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How to Encourage Positive Fan Behavior: 'Honoring the Game' Gameplan

07.12.2021

A critical component of the culture you create around your sports team is setting up guidelines for expected behavior from your players, coaches, parents, and importantly from your fans. The way fans treat each other, umpires, players, and the other teams directly reflect your team’s culture.

As we’ve seen recently at the professional level of sports, there have been several examples of how teams, federations, and others are cracking down on inappropriate fan behavior. Take a look at these recent examples, and then learn more about how to set up your team for success with the suggestions below.

INTERNATIONAL SOCCER

Professional soccer recently handed down a penalty with FIFA, the world governing body for soccer, mandating Mexico’s national team must play its first two home 2022 World Cup qualifiers in an empty stadium. The federation also was fined approximately $73,000.

The team asked fans not to chant homophobic slurs.

PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL

The NBA is also making moves to discipline fans and outlined what type of behavior will not be tolerated during games. During a recent game, a fan dumped popcorn on the all-star player Russell Westbrook and was banned indefinitely from Wells Fargo Center. He also had his Philadelphia 76ers season ticket membership revoked.

The NBA has created an enhanced “Fan Code of Conduct” to make clear how they will respond to inappropriate fan behavior.

COLLEGE WORLD SERIES

Vanderbilt athletic director Candice Storey Lee said players' parents were "subjected to racist slurs" during a College World Series game against Mississippi State.

"I am deeply troubled that some of our student-athlete parents were subjected to racist slurs during last night's game," Lee tweeted. "This is absolutely unacceptable and disgraceful behavior, and such hateful language has no place anywhere in our society."


How can you create the best fan culture possible for your team? 

Create a Fan Code of Conduct Policy  Make sure your team and teams you play against are aware of your fan policy and how you will implement and enforce it.  Post it online, include in your email sign off copy and announce prior to games.

Cue parents before games Take time to remind parents before the game to Honor the Game. “Today’s game is important for us, and we want to play our best. I want to remind you to Honor the Game today. I expect everyone associated with our team to act in accordance with our code of conduct. If there is a bad call by the official, I want you to be silent. If there is a problem with the officiating, it’s my job to address it, not yours. Your job is to fill the Emotional Tanks of our players and be a good role model for our kids. Everyone understand? Okay. Thanks.”

Check in with your Culture-Keeper If you haven’t already recruited a parent as “Culture-Keeper” to be your ally and promote sideline behavior that Honors the Game, do so as soon as you can. Always check in with your culture-keeper before a game. “Thanks for serving as the team’s culture-keeper. I want everyone to Honor the Game today. Make sure to touch base with each parent early in the game. Say hello and feel free to remind them that we want to set an example for our kids to Honor the Game. Are you all set? Do you have any questions? Thanks again!”

Nip Problems in the Bud The earlier you can respond to bad sideline behavior, the less likely it is to get out of control. Think of a match dropped in a dry forest. It’s relatively easy to put out the fire when the match first drops. But a short time later, when the blaze has gotten going, it can be very difficult to put out. At the first example of sideline misbehavior, even if it’s reasonably mild, let your parents know that it’s not okay. “Okay, cool it now. I don’t want you to do anything that will distract or embarrass our players. I want you to Honor the Game.” Sometimes just a look and a downward hand movement to “calm down” will do the job!

Refer to a Higher Standard People tend to respond to a higher authority or standard. You should remind them that the higher standard for your team is behavior that Honors the Game. If your parents have signed the PCA Parent Pledge (or something comparable), then remind them of that. “Calm down. Remember that pledge you signed? You agreed to Honor the Game even when there is a bad call. This game is for the players, and you all agreed to set a good example for them.”

Stay Calm To paraphrase Rudyard Kipling, If you can keep your head while all around you others are losing theirs…you’ll get better results. Getting upset at parents who are already upset may only add fuel to the fire. Be firm but calm. And if you can’t be calm, then be as calm as you can be. You just have to let people know their behavior is unacceptable. It can be as simple as saying, in a calm voice, “That’s not okay. I want you to Honor the Game.” 

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Respect People’s “Personal Space” There is a zone of space around people called “personal space.” Whenever someone invades another person’s personal space without permission, it activates self-protection instincts and a situation can escalate. Be scrupulous about respecting other people’s personal space. Avoid getting in someone’s face while you are telling him or her to behave themselves. Stay at least arm’s length away, and don’t approach in what might be interpreted as a threatening manner. It will help nothing if a parent turns his or her anger, verbal or physical, on you. When parents are upset with you, sometimes it isn’t the official who is the target of parent verbal abuse. If you become the target of one or more parents’ unhappiness in a game, tell them, in as calm a way as you can, “This isn’t the time to deal with this. I need to focus on the kids and the game right now. I’ll talk with you when the game is over. Now I need you to calm down and let the kids play the game.” 

Follow Up As Needed Later you may conclude that you need to have a follow-up conversation with one or more of the parents to make sure that things won’t get out of hand again. 

Reinforce Good Behavior People do what gets rewarded. A good way to encourage good behavior is to recognize and reinforce good behavior when it happens. So, make a point of thanking parents after every game in which they behave themselves. “Thank you for setting a good example today. We want to be known as a team that Honors the Game, and today you really did a good job of that. That makes my job easier and it allows the kids to focus on playing their best rather than worrying about what is going on in the stands.. Thank you.” 

Recognize the Challenge Sometimes it can help to recognize the difficulty of what you are asking of parents. When a parent begins to yell at an official, you might say, “No one ever said it was going to be easy to remain silent when the official makes a call that you don’t like, but I know you can do it!” 

What If You Don’t Intervene Perfectly? You don’t have to be perfect. That is important enough that it bears repeating: You don’t have to be perfect. You can stammer, the words can come out all wrong, you can be too subtle or too abrupt. That’s okay. What’s not okay is to let misbehavior go by without intervening. You are the leader of the team. The team includes the players and their parents (and other fans). You need to intervene to let parents and fans on the sidelines know what is acceptable and what is not. Don’t worry about being perfect. Intervene as best you can. It doesn’t matter so much how well you intervene. It does matter that you do it! So, do it. 

Be Willing to Ask for Help Sometimes no matter what you do or how well you handle a situation, nothing helps. Recognize when to step back and ask for help. If you feel you have done all you can to get parents to behave and it’s still not working, call on the leaders of your organization to step in and help resolve the situation.

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