Tears! Tantrums! Bad sportsmanship! Olympics? Not a bit of it. I’m talking junior sports – one of the most tempestuous, frustrating and downright immature sporting arenas known to man.

Cartoon: Michael Atchison

It was sad, but not particularly surprising to hear this week that the Southern Football League has banned its mini-league carnival due to atrocious behaviour against young umpires.

Meanwhile, a local netball association in the Hills has received an unprecedented number of complaints this year relating to the abuse of umpires and players, and umpiring standards.

Of course there’s absolutely no excuse for parents being abusive on the sidelines – without umpires and coaches volunteering their time, there’d be no such thing as junior sport.

But jeez, it can be hard to hold your tongue when it’s pouring icy rain and you’ve lost all feeling in your feet and the kids are losing again and the man in yellow seems to be favouring his own *%$#!! team.

But as I said, there’s no excuse for it.

That’s why I know of netball parents who voluntarily stand way behind the fence, to ensure their Tourette’s-type tanties can’t be heard by other parents, umpires or their own children.

I also know of husbands who’ve been banned by wives from turning up at their kids’ games because they can’t hold their tongues or tempers.

Unfortunately, not all parents exercise the same self-sanctions or self-control. One friend watched aghast this year when a well-heeled Adelaide private school mum reduced a young hockey umpire to tears over a penalty against her son.

“It’s just a game!” the angry mum kept insisting, until the poor umpire started sobbing. Perhaps the mum – perhaps all of us at times – would do well to remember those four little words.

I have to say, though, nothing quite prepares you for the emotional intensity of watching your own children play sport: the exhilarating highs when they finally ‘get it’; the screaming irrits when they don’t.

I lost a few years off my life last summer when Jack and Harry started “competitive” tennis. You forget how many rules there are for little brains that would rather be playing chasey. (If I had a dollar for every time I said “change sides” I’d be sipping G&T in the Bahamas.)

But here’s the upside.

In an era when childhood activities seem to be compromised by political correctness, cotton wool and computer games, sport still teaches kids the joy of winning and the pain of losing as a team.

And hopefully, if they’ve got great coaches like we have at the Bridgewater Raiders, they learn to become good losers as well as gracious winners – even if winning twice in a season is considered a good year. (We swear Mt Lofty U11s are all reserves for the Power. Big?! Some of them would cast a shadow on Mattie Primus.)

Sport offers a fascinating insight into the human condition, too. After a few years as a junior footy mum, here’s what I’ve come to know:

THE willingness of parents to become involved in committee work is directly related to their own experience as children. (So if you want your kids to be community-minded later in life, you need to lead by example.)

FOR every person agreeing to volunteer their time to make things happen, there are quite a few parents with an opinion.

THERE’S no such thing as sport without politics, even at the most junior levels.

VERY few matches come to an end in the first year without at least one dad mentioning his own prowess at junior level (the poorer his son is playing, the more it’s likely to come up).

But at least one Olympic controversy will never happen at junior level – and that’s players taking a dive as we’ve seen in those shameful badminton matches.

The kids might throw their handballs, shed the odd tear when they can’t feel their fingers and jump in puddles instead of watching the ball.

But would the mini Bridgy Raiders lie down to let Mt Lofty win? Not on your life.

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    • Bertrand says:

      08:24am | 05/08/12

      “In an era when childhood activities seem to be compromised by political correctness, cotton wool and computer games, sport still teaches kids the joy of winning and the pain of losing as a team.”

      Not anymore. They no longer keep score in young children’s soccer matches because they don’t want the losing team to feel like they have lost. There are no winners or losers. Only players.

    • Rose says:

      11:59am | 05/08/12

      I think you’ll find that they score from the Under 8s and up. They only let the year 1 and 2s play with out scoring so they can learn the skills. When my kids played soccer the game took only about half the allotted time, the rest of the time it was more like coaching clinic.
      I never saw a problem with that idea!

    • pa_kelvin says:

      12:49pm | 05/08/12

      “There are no winners or losers. Only players” If that were only so Bertrand, Parents berating their kids for poor performance instead of encouraging them to do better. Not every kid is going to grow up being a sports star ,but every parent with a kid in sports of any kind would like to think they can.sad

    • Mike says:

      02:35pm | 05/08/12

      True, Bertrand.  We are raising kids who think that life has a permanent RESET button, just like on the computer games.  No one loses anymore.

      Unfortunately, business and life is not like that at all.  If you go bankrupt or bust, there is no reset button !

      I am not that old, but things were different when I was a kid.  I remember in the 80s as a primary school kid that not everyone won, and it was instilled into you that “good sportsmanship” was not booing (you got instant detention if you even said the word !) and that you congratulated everyone at the end of the match with “well played” or “good game” and shook hands.  Fouling (aka “cropping”) was out and your own teammates would publicly berate you on the field if you did.

      There were kids who were obviously better at footy than others, and you accepted that you were never going to make the team, and that was that.  Out of those kids, only one of them actually played at Club level.

      The behaviour of some parents is disgusting, and this is the example they set their own kids.  I personally promised myself to never do what they do, ever.

