Parents play an invaluable role in club and community sports. Occasionally, however, some become over emotional, verbally abusive and sometimes even physically aggressive. It’s important that the inappropriate actions of a few parents don’t ruin the sporting experience for everyone else.

Information to help you understand the issue

Angry parents:

  • sometimes use foul language make threatening gestures and remarks directed at the coach, umpire or other team
  • have a win at all costs mentality
  • are likely to ‘coach’ and ‘referee’ from the sidelines and concentrate on faults and failings rather than successes
  • diminish everyone’s enjoyment of the game.

Inappropriate behaviour by parents can result in:

  • children withdrawing from sport
  • reduced membership
  • fewer people willing to volunteer for coaching and official positions; and/or
  • an increased risk of legal action.

Clubs have a legal responsibility to address behaviours that offend community standards or are against the law (e.g., racial vilification, sexual harassment, criminal or common assault).

When good parents turn ugly

Where would junior club sport be without mums and dads? Who would ferry children back and forth between sporting fixtures, hand out half-time oranges, wash uniforms and make sure players arrive on time wearing both boots?

We all know that, if not for mums and dads, we would struggle to find enough club administrators, referees, coaches, scorers and line markers, and the spectator stands would be bare. Without a doubt, they are an invaluable resource and an essential part of any sport.

But what about those parents who turn ugly? You know the type. They scream instructions from the sidelines, admonish the referee (who is often barely a teenager), challenge the coach, sometimes storm onto the playing field or even get into a punch-up with an equally passionate opposing team parent. It happens.

So what can we do about it? What role do coaches play? How about club administrators? How can parents successfully tread that line between supportive and aggressive?

Tips for mums and dads

  • Be a good role model. Children watch and learn from you, so make sure you set a good example.
  • Avoid a ‘win at all costs’ attitude. Although you may think winning is important, the focus for junior sport should be on fun.
  • Be aware that your abusive behaviour may be against the law. Ask yourself, ‘Would my mother be upset or offended by what I am saying or doing?’ If the answer is yes then it’s best to sit down and be quiet.
  • Try not to be critical of coaches, referees or umpires. Many are volunteers who give their time to make sport possible for all our children, and some are just learning. If you have some constructive advice for them, leave it until after the game or have a chat with the head coach or referee.

For more tips for parents go to our Conduct and Behaviour page.

Tips for coaches

  • If the abuse is directed at you try to stay calm, maintain your professionalism and explain that you will discuss the issue with them during a break or after the match. Do not accept or ignore abusive, offensive or foul language.
  • If an official is the focus of the parent’s abuse, you should try to defuse the situation. Talk calmly to the parent, acknowledge their frustration and emphasise that the call has been made and that the decision must be respected. You can refer to your club’s code of behaviour and explain the penalties if the behaviour continues. Make sure you report the incident to the relevant club administrator, preferably in writing.
  • If the abuse is directed at children or a child playing in your team or on the opposing team, don't ignore a parent who verbally abuses their child on the grounds that ‘it’s none of my business’. Speak to the over-enthusiastic parent privately before their behaviour gets out of hand — this will often prevent the situation escalating. Highlight the positives and emphasise the need to identify children’s strengths, not their weaknesses. Emphasise that children are there to have fun, develop skills and build their confidence. Remind the parent about the club’s code of behaviour. Explain what may happen if the behaviour continues, based on your club’s membership rules and policies report the incident to the club’s administrator if the behaviour continues and you foresee a future problem.

For more tips for coaches go to our Conduct and Behaviour section

Clubs have a legal responsibility to address behaviour that offends community standards or is against the law (for example, racial vilification, sexual harassment, common assault). If you witness behaviour that you think may be illegal, you should report it to the police. Similarly, if a bad situation escalates and becomes dangerous, play should be suspended and the police may be required to intervene.

You should be familiar with club policy as it relates to abusive or aggressive parents. Know what you can and can’t do. Are you permitted to issue a warning, withdraw the parent’s child from the team, call a ‘time out’ or ask the parent to leave?

If your club doesn’t have a code of behaviour, Play by the Rules can help. Just go to our Member Protection area and download the template. Add your club’s logo or use it as a starting point to develop your own policy.

Also check out our video scenario ‘Ugly parents and abuse of umpires'


7 ways how yelling at officials is hurting children

In March the community website from the USA, Switching the Field, published an interesting article that resonated with over 17,000 people on the Play by the Rules Facebook page. Switching the Field describes themselves as “humble members of the greater soccer community doing our part to help the game.”

The article was entitled ‘4 ways yelling at referees is hurting our children’.

Here is an adaptation of the article – the 7 ways why yelling at officials is hurting children. At the end you can download an info-graphic for your own use. As an introduction watch the video summary from ABC journalist Paul Kennedy. 


1) They learn that mistakes are not okay

Of course, mistakes are a normal part of sport and of life. Mistakes are okay and they are nothing to be afraid of. Unfortunately there have been many examples of young officials giving up the role because of the fear and consequences of making mistakes. And what happens then?

2) They learn to make excuses

Blaming the official for a result is an excuse. A lot of things happen on the field of play. There are thousands of decisions made during a game, by officials and players. To focus on one decision as the turning point and blaming the official helps young people abdicate responsibility for their own actions. 

3) They learn to give up when facing adversity

This is what happens when young people abdicate responsibility and blame the official. They have less resilience and can easily give up, feeling that control for their actions is out of their hands. It’s far more positive to teach young people to control what they can control and accept what they can’t.

4) They learn to disrespect authority

When people complain and yell at officials they model disrespect for authority. If a parent yells at an official we are teaching children that it’s okay to be disrespectful. Like it or not, our actions and words on a sports field impact on children in many ways that are not confined to sport – they are life lessons!

5) They have negative role models

A parent is a role model. A coach is a role model. Athletes are role models. If you yell at officials, complain at decisions, even swear and become aggressive – what kind of role model for children are you?

6) They learn to be rude

Yelling is mostly just plain rude! Sometimes raising your voice is necessary and a natural human emotion – but there is a big difference between yelling from a sideline and raising your voice to be heard. Officials are doing their job, they are concentrating and doing their best. Interrupting this process by yelling is rude.

7) They learn to be selfish

Yelling is a personal reaction. It’s very likely that those around you are not yelling and are simply enjoying the game. Yelling can ruin the game for others, players and spectators alike. The selfishness of yelling can drive people away from sport. Would you want to teach selfishness to your children?

Download the PDF info-graphic about the 7 ways here