Misdirected Snowballs: The Problem of Parents’ Unhinged Behavior at Youth Sporting Events

While a story about a 19-year-old kid dressed as Santa Claus, getting pelted with snowballs on a cold Philadelphia day by even colder Philadelphia fans, is an unlikely correlation with the current sideline behavior that sometimes shows up at youth sporting events, here we are.

If you don’t know the story of Frank Olivo, here’s the gist. During an Eagles game back in 1968, Olivo, who was dressed as Santa (a leaner, what would be very Keto Friendly version today), was picked from the stands as a fill-in after the scheduled Santa phoned in that he wasn’t going to make the halftime extravaganza. He, as the tale goes, was stuck in snow somewhere in New Jersey.

Olivia—again, only 19—agreed to play the role, and his tenure ultimately went something like this: pelted with snowballs, booed, and then pelted with more snowballs. Scene. History: made.

The event, this collective shroud of unhappiness and disappointment being unleashed on jolly Mr. Kris Kringel has since been replayed, remastered and even turned into a spoof on ESPN.

Some Eagles fans have actually cherished and self-applauded the spectacle, a point of pride—like understanding the nuances of specific coffee beans if you’re from Seattle or how to avoid freeways if you’re from LA. They blamed Ol’ Frankie the Fill-in Santa for his own undoing. Well, that…and the lousy Eagles team, the lousy Eagles ownership, the weather, the snow-covered seats, a missed draft pick named Orinthal James Simpson—you name it! Whatever the issue was, it certainly wasn’t with the fans.

Nope, it was everything else—which sounded familiar.

Oddly enough, revisiting the story about Frankie Olivo was pure happenstance, sort of an Internet Rabbit Hole that began while reading stories about some of the “issues” that are occurring with fans at youth sporting events. But when you look closely at this intriguing slice of sports history, it does bring up an interesting and argumentative point: Fans can be…a little off…sometimes.

And that’s OK. But not when it’s at the expense of youth athletes. And not when the fans who are a “little off” are the parents and family members of the youth athletes.

Yet, here we are. Parents—not all of them, of course—are succeeding at wrecking the youth sports experience and they are accomplishing this from the stands and sidelines.

In a recent article in the Cape Gazette, Kevin Danahy highlighted this current trend that is spreading from youth sporting event to a youth sporting event. He, like countless others, have encountered this wave of abuse, voicing a real concern with these ongoing problems.

…it has gotten to a point that you can’t go to any type of youth sports game without seeing a situation where a parent is screaming at the referee, badmouthing the other team’s players or parents, or overly critiquing their own child’s play.  This can be a toxic environment for our kids. What are we really teaching our kids when this behavior is tolerated or, in some cases, even encouraged?

And he’s not alone.

Now, complemented with the digital/cellphone age, the verbal spatting and fisticuffs with other parents, the other team, the referees, some more referees—Ding! Ding! Let’s roll!—have become almost as sport-specific commonplace on YouTube as stadium flyovers and spectacular home run-robbing leaps.

As expected, and as Danahy points out, something around 70 Percent of referees quit because they can’t stand or take any more of the abuse. The ages of these referees? Some of them are young, under 20 years old, and only volunteering as a way to help out the games they enjoy—not because they are (or want to become) professionals.

And the kids? The percentages aren’t any better—and the wild behavior is affecting them. As Rod Louden, a psychotherapist who works with YSPN360 wrote:

As a parent, it is easy to get your emotions and feelings caught up in your child’s sports activities. After all, it is the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” that draws us to the world of sports and competition. In today’s world, far too many parents are interjecting themselves into their kid’s activities; they become participants rather than observers. The inability of parents to remain out of the way often creates negative feelings and drama. This situation causes all types of problems for coaches, umpires, other parents, other kids, and, in many cases, it is your child that suffers the most.

Of course, a lot of the excuses that come from parents in these situations rarely—and who are we kidding: ever—go back to the parents. It’s the other elements, the passion, the push, defending unfairness, that “Heat of the Moment!” and desire to excel, for achievements and success. Winners, darn it. Winners!

To them, it’s not the fans. It’s not them. It’s everything else—a symbolical snowball that is NOT being thrown at the kids.

Following that wild day on December 15, 1968, Frank Olivo never played Santa Claus again. Probably not the biggest deal either; he wasn’t looking for another opportunity to do so…

But what about the opportunities for the youth athletes?


Original Image via philly.com

Contributor: Rick Suter, YSPN360 Editor

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