    • chuck says:

      08:49am | 05/08/12

      Maybe one of the reasons we are now losing is the cotton ball approach to umpiring and playing sport! We seem to be somewhat precious when it comes to words and are easily offended at the drop of a hat with decisions as numerous as there are interpretations to bible passages.

      Just have a look at the standard of umpiring in the AFL which seem to have a rather large number of highly paid athletes who could easily compete in the running away backwards from the competition event if staged in the olympics.

      Unfortunately this dribbles down to junior sport and officialdom except without the glory and $‘s.

    • Steve says:

      08:57am | 05/08/12

      If we can’t expect middle-aged, sober parents to watch their behaviour and maintain their dignity at a junior school sports game, how can we expect young, liquored up 20 year olds to behave themselves around Kings Cross? 

      Self-disciple and self-awareness as virtures are completely out the window .

    • iansand says:

      08:59am | 05/08/12

      Some parents are absolutely appalling.  For a couple of years my daughter was in the same team as the child of one of the worst examples I know.  Not only did he go within a whisker of having the team disqualified - he abused me because our daughter did not have a piece of equipment that he thought was necessary, and abused us for not training up to his standards.  It made the whole thing very unpleasant.

      As far as I know, his kids were only waiting until they were old enough to tell him to shove it before they abandoned the sport forever.

    • Steve Putnam says:

      03:02pm | 05/08/12

      Yeah, it annoys me no end when parents try to live vicariously through their kids. My daughter did ballet till she was in her early twenties and some of the stage mothers she encountered certainly fell into this category. It also riles me when athletes apologise for letting the country down when they have taken a silver medal in an event like Stewart Ginn did in the men’s fours yesterday. Whatever happened to congratulating your opponent and taking legitimate pride in being second best in the world?

    • Don says:

      01:20am | 06/08/12

      Sounds like you came up against the Bat dad!

    • Matt says:

      11:48am | 06/08/12

      Sounds like a volunteer for team financier and coach to me.

    • sunny says:

      09:29am | 05/08/12

      Might be time to start arming the referees. Firstly to keep the hostile peanut gallery out of their face .. “referee is always right, son” would now be the most common thing yelled from the crowd. Secondly to ‘penalise’ divers (I’m thinking mainly of soccer here), the range of penalties would be free-kick, penalty kick, yellow card, red card, bullet in the head for diving.

    • Shane from Melbourne says:

      08:47am | 06/08/12

      At least sunny we don’t have to worry about Gillard being a bad parent. One less trauma to unleash on the Australian public.

    • Dieter Moeckel says:

      11:02am | 06/08/12

      Give it a break Shane!

    • sunny says:

      12:24pm | 06/08/12

      Geez Shane you wouldn’t be claiming some kind of moral high ground there would you because someone else hasn’t got kids?

    • Gus says:

      10:05am | 05/08/12

      we need coaches for the parents,to teach ‘
      them to be good losers,

    • Du says:

      11:55am | 05/08/12

      and gracious winners

    • Cat says:

      11:25am | 05/08/12

      I am reminded of an argument I overheard in a supermarket early one Saturday morning. A father was berating his son (about 12 or 13) because he did not want to play football. The father was yelling, “I don’t f….  care if you don’t want to play football. I want you to play football and that’s all that matters and you are f…... going to play football and if you don’t f…... win I’ll thrash you.”
      Five years later the same bright kid has failed year 12 and left home. His father still can’t see he did anything wrong - in fact he insists he has done “everything right” and given the kid his “maximum support”.

    • Dr Phil says:

      03:25pm | 05/08/12

      Abuse and insults do nothing for a young persons emotional sense of worth….Praise and encouragement do wonders.

    • dibatag says:

      12:18pm | 05/08/12

      I lived in a flat in St Kilda right across the road from the Peanut Farm football ground, Sunday mornings were HELL the foul mouthed mums and dads were unbileveable

    • subahu says:

      12:25pm | 05/08/12

      My 18 year old daughter used to be a passionate umpire, aspiring to work through the grades, aiming to umpire at the highest level. Not any more - frightened to officiate certain teams because of the tirade of abuse from the coach, players and supporters. So much for codes of conduct. If Associations had the backbone to enforce these codes and remove the persistent, repeat offenders from the get-go more young people would put their hands up to blow the whistle. Not even payment for umpiring softens the abuse. Sad to see good umpires walk away in tears.

    • Carz says:

      01:14pm | 05/08/12

      Many years ago I used to be a volunteer first aider, and attended many junior Aussie Rules games. The one game that stands out is when a young umpire sprained his ankle during a game. Rather than a polite round of applause as the young guy was carried from the oval by the trainers from both teams, as used to be the norm for umpires entering and leaving the playing area in this particular area, the kid was booed by the parents. Such a wonderful example for the under 12s or whatever they were who were on the field.

