Sideline behaviour could turn kids off

TALIA SHADWELL
Last updated 12:00 08/07/2013

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Poor sportsmanship from parents on the sideline could put young sportspeople off their game for good, says an expert calling on clubs to enforce a code of conduct for spectators at grassroots sport.

The Manawatu Rugby Union has put signs around its fixture venues calling on spectators to play by the rules to ensure children's early experience of sport is a good one.

Similar codes have been published in some school newsletters around Palmerston North.

Sports expert Professor Sarah Leberman, who heads Massey University's school of management, has researched why women were under-represented in the coaching ranks, and found many were put off by threatening behaviour and a lack of respect from the sidelines.

Clubs were reliant on voluntary coaches and umpires, and some told the academic they had given up because of the attitudes of spectators.

"Many women who didn't continue with coaching said it was because they felt hassled by parents on the sideline," Prof Leberman said.

Unemployed Feilding man Hayden Tui Te Oka, 27, last week admitted a charge in the Palmerston North District Court of common assault for his "king hit" on the coach of the opposition team while he watched his son play rugby in an under-11 match in Feilding.

Bad language, violence and aggression, and poor sportsmanship displayed toward other players or referees had no place on the rugby field, Prof Leberman said.

"Parents have a really important role to play in children's experiences of youth sport. There needs to be a programme for both parents and clubs to abide by that outlines the behaviour expected of them at sport," she said. "If [children] don't have a good early experience they won't come back. If we want children to be active we need them to have good experiences. Children play sport to have fun - but they do like to win."

Manawatu Rugby club development officer Ben Koch said signs outlining a spectator code of conduct had been erected around Manawatu in the past two months, for display at under-10 to under-13 rugby fixtures.

Spectators who bent the rules by displaying abusive behaviour could face a ban from club sport, but no-one had faced that penalty yet, Mr Koch said. "In the last year there has been a number of little niggles, like someone complaining about something to do with referee decisions, quite petty stuff."

Most spectators behaved themselves, and the Feilding incident was unique, Mr Koch said.

However the union was concerned about reports of increasingly bad behaviour on the sideline coming out of Auckland and Wellington and it wanted to take a stand from the outset, he said.

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"From our point of view, the behaviour of some of the spectators we've seen is an issue . . . It's unacceptable in children's sport and we wanted to be proactive and make sure there was an agreement about positive behaviour between players and parents."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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