Publish date: 10 May 2024

As an Aussie, I love sport. While my playing days are few and far between, I still love the competition and (if they’re not playing my team) supporting the underdog. It can be swimming, basketball, AFL, netball, motorsports, tennis, rugby league or athletics – if there’s a game, match, or race to be had, I’m all in. 

So it was music to my ears when Brisbane was announced as the host city for the 2032 Olympic Games. In just eight short years, some of the best athletes from around the world will be competing in my hometown, and for those few weeks, Brisbane will be the hub of the sporting world. 

But, and it’s a big but, we have a problem. And by problem, I’m not talking about our lack of infrastructure and planning for the games (that’s a topic for another discussion). 

The problem is the bad sports. These bad eggs, mostly parents, who probably love and want to support our sporting heroes at the grassroots, contribute to the notion that we are a nation of bad sports.  

As Australians, we like to think of ourselves as the good guys. We fight hard but play fair, and when the game is done, we respect our opponents, win, lose or draw. And I reckon for our sporting stars, that’s still the case. They’re out there, punching above their weight and we love them for it. But what about these bad sport parents, the bad egg fans? Are they dragging us all down?  

By 2032, the sporting stars of today will (for the most part) be retired, and a new generation of sports stars with a new fan base will emerge. Kids who are running around the park today, kicking balls, swinging clubs, and cutting laps in the pool will be our new heroes, with behaviour forged by what they are seeing today – moulded by our behaviour today. 

It may surprise those of you who are not sports-mad, that all is not well in the world of youth sports. And the problem is on the sideline – bad sport parents. 

A recent study by the University of South Australia found that in youth sports, it’s a case of ‘monkey see, monkey do’. When kids witness poor sideline behaviour from their parents, they are more likely to exhibit antisocial behaviour on the field.  

I’ve seen and heard disturbing things in the several years that my children have been playing competitive sports. You, too, may have seen headlines in the news recently or witnessed this poor behaviour yourself first-hand. From my experience and my circle of family and friends, these four events took place recently at youth sport in South East Queensland: 

  • In a suburban U13 soccer game, not one but two parents from an opposing team had to be cautioned for swearing at players and the teenage referee, himself just a kid; 
  • After a kid’s baseball game, a parent from the losing team threatened the umpire with physical violence and then followed them to their car, repeating the threats; 
  • During a representative basketball carnival for teenage boys, a parent attended the team hotel and threatened the coach and assistant coach with physical violence unless their son was given additional playing time in the remaining games of the competition; 
  • During an AFL fixture in a local league, a promising teenage player was ‘knocked out’, prompting the president of the opposing team’s club to celebrate at the bar by taking off his shirt and waving it around his head. 

While I hope it’s difficult for you to comprehend this behaviour, it’s happening week in and week out. Not only is it poor etiquette, but it’s often illegal. Many bad sports sideline behaviours constitute common assault, and they’re it’s shaping the future of sport in our nation.  

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need signs at our kids’ sports telling us it’s only a game; they’re only kids, and it’s meant to be fun. We wouldn’t have to have ground officials monitoring parent behaviour, nor would we need a ‘silent round’ – yep, that’s actually a thing – a whole sporting round dedicated to complete silence from the sidelines, no yelling, no abuse, no problems. And the feedback? The kids love it. 

The Australian Sports Camp shared an article about poor sideline behaviour and how to be a positive role model; I thought these points were well worth sharing: 

  • Before and after each game, remind your child that you’re proud of them.  No matter how they play. 
  • Show support and encouragement to all players on the field. 
  • Let the coach “coach” while you spectate and enjoy the game. 
  • Honour the decision of the umpire.  Let them make the call they believe to be the fairest. 
  • Don’t let the heat of the moment get to you.  Ask yourself if your behaviour will embarrass your child or yourself later. 
  • Thank the coaches and referees for their commitment and effort.  Most junior sports officials cite abuse from parents as the most stressful component of the job, which can lead them to quit. 
  • Prioritise fun. Have fun yourself, and help your child enjoy the game too. 

So, forgetting the eyes of the sporting world will be upon us in eight short years. How do we fix this now? How do we do better for our kids? How do we become the sporting nation we profess to be – fighting hard but playing fair, punching above our weight on the world stage?  

Our kids certainly aren’t the problem. They just want to play sport… 

Trent Johnson
Trent Johnson
Partner & Brisbane Leader
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