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Youth Sports Coaches Share The Shocking Behavior They've Seen From Parents

Sep 12, 2023

Plus, a few etiquette tips to share with those parents (we all know some).

Legends are born on the youth league sports field, but it's not kids who are finding fame. It's adults who embarrass themselves straight into legendary status. Tensions run high, and parents end up yelling, arguing, heckling, and sometimes fistfighting. It's understandable because, you know, participation trophies are at stake.

At my kids' Catholic school, the record for "most embarrassing performance" was earned 30 years ago by an unruly priest, and families still love to tell the tale. At the elementary school basketball game, a priest from the visiting team was unhappy with the referee's calls. The crazed clergyman screamed at the referees throughout the game. Eventually, he got booted from the stands. Yes, even priests can get carried away and become the subject of relentless gossip.

Any kids' league coach will tell you about the drama-o-rama. Adults forget that the games should be fun, and they push their kids too hard. "Parents now seem to be more invested in winning than development," says Jesse Rentfrow, coach, league director and owner of a travel league baseball website.

What are some of the most shocking things Rentfrow and other youth sports coaches have seen? Keep reading... but prepare to pick your jaw off the floor when you finish.

A few years ago at a baseball tournament for 13- to 14-year-olds, Rentfrow saw a child throw 220 pitches in two days. To put that into perspective, the MLB recommends a maximum of 95 pitches in one day with four days of rest afterward.

Youth sports injuries have increased due to excessive training and specialization in one sport. One study found the chance of injury goes up if weekly playing time exceeds a child's age. For example, an 8-year-old soccer player should be limited to 8 hours or less per week.

Despite the risks, some parents encourage their kids to overtrain, taking their commitment to the game too seriously.

Then there are the parents who don't act seriously enough. "Drunk travel ball parents are very common," says Rentfrow. "Like Spring Break Panama City drunk."

Now, it's very challenging to be on the road constantly for dance competitions, hockey tournaments, or polo matches, but c’mon — foregoing your annual vacation to pay exorbitant travel sports bills doesn't give you permission to turn the sidelines into a tiki lounge.

While the atmosphere of travel sports can tempt parents to drink, it's a problem at home games as well. In one Connecticut town, parents were scolded for organizing happy hours on school grounds.

Honestly, the sports fields have enough tension without alcohol.

Even kindergarten sports can get heated. Soccer parent Samantha Foster discovered this when she volunteered to coach her daughter's kindergarten team in 2021.

At one high-stakes kindergarten game, a hysterical parent started screaming in her face, "Why are you taking my kid off the field?" Foster pointed to her own daughter crying in a corner. "I kept my own kid out first," Foster explained. "We need to rotate to keep an equal number of kids on the field." The parent pestered Foster to change the rules, which would have outnumbered the other team.

Foster's experience is oh-so-typical, and it explains why some adults are hesitant to help out.

For the most part, youth league coaches and officials are volunteers. Translation: They are not getting paid to deal with parental BS.

Some volunteers are kids themselves, like Josh Cordova, who made national headlines in 2019 when he was 13 years old. He was umpiring a 7-year-old baseball game when rowdy parents started bickering in the stands. When one man dropped an F-bomb, Cordova issued a warning for everyone to calm down, but some parents felt his warning was not enough. An argument erupted about whether the F-bomber should be kicked off the field, and soon a massive fistfight broke out.

The fight was caught on camera, and the 7-year-old players can be seen running away in terror. The police cited 12 people.

Folks, kiddie sports are not worth a criminal record. Just sayin'.

Good sportsmanship, sharing, and teamwork used to be values that kids learned on the sports field, but those lessons get lost when adults get careless.

Parental bad attitudes spread like norovirus on a cruise ship, and soon children can end up spewing hate, too. Nicole Carlisle saw this happen on her 8-year-old son's soccer team. As the kids played, Carlisle watched a pint-sized bully tease, hit, and curse at his teammates. The boy's parents didn't intervene, so Carlisle stepped up.

"The day I handled it was when I was watching him push his teammates around on the sideline and not in a joking manner," Carlisle says. "He was putting them in headlocks and just messing with his teammates!"

Carlisle told the bully to shape up, which helped improve his behavior. Afterward, she noticed other adults were more willing to act if the boy misbehaved.

Speaking up (politely!) and setting ground rules might be the best way to keep kids' sports fun. To help out, here's a list of reminders that may seem super obvious but clearly fly right over the heads of some adults:

Feel free to share it with any miscreants who’ve forgotten how to act around kids.

Allison Kenien Pushing to the Max — & Beyond Buzzing at the Ball Field Hulking Out Fistfighting in Front of the Kids Encouraging Bad Behavior & Bullying