    • Blossom says:

      03:52pm | 05/08/12

      I was with the under 8’s Soccer Team,
      i was a Coach and Manager, and spent half my time
      telling the kids which end to play on.
      Until a Dentist joined with his son, and was so obnoxious,
      that a Father told me to caution him.
      So i did very pleasantly, and he was sullen at every match.
      One day my five year old daughter , had a tooth sticking out.
      It wouldn’t budge, so i rang the Dentist, and a Locum was there.
      I couldn’t believe it was the same Dentist, he was very professional.
      He even gave my daughter (after pulling out the baby tooth), a little ring.
      Happily she put it on her finger, and away we went.
      Two hours later we were in the Emergency Room, her finger had turned
      blue, and it had to be cut off.
      Next Soccer Match , the Dentist just smiled at me.
      True story.

    • Casey says:

      04:29pm | 05/08/12

      I coach my daughter’s 9 yo netball team and one of the lessons I drill into them is always respecting the umpire’s decision, even when we don’t agree. If I am concerned at things the umpire is overlooking or pulling up harshly I will talk to them calmly at the break to see if they can watch out for something they’re missing or explain the rule they are picking up zealously. I firmly believe we need to model good behaviour for our kids in sport (and everything really). We can’t possibly expect them to learn how to behave in a civilised manner if we can’t do it ourselves. *Touch wood* all the parents in our team have a similar view and we are yet to come up against any “ugly” parents but I’m sure it does happen.

      I think the benefits of junior sport for kids is as much about learning to work as a team, how to be a good competitor, how to deal with success and failure as it is about developing skills/fitness etc.

    • Gordon says:

      04:51pm | 05/08/12

      Was ever thus. I remember parents screaming abuse at each other, refs and kids in the under 8s in about 1969. Until we breed out the moron gene we are stuck with it.

    • Dieter Moeckel says:

      11:19am | 06/08/12

      I’m not sue it is an Aussie thing or ubiquitous but the reliance of sport and national culture is quite obscene.
      Sport as we know it is gladiatorial entertainment. It is no longer about doing, enjoying and participating and it’s rubbing off on the children. We are all ordinary with possibly one excellent endowment and we get just one chance to glory in it. I once threw a basket from behind the half way line, I once beat the school champion at swimming I once became the youngest RLS instructor. Both my kids represented their state in sport but neither can play the piano I insisted they learn, neither can sing in tune like their mother.
      What we need in Australia is a real week of Mardi gras catharsis. The Greeks did it with drama and the Latin countries have recognised the need for it.
      Let the frustrations out through peaceful dance and enjoyment rather than in abuse and vicarious aggression at junior sports.
      At junior sports I always had the image of the ‘little lily-livered, chicken-hearted henpecked bald male sitting among the spectators advising, Cassius Clay in his fight against Mike Tyson to ‘kill ‘him, smash ‘him’ vicariously getting his rocks off. God for bid that the parent might just play in the veterans’ rugby union team even though its touch only.

    • stephen says:

      12:15pm | 06/08/12

      I have a 10 YO who participates in a individual sport at a very high level.
      It is a good view into how parental pressure leads kids into abandoning sport at the earlierst opportunity they can, usually around 13 when they simply have had enough of being pushed around with unrelenting pressure and unrealistic expectations.

      The worst problem is a trend to a pathway for elite high performers that goes right down to 8 or 9 YO’s.  That is seen by the Tiger dads and mums as their ambition for their child & if they are not in the elite or super squad then they are under achieving & therefore useless.

      You want the kids to be enjoying their sport, building a skills foundation, learning to become resiliant and cope with adversity.  Not scare them away from sport with over bearing expectations, or make them think they are somehow entitled to success & they fold like butter when up against a real challenge.

      Food for thought in retaining youth through the their adult potential as Olympians or national level athletes.

    • Swamp Thing says:

      02:38pm | 06/08/12

      Sand the sharp edges off everything possible & here we are. Never thought i would see the day when a grown Australian man sobbed like a baby because he lost to a better athelete.
      A shameful and disgraceful display, a national shame in fact. Disgusting.

    • Robert Smissen of country SA says:

      04:14pm | 06/08/12

      Don’t worry, sport will be a thing of the past soon, the new Australian Curriculum is reducing prac lesson in PE, soon only the private schools will have meaningful sporting activities. I was at a curriculum meeting last Tuesday & a PE teacher said “PE is not about how good you can kick or throw a ball”. REALLY? ? ? ? Here was me thinking PE was about getting kids to do physical things, feeling better about themselves etc. apparently,I was wrong

    • Moiby says:

      07:16pm | 06/08/12


      I’m not sure what you mean when you say. ‘THE willingness of parents to become involved in committee work is directly related to their own experience as children. (So if you want your kids to be community-minded later in life, you need to lead by example.)’

      Do you mean that if they had a poor experience of team sport as a child they don’t volunteer at the club?  I’m guilty of that one.  But I am community-minded - I volunteer at their music group, at school and I am on another school board.

      This other volunteering experience prompted me to nod when I read this: ‘FOR every person agreeing to volunteer their time to make things happen, there are quite a few parents with an opinion.’  In response, I always quote CJ from The West Wing: ‘Decisions are made by those who turn up.’  I’ve also been known to say, that if you want things done differently, then do them differently but don’t direct from the sidelines.


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