Passionate fans can bring about pressing issues for a school and its respective athletic administrators. Be it schools small or large, fan bases possess those select few parents or students whose passion cannot be contained in an appropriate manner. The inability to do presents a challenge for students, who can often face as much scrutiny for it from individuals who aren’t coaching the team.
I viewed one such instance in March 2017, when Grand Forks Public Schools hosted the North Dakota High School Activities Association (NDHSAA) Class B Girls State Basketball Tournament. Class B is the larger of the two NDHSAA classifications. As a born and raised tiny town, Class B kid, I enjoy getting back into the Class B atmosphere when I can. While the folks associated with our two nearby Class A schools certainly care about their schools and their teams, it’s difficult to compare to the passion of North Dakota Class B fandom.
Along with that passion for the town’s athletic programs comes an extremely high level of “concern” about results. At last weekend’s tournament, my staff and I had front row seats to a pair of fans from one of the schools who spent three straight days yelling a constant barrage of negative comments, and I’m not using hyperbole. Those two had a negative comment for someone – refs, kids, coaches – on, literally, almost every single possession of their team’s entire tournament. While it was obvious that this school’s fan base has a severe culture problem – there were many fans in this section yelling criticism throughout the tourney, often so casually that it was apparent how accustomed these fans were to this behavior – these two fans still stood out among the crowd. It was bad enough on Thursday and Friday, that on Saturday, I noted two things that don’t normally happen when we host tourneys. First, people from other areas of the arena came over to where my staff was for the sole purpose of listening to these fans because they’d heard about how bad it was and, second, my staff was making predictions about how long into Saturday’s game we’d get before one of them yelled something at someone (they made it 25 seconds into the game).
I had two initial thoughts during and immediately after the weekend:
After my initial two thoughts, I came across a wonderful coincidence of timing in our parent book study (Check it out if you haven’t already). We just posted discussion questions for Chapter 3 of John O’Sullivan’s book, Changing the Game: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Happy, High-Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids. Chapter 3 talks about setting a parental vision for who/what you want your kid to be in the future. The premise isn’t such goals as “I want my kid to be a state champ” or anything like that; it’s a future vision of the kid as an adult – a parent, a spouse, an employee, etc. The exercises in the book walk parents through defining their families’ core values then picturing their future children through those values. Of course, that vision leads to adjectives such as loyal, confident, courageous, hard working, dependable, etc. O’Sullivan then asks the simplest question that could be asked: “Are my actions today leading to this future person, or leading to something entirely different?”
Wow. So simple, yet so effective.
Applied to these two fans/parents specifically – assuming that they want their kids to grow up to have such qualities as referenced above, how does screaming “FOUL,” “HACK,” “GET HER OFF,” “CALL IT BOTH WAYS,” “MOVE AROUND, GIRLS,” “CHANGE YOUR PRESS BREAKER,” “SHE’S PUSHING,” “DRIBBLE,” “WHAT ARE YOU DOING,” etc., help their kids to learn those characteristics? I’m certain these parents thought they were helping by trying to sway the officiating, change the coaches’ mind, get kids to go where they thought the kids should be, etc., but does that help form the kid into that future vision? Couldn’t I argue that even if the officiating was horribly one-sided against this team (it wasn’t), wouldn’t dealing with that help teach the kid persistence and perseverance? Aren’t those good qualities for an adult to have?
Most parents/people will openly claim that they want their kids to learn all those noble personal characteristics through participation in sports, but do they then live and display those values for their kids during competition? Think about some of the negative behaviors associated with youth sports:
Such a simple question – are my actions today leading to what I want my kid to be? It makes so much sense in theory, yet the passion around competitive athletics causes us to so quickly lose our core values. Remembering that this experience should belong to the kids, we can all do our part to be productive fans, too (Something I’ve speculated about before – found here). Keep things in perspective, and make sure your actions are matching that vision for your kid in the future.
Mark Rerick, CMAA, has been an athletic director since 2006. After spending time splitting duties at other schools as a teacher, coach and principal, he has been the full time athletic director for Grand Forks (ND) Public Schools since 2012.