Parents and adult fans: the biggest challenge facing high school sports today


By Karissa Niehoff, Executive Director of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) and Steve Savarese, Executive Director of the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA)

Inappropriate adult behavior at high school athletic events in Alabama is a growing concern.
When more than 2,000 high school athletic directors were asked in a recent national survey what they like least about their job, 62.3% said it was “dealing with aggressive parents and adult fans.”
The men and women who wear the black and white stripes agree. In fact, almost 80% of officials quit after the first two years on the job because of the actions of unruly fans.
As a result, there is a growing shortage of high school officials here in Alabama, and in some sports like wrestling, swimming, and track and field, the shortage is severe.
Contests cannot be played without officials. As a result, we need to do everything we can to keep good officials officiating and to make the sporting event a positive experience for all.
If you are a parent or adult fan attending a high school athletic event this fall, you can help by following these six guidelines:

  1. Be the responsible one. You are the adult whom others model behavior after.
    Your behavior should not be a negative reflection or impression on your family or school. Make them both proud by being the model of good sportsmanship.
  2. Parents should not live their lives vicariously through their children. High school sports are educational athletic opportunities for the student-athletes. Your family’s reputation is not determined by how well your children perform on the field of play.
  3. Let your children talk to the coach instead of you doing it for them. High school athletes learn how to become more confident, independent and capable through open communication with their coaches. Let your children discuss concerns with their coaches, and you be their supportive listener when they share the discussion with you.
  4. Be supportive. No matter how much you disagree with the coach’s decision or official’s call, avoid coaching or officiating from the sidelines. Your role is to be a responsible, supportive parent—not a coach or official.
  5. Remember, participating in a high school sport is not about getting a college scholarship. According to the NCAA, fewer than 3% of all high school athletes are awarded an athletic scholarship to participate at the next level, and the total value of the scholarship is only about $18,000. Playing sports in high school should focus on the experience and life lessons that are learned. If a scholarship is offered as the result, that’s great. If not, it’s still great because the child has been a part of a team and has some great memories that are priceless.
  6. Make sure your children know you love watching them play. Do not critique your child’s performance during the car ride home. Participating in high school sports is about character development, learning and having fun—not winning and losing. Don’t waste important time discussing things you can do nothing about.
    Focus on making memories. The time your child is a high school athlete is short.
    Enjoy the moment.
    Purchasing a ticket to a high school athletic event does not give anyone the right to be disrespectful or verbally abusive. Cheer loud and be proud but be responsible and respectful. The future of high school athletics depends upon how players, coaches, and officials are treated by the fans and parents. Be the example you want your children to be.


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