US Lacrosse Parent Newsletter

How Can We Correct Fans Who Encourage Foul Play?

QUESTION: "I am a 5th- and 6th-grade lacrosse coach, and slowly but surely, I am noticing what I call the 'gladiatorial' aspect of crowd reaction: approval, rather than disdain for slashes and other unsportsmanlike conduct. I hear, 'Did you see my son upend that kid?' and then laughter from the rest of the crowd! Also, I notice coaches, just like in the Roman arena, playing to the crowd and congratulating players with nods of approval on their way to the penalty box. The type of rabid football parents I remember from childhood are penetrating other sports. Any suggestions?"

PCA Response by Eric Eisendrath, Lead Trainer-New York
This seems to be a clash of cultures, and for any culture to be sustained, it must occasionally be defended. At PCA, we talk about Honoring The Game and having Respect for (among other things) rules, opponents, officials, teammates and self.

To counter the behavior of the parents, you should focus your energy on "Targeted Cheering." When you see a great pass, or hear great communication amongst defenders calling slides, praise out loud those more technical aspects of the sport. While I would not shy away from speaking up against unnecessary roughness, helping the "rabid" fans see the game from a new perspective will help them appreciate the richer aspects of lacrosse.

Coaches should lead the effort to shape a culture of Honoring the Game. In a pre-season parent meeting -- and in as much follow-up communication as necessary -- coaches should explain the proper role of contact in lacrosse and specify how they hope fans react. For example, "There are going to be collisions, and it's fine to appreciate a clean, legal check, but we hope you will refrain from cheers that encourage overly physical play."

Parents and coaches also can raise concerns to league administration, stressing the importance they place on clean play and lacrosse's tradition of sportsmanship. If the league sets guidelines for fan behavior, that can help establish a positive atmosphere and preserve the culture you value.

PCA Response by Eric Eisendrath, Lead Trainer-New York
With lacrosse being a relatively "new" sport to a lot of parents, a good parent education program and solid communication to parents is absolutely essential. Otherwise, we may see much of the culture that has gotten out of control in more established sports seep into lacrosse, a sports that has drawn many families precisely because of its fresh, lower-pressure, more-fun culture.

To that end, US Lacrosse, PCA's first national partner, is dedicated to providing resources to keep the culture and the game all about safety and respect. Especially at the boy's 5th- and 6th-grade level, there is no excuse for this type of behavior from parents with regard to the physicality of the game. Watch the "big guys" play in the World Games this weekend, or a quality college match, and you'll see the role that contact can play in lacrosse in a fair, skillful manner.

A few things all laxers can take advantage of:

1. US Lacrosse's online, printable Parent's Guide

2. US Lacrosse offers significant grants to programs to help them fund PCA partnerships, of which one component is the parent workshop, a powerful vehicle for maintaining the culture. Information on the next round of grants will be here.

3. Finally, it is imperative that coaches take a leadership role in establishing team culture -- including fan behavior -- as regards physical play. Coaches must follow the US Lacrosse Youth Rules for Boy's Lacrosse, found in the back of the NFHS rulebook, and must use developmentally sound practices for teaching the sport in order to prevent injuries and provide youth (and for that matter, parents) the proper progressions for physical contact.

Check out USL Executive Director Steve Stenersen's blog on this topic and tons of other good resources for learning and teaching the game responsibly through the USL coaching education program. The bottom line here is that coaches must teach players respect for rules, teammates and opponents to keep the game fair and safe.

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