasing professionalism and commercialisation of sport at younger and younger ages there is an over-emphasis on winning, this at an age when children should be having fun and learning the fundamental movement and sports skills that will ensure sporting success at later stages. This emphasis on results and winning increases the expectations and thus pressure placed on young sports people to perform. In a survey conducted in the UK in 2013 amongst 1,015 kids aged 8 – 16; 87,5% felt under pressure to win, 64,3% indicated that they had witnessed team mates fouling, diving or time wasting and 54% said they had witnessed cheating in games of which 37% indicated that their team mates didn’t care if they won by cheating. This “win-at-all-costs” attitude is permeating our sporting environment.
  • From research published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology in 2008 it appears that the control orientation of parents leads to ego defensiveness which in turn leads to anger and aggressive behaviour.
  • And coaches? They are under constant pressure from schools and clubs to achieve the results that will bring “glory”.

What can we do about it?

We need to put sport participation into perspective.  When children are asked why they participate in sport?  ‘Winning’ very rarely features in the top 5 answers and ‘fun’ more often than not tops the rankings in a number of recent surveys carried out.

This does not mean that children don’t value winning, they simply prefer playing.

Who is creating this environment then?

It is certainly not the child, which can only lead us to the parents and coaches.

The only real solution is if all stakeholders take ownership of clearing our games field of inappropriate behaviour and that includes players, parents, coaches, schools and clubs.

In my own experience the best two environments I have seen for children in sport are in academy football where parents are told that no coaching or shouting from the side-line will be tolerated and also in a local tennis centre where parents are behind a glass screen and can have no interaction with players or coaches.

Applause and a well done are fine but even they are often muted.

Although this may sound boring, at least the children, officials and coaches are free to get on with their roles without the back ground noise.

Perhaps in the short term a blanket silence may be the only way to wrestle back control of our touchlines?

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