We’ve all seen them — parents behaving badly at their children’s sporting events. In the latest depressing news from the world of youth sports, parents watching 7-year-olds play baseball in Lakewood, Colorado over the weekend got in a huge brawl after some were enraged over a call by the 13-year-old umpire.
"It's very sad, at the very beginning of the video, you can see kids running off the field as the adults start fighting and punching each other," Lakewood police spokesman John Romero told Denver NBC affiliate KUSA.
What parents can do
Parents who observe other adults behaving badly can try to de-escalate the situation. Though, Dr. Deborah Gilboa, a parenting expert and TODAY Tastemaker, cautioned that you have to think things through before you intervene.
"What is your exit strategy if this goes south?" she told TODAY Parents.
She suggests four levels of intervention parents can try from the least to most involved.
1. Model good behavior: "The first, easiest thing to do is to actively be a supportive, great parent on the sideline to model good behavior," Gilboa explained.
2. Distraction: "Go over, ask them about the game. Did you play this? Did you coach this sport?" she said.
3. Put the blame on you: "I totally admire that you are always at the games, but your urgency is making me feel a lot more anxious."
4. Confront them with positive "I" statements: "I appreciate how invested you are in this or how much you help the team but it would really help me if you would be more willing to be more positive and save your criticism."
Any parent reading this probably (hopefully? please?) knows it's wrong to physically attack someone over youth sports. But let's be honest, even the best parent cheerleaders get carried away by their emotions on the sidelines sometimes. Here are some ways to try to avoid being one of those sports parents.
Keep your emotions in check
“You can be cheerful and excited,” says Michele Borba, a psychologist, parenting author and educational consultant.
“You also need to sit on your hands. What kinds of things are you cheering for?”
Borba says that if parents find they’re getting out of control, they should walk away from the action. Feel the anger rising and it might be time to stretch your legs or head to the concession stand.
Let the coach deal with it
TODAY Parenting Team contributor Amy McCready warns parents against criticizing or arguing with the referee. The only person who should talk to the ref is the coach, she noted.
“If there is an issue with the referee, stay out of it — the coach will deal with it. It is hard not to speak up, but it is not your place,” says McCready, the founder of Positive Parenting Solutions.
Got a problem with the coach? Make an appointment
And if parents feel a coach is making a mistake or not playing their children enough, they should set up a meeting at a different time.
“Interact when your child is not there. If you really have some issues… schedule an appointment,” says Borba. “You may want to do a 24-hour wait period.”
But McCready notes that it is important to encourage children to talk to coaches on their own so they can learn what they can do to be a better teammate. Children should ask coaches what they could do to improve their play instead of complaining about issues such as not playing enough in the games.
Cheer for everyone
Both experts agree that re-focusing game-time energy will help parents be supportive without negativity.
“Set a personal goal to cheer for everyone on the team for each half or period,” says McCready. “If you are consciously aware that you are making sure that you cheer for everyone, hopefully you are not getting worked up.”
Borba recommends that parents cheer “as though they want their children to model their behavior.”
And both experts agree that framing sports in the right way prevents parental misbehavior while keeping their children encouraged. Parents should ask kids what they think they did well in the game or what their teammates did right. Or say things like, “Good job. You looked like you enjoyed it,” says Borba.
McCready adds: “The only comments that should come out of your mouth are encouraging and supportive.”
Hard work and perseverance
It’s important for parents to remember why their children are playing sports. Very few kids will get coveted college scholarships because of sports, but many of them will take away important lessons about teamwork, healthy activity, sportsmanship and perseverance.
“So many parents are focusing on the wins or how many goals [their children] scored. The more you can encourage the hard work and perseverance, [the better],” McCready says. “You don’t want [your] kids to feel like they are being judged.”
Editor's note: This story was first published on Oct. 1, 2013, and has been updated.