Commentary: Enough is enough — Bad behavior by coaches, parents and fans must stop

There’s an unfortunate trend continuing in Washington and across the nation that must be stopped: the bad behavior of coaches, parents and fans at high school and middle school athletic events.

We’ve all seen it: the yelling, harassing, berating, disrespecting and even physically assaulting referees, umpires and other officials during and after games. And oftentimes, the harassment continues on social media. Perhaps you’ve witnessed it firsthand or even been one of those offenders yourself.

Not only is this behavior unacceptable and embarrassing, but it’s also having serious consequences on the future of education-based athletics.

That’s because another unfortunate trend is sweeping the nation: a critical shortage of high school and middle school officials in every state. The number-one reason? You guessed it: Coaches, parents and fans mistreating officials.

National surveys of officials report alarming statistics:

– 55% of officials say verbal abuse from coaches, parents and fans is the #1 reason they quit.

– 59% don’t feel respected.

– 57% think sportsmanship is getting worse.

– 84% feel officials are treated unfairly by spectators.

– 46% have felt unsafe or feared for their safety due to spectator, coach, administrator or player behavior.

Officials are quitting faster than new ones are signing up. It’s a major area of concern for states like Washington just to cover games. We’re already seeing middle school and JV games being cancelled and, in some cases, varsity games too. All because there aren’t enough officials.

Unfortunately, bad behavior at school athletic events has become normalized. It is almost expected that coaches, parents and fans will disrespect the individuals serving as officials.

This culture of bad behavior and the negative perception of officials must change now. Everyone involved in high school and middle school sports—parents, coaches, administrators, fans, the media—must turn their focus to the student-athletes playing the games and away from the individuals officiating the contests.

The bottom line: With no high school or middle school officials, there can be no high or middle school sports.

That’s why the National Federation of High School Sports is partnering with state high school associations across the country to launch the nationwide #BenchBadBehavior campaign. We’ll use the power of social media along with other tools to help educate everyone about the importance of good behavior at high school athletic events.

You can help by being a positive role model at your high school’s athletic events. And if you think you have what it takes to be a licensed official, sign up today at and help fill an urgent need in Washington!

— By Dr. Karissa Niehoff, Chief Executive Officer of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), and Mick Hoffman, Executive Director of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Assocation

  1. They actually illustrated this very topic 60 years ago on The Flintstones, where they showed how badly parents often behave when it comes to little league sports.

    Back in the late 1990s, former radio talk show host Bernie Ward discussed this topic on KGO-AM. He talked about how kids who played on Little League teams never want to play baseball ever again in their lives because of the abuse form coaches, from parents and from the fans.

  2. Officiated grade school – high school boys lacrosse for 7 years. The boys were fine, the organizing body did a good job of controlling most coaches, the parents/fans were by far the biggest problem. Unless things change, I can’t imagine encouraging any young people to ref after what I experienced.

  3. Parents/fans have traditionally been the biggest problem, and pressure is put on kids by parents. it’s a status thing with some adults.

    Sports between schools has gotten more and more competitive as well. Changing the sports culture may happen if it starts with adult sports and the media, and I don’t see that happening.

  4. I refereed football back in the 70s. The problems were an issue then. Sorry to hear, but not surprised, that trend continues.

    1. Totally agree, this behavior comes from self important individuals – the me firsts. Also evidenced on our roads, in our stores at malls, at the movies, etc., etc.
      The sad part is that the me firsts come from all walks of life. When you come across one, we should just snicker at them. They are pathetic products self centerism and a bad upbringing.
      Put them in the spotlight – just shake your head and smile in their face.

  5. Thank you for this article. Parents and coaches need to shame/police bad parents on their own teams. Kids need to learn to deal with and overcome mistakes made by others, including umpires, teammates, and coaches. Blaming others and rationalizing bad behavior is not a successful coping mechanism to teach our youth. Two wrongs . . . Please be kind to your local volunteer umpire. They are there for your kids.

  6. No surprise

    Parents and fans are just mimicking what they see/hear/read from some law makers and media personalities

    Across the country, how many schools even offer coursed on non-violent speech and behavior???

  7. In a culture where winning equals being right about all things and losing equals being wrong about all things, what do you expect? We’ve lost the concept of just doing the right thing because it’s right. We now operate on the concept of you are a winner or a loser and it’s okay to do whatever it takes to be a winner, whether it’s right or wrong behavior. It’s in every aspect of how we live our lives now but especially our sports and politics.

  8. Great article although it’s unfortunate that it needed to be written at all. As a society, we need to do better at setting the right example for our youth.

    I used to umpire youth through high school baseball and men’s softball and experienced much of what the article highlights. From my experience, it wasn’t so much the coaches that were a problem (for the most part they were there doing their best for the kids). Like Ann’s experience, it was the parents that behaved poorly. When in a situation like this I would stop the game, bring both coaches onto the field and tell them to keep their fans in line. This worked for the most part, although I did have to cancel a game when it didn’t. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

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