Parents Under Contract

By Staff

Coaching Management, 14.5, April 2006,

Over the past year, some sports headlines have been pretty shocking. Last May, a girls’ rugby coach in California was beaten unconscious by parents. Also in May, the father of a Connecticut high school softball player clubbed his daughter’s coach with a bat because she was benched. And in Texas last April, a high school football coach was critically wounded after being shot by a player’s father.

These are three extreme examples of aggressive conduct by parents, but the less extreme cases of parental interference can also bring problems to a team. At Mishawaka (Ind.) High School, coaches are fighting back by mandating that all their student-athletes’ parents sign a parental code of conduct.

“We started to see a trend around the country of parents acting more aggressively at events, and experienced a few incidents ourselves,” says Mishawaka Athletic Director Kirby Whitacre. “The parental code is an attempt to be proactive regarding parents’ behavior.”

The code begins by explaining Mishawaka’s philosophy on appropriate fan behavior, then provides some specific dos and don’ts, including:

• The coach is responsible for deciding who plays and how much.

• It is inappropriate for a parent to confront a coach after a practice or event. They should wait until the next day and schedule a meeting with the coach.

• Making derogatory comments about officials, coaches, players of either team or other parents and fans is unacceptable.

• Swearing at athletic events in unacceptable.

• Coming to an athletic event intoxicated is unacceptable.

“The code is actually a part of our student-athlete handbook, and at the end, there is an area for both parents and students to sign that says they have read it and agree to follow it,” Whitacre says. “If they don’t sign, their child cannot participate in athletics at Mishawaka.”

The handbook also spells out the sanctions for not complying: First, a verbal or written warning; second, removal from the premises; third, banishment from attending contests for a set period of time, or even permanently; fourth, severing contact with team personnel; and finally, civil or legal action.

“Most of the time, a warning calms a parent down real fast,” Whitacre explains. “But if that doesn’t do the trick, we continue up the ladder. We’ve had instances where we have gone to the fifth step and taken legal action. On our volleyball team, there were a couple of times this past season where the code came into play. We responded by having meetings with the coach and the parents involved.

“I think the key when writing up any type of policy is that you must be willing to follow through with what you said you would do,” Whitacre continues. “If you have a policy and don’t enforce it, you’ve just shot yourself in the foot. From our very first enforcement, it didn’t take long for people to see that we were serious.”

For any school looking to implement a parental code, Whitacre suggests getting broad-based participation. “First, the principal and athletic director need to get the superintendent’s and the school board’s support,” he advises. “It may be a good idea to have what I call stakeholders—parents, students, athletes, board members, and teachers—involved in writing the code. A cautious school system would probably want its lawyers involved too, at least to look it over and make sure that it’s legally enforceable.”