Irate Parents Cause Oklahoma Soccer Ref To Take Action
OKLAHOMA CITY - Springtime in Oklahoma brings a new season of youth sports and adults on the sidelines losing their cool. Parents getting riled up at their kids' games is nothing new, but many say the trend is getting so bad, it's turning some kids away from sports altogether.
It doesn't get much worse than when two Union coaches got into a full-on brawl at a 3rd-grade football game last fall after one coach benched the other coach's son.
The incident highlights what many see as a growing problem in youth sports: adults behaving badly.
"Our kids are soaking that up like a sponge," said counselor Steve Hahn.
Hahn said coaches and parents often set examples they would not want their kids to follow.
"It's the sport. They're there, they're psyched up, they're ready to go. So, when they see something occur that they don't agree with, they're in it psychically, they're in it verbally, and they become aggressive," Hahn said.
The targets of this behavior can be coaches, other parents, and of course, the referees, who are often-times just kids themselves. Aidan Jacob reffed his first game when he was 11 and at 13, said the abuse just keeps coming.
"Last week, we had parents and coaches get mad. We almost called the police," Jacob said.
Unfortunately, Jacob is far from alone.
"I've removed coaches, I've removed parents, I've removed announcers," said soccer referee Melissa Carter.
All of this led to a tipping point for veteran soccer referee Brian Barlow of Broken Arrow.
"I just thought someone has to do something and why not me," he said.
Barlow started a Facebook page called Offside (https://www.facebook.com/youreoffside/) which gave refs, coaches, and parents a forum to discuss what was happening to the sport they love. Barlow then decided to take it a step further.
"I've probably got 200 to 300 videos at this point in time," he said.
He offered a $100 bounty for video he posts on the page showing parents and coaches out of control. So far, about a dozen videos have made the cut.
"I'm not against parents. I'm against parents that can't contain or control their emotions or judgment on the sidelines of a soccer pitch," Barlow said.
The movement, which Barlow calls STOP, as in "Stop Tormenting Officials Permanently", is going nationwide. Barlow said he's gotten support from high-level soccer officials around the country.
"The whole initiative is built on the fact that referees are human. We make mistakes. Things happen but let the game play out," said Barlow.
That's advice Steve Hahn is happy to endorse. He said parents need to remember that when they are angry and out of control, it places tremendous stress on their children.
"We have to learn how to present loss as a teachable moment with our kids," said Hahn.
Otherwise, the teachable moments we show our kids may be something we're not proud of. That's a lesson a now former Union coach learned the hard way.
"I would like to tell them honestly, that I'm so sorry. They didn't deserve that and I mean it from the bottom of my heart," the coach said.
Brian Barlow presented the STOP program at a national soccer conference in Philadelphia earlier this year and said almost 250 clubs and organizations around the country are interested in becoming affiliates.