Whilst walking the dog yesterday, I varied my route and ended up walking through a large park on the outskirts of Derby. It was a lovely summer evening and the park was buzzing with a number of organised and impromptu activities taking place. I thoroughly enjoyed watching a group of young girls and boys on the BMX track. They were listening intently to the words of the coaches and following out their instructions with precision and obvious enjoyment. I then meandered down towards the football pitches and was interested to see around five different age groups being coached in a range of skills. The youngest group, I would guess aged between five and seven, had just embarked on a small sided game. Just 30 seconds into the game, following a fair tackle one youngster immediately screamed out “come on referee sort it out!” It is hard to capture on paper the tone in which this was said, needless to say it was not polite nor respectful and it blew my mind to hear this from such a young mouth.
My immediate thoughts; if I was taking that session the whistle would have been blown, the group called together and the behaviour pointed out as unacceptable and disrespectful.
Now I don’t want to single out football for attention, I believe that more and more this is an issue affecting a wide range of sports. But as a sports club it is essential that you work with coaches, team managers, players and parents to agree your stance on respecting match officials and opposing team members and supporters. The approach needs to be consistent so that as youngsters work their way through the various teams within the club, they witness similar behaviour from all and develop an awareness that unacceptable language, abuse or attitude will not be tolerated.
Whether you opt for a zero tolerance approach or something a bit more lenient, your policy must be available to all. Put a copy on your website, when members join or renew their membership include this policy within the terms and conditions that you ask them (or their parents) to sign. Make it clear within your policy what the club’s response will be to certain types of behaviour. Whether this be a match ban, a meeting with the team manager, a fine or club community service (a number of jobs to be completed around the club for example cleaning the showers or litter picking). If you have serial offenders within the club, consider the message they are sending to others. If you are serious about cleaning up your sport and your club then regardless of status do not be afraid to expel offenders from your club. Far better to have a unified, friendly and respected club than one tainted by members unable to behave in an acceptable manner.