What Is Appropriate Fan Behavior?
By Keith Levick, Ph. D.

The championship hockey game was exciting - a 2-2 tie going into the second overtime. The players were fatigued but skating hard as the fans remained on the edge of their seats. Five minutes in, a player scored to end the game. Some fans cheered, others jeered. Standing near me was a man who yelled and pointed to the goalie, "I can't believe you allowed three goals. You stink!" Was this a NHL game? No. Was it a collegiate championship game? No. These were eight- and nine-year-old children playing, and it was the goalie's father yelling!

Unfortunately, this happens far too often. Unruly and inappropriate fans have become a major problem in today's athletics. The focus of this article, however, is not the fans who watch pro sports (although a problem), rather, the behavior of parents watching their children.

As the Little League baseball season approaches, I'm reminded of numerous stories in the newspaper and events I've witnessed over the year. "Gun-toting Dad Unnerves Coach" and "Parent Sues League After A Bad Call By Umpire" are just some of the abhorrent headlines. The lunatic parent who confronts the coach after the game or yells disparaging remarks during the game is equally
to blame. I often scratch my head and wonder how these people ever became parents.

Getting involved in the excitement of the game is fun. Yell, scream, or do whatever is necessary to be part of the moment. Once you exhibit negative behavior - booing at a call by the umpire, chastising the other team, or any other negative behavior, you've crossed the line. You have now become the perfect negative model.

The child is consistently evaluating the parent's behavior. What you do and say sends a message that tells the child it's okay to behave in that particular manner. Think about the times you watch your child play a game. As she hits the ball and safely makes it to first base, what is the first thing she does? She glances to the stands for your approval. Although this fraction of a moment may seem unimportant, this feedback is crucial to her emotional development. The smile (frown), fist raised high with excitement (pointed
fingers), and/or words of encouragement (ridicule), greatly contribute to the child's self esteem.

Spectators are not always in agreement with an umpire's call or the coach's decision. Just as in all aspects of life, how (the manner in which) you voice your opinion is important, particularly in front of children. This is not a time to vent your frustrations, yet many do. Why do many parents become so agitated and behave inappropriately?

For many, the need to win is an integral part of their self esteem. The focus is not on the enjoyment of the game; rather, it's how well they perform. Children, therefore, become an extension of the parent's ego. "If the child is successful, I'm successful, so the child better play well and I'll make sure no one impedes their chances for success." In the end, the child, coach or umpire unfortunately becomes the target of this parent's weak ego.

The next time you become frustrated during your child's game, keep in mind the following rules of sportsfanship:

Cheer, cheer, cheer, but never yell/scream at your child, coach, umpire or visiting team.

If you have nothing positive to say - zip it - say nothing at all.

Always support the activity - this includes practices, etc.

If you have a concern regarding your child, speak to the coach privately.

No matter how it feels to you, people don't purposely make errors. When they do, they already feel bad, and don't need reminders - they need support.

Get your ego out of it - this is a time for fun and enjoyment!

Remember, as a role model your behavior will be imitated by your child. And, as always, we need to demonstrate responsible behavior.

Keith Levick, Ph.D., is a health psychologist who has been in practice for 20 years and is an Adjunct Professor at Central Michigan University. He is the founder and director of the Center for Childhood Weight Management, a unique treatment program designed for overweight children, located in Farmington Hills, MI, and in YMCA'S throughout Michigan. Dr. Levick is also the President of Goren and Associates, a training and development company. Some of their clients include GM, DaimlerChrysler, Detroit Diesel, AT&T and other Fortune 500 companies. Dr. Levick serves on the Executive Board for the American Heart Association and is well published in the area of health and wellness.