Liberal Arts Blog — Youth Sports Refs Quit in Droves as Parents and Coaches Abuse Them

Liberal Arts Blog — Saturday is the Joy of Sports, Dance, Fitness, and All Things Physical Day

Today’s Topic — Youth Sports Refs Quit in Droves as Parents and Coaches Abuse Them

Nine hundred Massachusetts youth hockey referees quit this season due to the out of control behavior of parents! “Unfortunately there might be a time where we’re not going to allow parents in the arenas to cheer on their kids.” (Coach Katie Gray, first link below). What is true of ice hockey is also true of soccer, basketball, and other sports. And what is true of parents is also true of coaches. “The harassment has grown so rampant that more than 70 percent of new referees in all sports quit the job within three years, according to the National Association of Sports Officials. The chief cause for the attrition, based on a survey conducted by the association, was pervasive abuse from parents and coaches.” The result? Referee shortages, games canceled, “leagues aborted.” What is to be done? Today a few notes. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.


1. “In one video, a fan at a youth soccer game bellows profanities and violently kicks a ball that slams into a teenage referee standing nearby. She disagreed with a penalty called.”

2. “Another captures parents at a youth basketball game charging the court to hurl punches at the referee. And another shows parents berating game officials as they walk to their cars after a soccer game. The players were 8 year olds.”

3. “The videos were posted on a Facebook page, Offside.” The site’s creator “offers a $100 bounty for each clip in order to shame the rising tide of unruly parents and spectators at youth sports events.”

NB: “I do it to hold people accountable — to identify and call out the small percentage of parents who nonetheless create a toxic environment at youth sports,” Barlow, 44, said. “It’s a very visual deterrent, and not just to the person caught on video but to others who ask themselves: Do I look like that jerk?”

SMART PHONES TO THE RESCUE — “Am I the reason we don’t have more referees?”

1. “If one parent starts yelling at a ref, all the other parents move away and say: Hey, you don’t want to be videotaped for Barlow’s Facebook page,” said Kristin Voyles, whose 14-year-old son, Easton, is a referee and soccer player in Broken Arrow, a Tulsa suburb.

2. “We know that everyone on the sideline has a smartphone in their hand.”

3. “Sid Goodrich, the executive director of the Oklahoma Soccer Association, agreed that Barlow’s initiative has had an effect.”

NB: “People are looking at themselves and asking, ‘Am I the reason we don’t have more referees?’” said Goodrich, who added that his association loses about 40 percent of its referees each year, forcing zealous recruitment of new officials.”

DOES BARLOW GO TOO FAR? IS THERE A BETTER WAY? (eg. the “Silent September” initiative in South Carolina)

1. “There may be a different way to go about it, as in getting more parents involved instead of just pointing them out and making them look like awful people.”

2. “After a game last month, Barlow and two other referees needed an armed police escort to their cars. Last month, his daughter, Zoe, had to stay inside a building for 90 minutes after a game at the urging of tournament officials, to protect her from threats made by parents who were irate with calls made by the crew of referees. The game had to be canceled.”

3. “Brian Barlow, a referee for 14 years, has done more than use the Facebook page to stand up for his fellow officials. He started a program called S.T.O.P. (Stop Tormenting Officials Permanently) that distributes bright signage prominently placed at youth sports complexes. One sign reads: “Warning: Screaming at Officials Not Allowed.” Another reads: “Caution: Development in Progress, Stay Out of It.”

NB: “The South Carolina Youth Soccer Association last year instituted a policy called “Silent September.” Parents and visitors at games statewide were not allowed to verbally cheer, or jeer, players or referees for the entire month. Clapping was allowed.”

FOOTNOTE — A Harvard psychologist’s thoughts on why (last link below)


1. “I think it’s because sometimes parents are wanting to compensate for their shortcomings or live out their own fantasies about sports. I think it’s the degree to which we are becoming less communal and more tribal and more individual.”

2. “Some people are feeling more Darwinian, like this is a survival-of-the-fittest kind of contest, and there isn’t a sense of commitment to the larger whole.”

3. “I think it’s the degree to which, in the media, we have reinforced the tendency to demean and degrade people whom we disagree with — that’s too often the nature of our public discourse now. It’s been legitimized and normalized in ways that are concerning.”


1.“I think we used to live in a culture where there was much more of an expectation that you showed respect even when it was hard, when our notion of morality meant doing things that are hard like thanking the referee even when you didn’t feel like thanking them. I’m concerned that many parents just don’t have the inclination.”

2. “They don’t think about doing things that are hard as a way of modeling for their kids. There’s also this allergy to losing and to failure that we have in the culture.

3. “And I think it’s a president who divides the world into winners or losers. More and more it appears that idea is in the culture. What’s really concerning to me is the degree to which these things become normalized. We need communities of parents that really provide those parents with feedback and support and regulate them to some degree.”


1. “I’m not saying we should all become more religious, but I do think we should really think about how we reproduce these aspects of religion in secular life, including in sports.”

2. “We need to think about how we create a strong ethic of care and responsibility for the community and how we cultivate the hardest forms of empathy and care: care when you’re angry at people, care when you are in competition with people.”

3. “In my book “The Parents We Mean to Be: How Well-Intentioned Adults Undermine Children’s Moral and Emotional Development,” I talk about how sports is this time when you collide with intense feelings, with yourself, and with other people. Sports also gives you an opportunity to rehearse how you work through those feelings constructively.”

Perspective | Overzealous parents are ruining youth sports. It’s past time to sit quiet and let the kids play.

Perspective | ‘It’s okay’: How a calm NHL fan’s mantra could transform the world of youth sports parents

For the last four years of posts organized by theme:

PDF with headlines — Google Drive


#1 A graphic guide to justice (9 metaphors on one page).

#2 “39 Songs, Prayers, and Poems: the Keys to the Hearts of Seven Billion People” — Adams House Senior Common Room Presentation, 11/17/20


Please share the coolest thing you learned this week related to sports, dance, fitness. Or the coolest thing you learned about Sports, Dance, of Fitness in your life — whether on the field, on the dance floor or in the gym, whether from a coach, a parent, a friend, or just your own experimentation.

This is your chance to make some one else’s day. Or even change their life. It’s perhaps a chance to put into words something you have never articulated before. And to cement in your own memory something cool you might otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply than otherwise about something dear to your heart.



Passionate about education, thinking citizenship, art, and passing bits on of wisdom of a long lifetime.

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John Muresianu

Passionate about education, thinking citizenship, art, and passing bits on of wisdom of a long lifetime.