Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Soccer parents make headlines for wrong reasons

What could be worse than being banished from a kids' soccer game for ref baiting? Here's something: Being banished from a kids' soccer game for ref baiting, then having your suspect behavior chronicled in the Washington Post.

This happened today to parents of the Legacy travel team in Bethesda, Maryland.

Post reporter Annie Gowen has the interesting story of a bunch of parents punished for berating an official during a heated game at the end of last season. To its credit, the Washington Area Girls Soccer League took aggressive action, calling the behavior "nothing less than egregious" and banning the adults from the sidelines for two games. A referee stood sentry to make certain that the parents complied.

Gowen writes: "The soccer league, home to many of the area's best soccer players with 600 teams and more than 15,000 participants, has a strict disciplinary system, in which players and coaches receive yellow or red cards for rough or unsportsmanlike conduct. Some have to explain themselves at disciplinary hearings. There are also sportsmanship liaisons on each team, who are supposed to keep fellow parents in check.

"Kathie Diapoulis, league president, said the parents had gone too far. The league's disciplinary board has had better luck barring individual parents from attending games in the past three years rather than fining them, because the parents would pay the money and continue the bad behavior.

"We have taken a strong stance," Diapoulis said. "It's important. This isn't the World Cup. . . . And for the parents to be shrieking on the sidelines and belittling people goes against everything we're trying to do. . . . It's not acceptable behavior."

Gowen doesn't speak with the Legacy players, 13-year-olds, for their views - under the best of circumstances kids that age are mortified by their parents. But she spoke with several of the moms and dads who, in an encouraging note, seemed genuinely sorry about the incident and the fallout.

She quotes one anonymous parent saying, "It's embarrassing. This is seventh-grade soccer."

Another, who hadn't attended the game in which the bad behavior occurred, told the Post: "We accepted our punishment, and we're abiding by it. One of the functions of sports is to teach sportsmanship. When we as parents violate that, the girls need to see there are consequences to those actions."

A multi-generational teaching moment, you might say.

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