Hockey Winnipeg is joining other jurisdictions across Canada, rolling out a mandatory online course to give parents of minor league players a new perspective on how their behaviour affects others, particularly those on the ice. The idea is to show spectators the damage that can be done when a little emotion morphs into abusive conduct. More parental education might help shift attitudes, but sports organizations need to step up game-day efforts to defuse or prevent conflict in the stands.
A survey of more than 1,000 hockey parents in Calgary, where the Respect in Sport course has been used for three years, found respondents were generally supportive of the move. Children there cannot be registered in minor hockey until one parent completes the course. Respondents also said, however, that both parents should take the course and that hockey associations must get tougher on enforcement.
Hockey Winnipeg officials say they've noticed more incidents of abusive behaviour and conflict involving spectators. While fan sentiment in the crowds can generally run high, the extreme examples of hostility or violence from a small number of parents can mar the game for everyone, as the recent punch-up involving parents and coaches from Winnipeg at a Fargo tournament reveals.
Parents who willingly embarrass themselves and their children at sports games by their outbursts may be impervious to an hour-long course premised on self-reflection and new awareness. Players and refs, many of whom are teenagers still learning the skill, need quick intervention on game day to thwart abusive behaviour on the spot.
Hockey and other sports associations should look to the practice of soccer associations that require teams to designate referee liaisons, parents tasked with the responsibility to help keep conduct in the stands in line. At root, it is a kind of peer pressure: Calling out misbehaviour on the spot can serve as a short, sharp shock and curb conflict. It can prevent the necessity of official sanction, rescue refs from distraction and save children from the humiliation and potentially lasting harm that flows when parents forget to act like grown-ups.