• How parents are excluding kids from sport

    13m 23s

    Peter Downs talks at the 2016 Diversity and Inclusion in Sport Forum on how parents are excluding kids from sport. 

Imagine this if you can. Some of you will find this easier than others to do. You’re a parent with a small child and you want your child to get involved in football, the great world game, for the first time so what you’re going to do is you’re going to take your child to the local playing fields. It happens to be the Downer North Oval in Canberra on 7 June 2014 and you’re going to take them to a match between Canberra Olympic and Canberra FC. 

You figure this is going to be a pretty good game to go to. They’re two very well organised clubs, the kids will be in their proper strip, there will be a proper referee and there will be a little crowd there cheering on. You reckon this is a winner.

So you go along. Everything seems to be going to plan and then midway through the second half there’s a little scuffle between a couple of the players. A Canberra Olympic player appears to deliberately kick the Canberra FC player. The young referee comes over and he sends the Canberra Olympic player off, a little harsh but not unprecedented for even an Under 12s fixture. Then a man comes in from the sidelines, runs over and grabs the 12-year-old Canberra FC player by the throat and practically lifts him off the ground. Two seconds later a second man runs on the pitch and shoulder charges the first man to the ground knocking both of them to the floor. Two seconds later a third man comes on and punches the second man in the back of the head.

As a result of this what do you think you would say to your child that you’re taking for the first time to watch football? Do you think they want to go back? Do you think you want them to go back to that? I don’t know. I’m not a parent. You decide.

As a result of that what happened Capital Football, the reverse fixture for that on August 23rd of that year was played behind closed doors similar to incidents across European Professional Football that have played behind closed doors following violent incidents.

It was the second Junior Sports fixture in the ACT to be played behind closed doors that season. It means that only players, officials and coaches were allowed on the grounds. This is Under 12s. 

In June this year in a match between Gymea Gorillas and Engadine Dragons - great names, a Junior NRL fixture, young referee Kurt Portsmouth in the second half ordered a player to be replaced from Gymea Gorillas. In Rugby League you can’t be sent off. You can be ordered to be replaced for constant infringements. As the young man walked off 34-year-old Jucy Talau, the young man’s father and an official of the club ran onto the pitch and punched young Kurt in the face. Kurt went to hospital and he had some scans. They were a bit worried about him at first because four years previously he’d had some examinations for a brain tumour. Thankfully he was fine and good for him it hasn’t stopped him doing what he loves. He’s going on and he’s still refereeing now.

Now, as for Mr Talau he received a lifetime ban from all matches in the Sutherland Shire and an AVO was taken out against him for 12 months to keep him out of harm’s reach for the time being.

Now these maybe - it wasn’t the first time too that Kurt had figured in the media this year. He was part of a trial by New South Wales Rugby League where Junior Sport referees would wear Go Pro cameras around their necks to protect themselves from verbal aggression and abuse from the sidelines.

Now these may be extreme, you might think they’re isolated incidents but they’re not and it’s not restricted to the sporting codes either. They go across all sports. You wouldn’t believe some of the stories I get. I could keep telling you these stories all day today, all day tomorrow and probably halfway into next week and it got me thinking. What actually is the prevalence of these types of issues in sport? I’m sure if we did a quick straw poll here we would all be able to relate some kind of verbal aggression over pressure being put by parents on kids. I am absolutely confident we won’t do it a number of times but I am confident we would get a lot of responses to that there so what is the prevalence of these sorts of incidences?

There is no research. I looked for research and I couldn’t find any but I can give you a little bit of insight from a ‘Play by the Rules’ perspective. Each day on ‘Play by the Rules’ I receive enquiries from the public about various incidents and issues they’re concerned about. It could be all sorts of issues. Of the 424 issues/enquiries that I received last year I can tell you my top three categories. What I do when it comes in is that I will colour code it and I’ll categorise it and once I’ve dealt with it I’ll have it in the archives so I can look back on those incidents and see what’s coming up most so I have my categories that I keep.

In third place - if that’s the right expression for this - in third place of popularity of those incidents were what I’d call discrimination and for your information on top of that list of discrimination was discrimination based on race, in second place based on disability and third on sexuality. There’s the top three there.

In second place of popularity of issues with around 20% of overall enquiries were what I call selection disputes and usually that’s parents not being happy that little Johnny has not been picked in the team generally - not always but generally.

