top of page

Youth Sports: The Effects of Heckling Fans

As someone that’s been a part of sports for the better part of 30 years, I’ve come full circle. I spent my younger years complaining at referees and umpires, and watched coaches do the same thing. I've seen coaches thrown out of games, suspended, and fired for their angry outbursts. Since I've been coaching youth sports, I've seen coaches come running out of the dugout to approach an umpire, a basketball coach tell a teenage referee that she has no business being on a basketball floor, and a flag football coach restrained for his anger towards a teenage referee. However, removing those coaches from the job is a Band-Aid.

Many youth sporting events go without umpires or referees because there is such a shortage. When umpires and referees do show up, it’s often a 16-year-old kid that’s “there to help.” Not knocking that 16-year-old – if anything, I commend them! The shortage of umpires and referees is another symptom. And that kid is another Band-Aid.

These two symptoms – bad coaching and a shortage of umpires and referees – are ruining youth sports in America.

When a good coach is in youth sports, it’s a great thing for the athletes. Take Coach Steve for example. He's a U12 baseball coach with some overactive parents and players not as good as their parents think they are. Steve has a full-time job, a great family at home, loves baseball, and loves to work with the kids. Steve believes fully in the total development of the youth athlete and promotes a culture of hard work and positive reinforcement. At today's game Coach Steve has to deal with one parent that’s upset because his son isn’t batting third in the lineup, another parent that is mad her son hasn’t pitched in the last two games, a dad mad because Johnny was the catcher yesterday and his son hasn't gotten to be the catcher yet this season, and another parent upset because Coach Steve, as the 3B coach, sent his son home in last night’s game and he got thrown out at the plate. And in the game today, the regular backstop dad was behind the plate telling his son to keep his back elbow up when he’s batting - exactly what Coach Steve told the athlete NOT to do.

On nearly half of the strike calls against his team and anytime there's a close play at first base, the parents' section erupts with disapproval. When Coach Steve makes a pitching change in the 4th inning, 3 sets of parents are on pins and needles awaiting to see if it's their son he's putting in to pitch. When the decision is made, one set of parents is proud, and the other two are loud with their frustration. That’s been going on all season. So, next year, Steve isn’t going to coach anymore.

Let’s jump to next year.

So now, Coach Steve isn’t coaching. The youth league is struggling to find coaches, as usual. Finally a coach steps up. He’s not as good as Coach Steve, or as nice, or as knowledgeable, or as helpful, or as focused on development. The kids on the team see the coach yell at the umpire every game. They associate their coach with that angry outburst – they’ve seen it from him in practice, too. Some athletes don’t care, some are nervous, some are scared but they all see it and learn it.

The parents in the stands are yelling at the umpire, too, because they’re frustrated with the coach, the team, the game, the lineup, the defense, and the umpire. The kids see that, too. Now the culture of the team is centered on anger, and frustration, and nothing fun. Most of the kids don’t like this team. About half of them won’t be back to play next year.

The umpire has had enough, too. He’s been dealing with heckling parents, angry coaches, and mouthy kids all season. He’s surely not doing this job for the money – he was one that did it for the love of the game; to give back. But the game is different now. The kids aren’t respectful, the coaches are angry, the parents are louder.

The umpire isn’t going to be an umpire next year.

When you ask the umpire why, he’ll say, “Because it wasn't worth it anymore.”

When you ask Coach Steve why he quit coaching, he’ll say, “I couldn't put up with the parents anymore.”

When you ask the kids, they’ll say, “Because it’s not fun anymore.”

So now, we have a shortage of umpires across the country, good coaches leaving the sports causing a shortage, causing youth leagues to beg anyone willing to coach, and kids quitting youth sports at an alarming rate. Where did this problem start?

The parents are trying to do the best for their kids - the parent that truly thinks his kid should be batting third in the lineup and the mom that knows her kid should have pitched more recently and the dad that wants his kid to have a better chance of hitting the ball telling him to keep his back elbow up (although that’s bad for kids – separate topic).

All of this was a quick illustration of an issue that’s happening all across America. Kids are leaving youth sports at an alarming rate, good coaches are hard to come by, and umpires are spread extremely thin. I understand, some coaches are just bad, some umpires are also bad, without the heckling from the parents. However, when people in the stands feel that they are a better umpire than the one behind the plate (although they’re not trained) and a better coach than the one coaching their child’s team (although they’ve never done it) it's a problem.

Parents on the sidelines, cheer for your team! But apply a “no verb”mindset when cheering. This is to say, please be supportive to the entire team. Be as loud as possible – just be supportive when doing so. Umpires are human and they do make mistakes, especially at younger levels - that's sports.

I get it, I have kids in youth sports, too. I want them to succeed in every endeavor they take on. But I also know my role as a parent.

I know you want the best for your children; the best sports experience. That experience does not include angry parents, creating angry coaches, and replacement umpires, especially when you apply the direct importance of a missed or bad call in a youth sports game. Really, how big is it when a bad call is made in a U12 baseball game? If anything, it’s a chance for you, and the coach, to teach your athlete how to deal with adversity.

So parents, stay off the umpires and coaches.

Coaches, stay off the umpires and stay in the game; we need you.

Umpires, stick with it. We need you, too.

Here's a good article on this topic from the Washington Post.

Please leave some feedback. let me know what you think. I'm interested in a conversation regarding this topic.

239 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page