But in first place by a country margin of some 40% of all enquiries that I get are what I term bi-standard behaviour the majority of which are parents behaving badly at junior sports. The majority of them are and I reckon that’s probably been the case for ‘Play by the Rules’ for the previous decade or more.

In my opinion this problem is getting worse not better. It may be that I’m more aware of it as a ‘Play by the Rules’ Manager sure but in my opinion this problem is getting worse and not better.

So what’s the cause? It made me ask myself what is the cause of this? What causes this kind of behaviour and again we’ve got hundreds of years’ experience in this room so we could do a quick discussion. We might have that discussion later. I’m sure we’d talk about things like parents reliving their sporting youth vicariously through their children. We all know people like that. We could talk about the incredible passion and commitment that some families have in sport. You know, I’m a professional in sport. I’m passionate about sport but my passion pales into insignificance to some families who have their self-identity and self-worth tied up in their sporting life so it’s incredibly important so when things go wrong, things can go bad very quickly so we often underestimate the importance of sport for some families.

We probably would also talk about winning over participation and there is some research around that. The research around causes of this - there is some around and there’s quite a bit in fact and I’ve tried to pick out four areas here that I think are particularly important for this little presentation.

The first one is that parents promote winning over participation, that winning at all cost mentality. That’s been proven in research that winning is still incredibly important. 

Second that verbal aggression from the sidelines contributes to self-efficacy and self-worth among children. It matters. It matters what happens on the sideline. 

Third that parents are the most important influences on Junior Sport. That’s what the research says that parents are extremely important.

Finally, parental pressure we know contributes either perceived or real contributes to burnout and sport discontinuation so parental pressure does put kids off sport for sure.

Sam Elliott and his colleagues at Flinders University in South Australia did some excellent work in this area looking at the perceived involvement of parents in Junior Australian Rules Football. One of the most interesting and disturbing issues to come out of that report was that many parents felt that verbal aggression was in fact just a part of culture, just a part of what sport is and in some cases they even justified it by saying, “Yes, this is okay to do, in fact, almost good for kids”. That was to me the most disturbing part of this.

So finally I think what can be done about this? There are some great programs around. Sport Rage program in NSW, a program that has been going for a number of years. There are codes and policies that sports put out that I think generally are designed to protect children and I think sports understand these. There are campaigns such as ‘Fair enough’ and ‘Respect’ which do promote the right kinds of messages for sure but I think the most important thing we can do is listen to the voices of kids themselves. Listen to what the impact it has on them, not just on their sports participation but also on their lives as them as people because that is what this is going to affect. It affects them as people not just as sports participation - that’s almost a small part of it.

In the early part of next year ‘Play by the Rules’ release the ‘Let kids be kids’ campaign where a host of sports stars will come together and they’ll talk about these issues with the simple message ‘Let kids be kids’ and most important in this particular campaign are going to be the messages of the kids themselves and what impact it has on them.

(Video is shown). Text as follows - “Getting my hands on the footie and yeah, just being with my mates”.

“I like like having fun”.

“Just being around your friends and enjoying yourself”.

“I like being outdoors”. 

“It just makes me happy”.

“Having fun I think is the main thing”.

“Because it doesn’t really matter if you win. At least you get to play”

“If you lose it’s not the end of the world”.

“I don’t like it when people get yelled at or when I get yelled at”.

“It’s pretty embarrassing when someone is shouting at you halfway through the game”.

“Watch your passes!”

“You’re so bad”. 

“You’re not that great”.

“It’s mainly how they say it”.

“It makes me feel like I’m useless and I can’t do anything”.

“I saw a father bashing his own son”.

“And all the parents were arguing with each other”.

“It was really stressful and it made me just not feel good at all”.

“I stopped because I was being yelled at and it just wasn’t any fun anymore”.

“He’s not put on this earth to be bashed, to be stripped of his confidence”.

“Yeah, they don’t understand I’m doing my best”.

“Just stop, stop”. 

“Could you please stop yelling at me on the court because it’s making me feel like I can’t do it anymore”?

“If they’ve got to yell out they could say something encouraging”.

“Things like good job” or “Good pass”.

“You’re good, just keep trying and you’ll get there”.

“Or that was a great job”.

“You’re doing great”.

“Try as hard as you can”.

“When I hear people yelling from the sidelines I want them to say good job”.

“We’re just kids”.

“Just let us have fun. Let us do what we love”.

“We’re just here to have fun”.

“Just let kids be kids”.

Facilitator: Thank you Peter.