Children’s sport: ‘Increasing use of negative, derogatory and thuggish language by spectators is appalling’

Readers share their experiences of witnessing aggression on the sidelines of children’s sporting events

The Irish Times has recently published several articles about aggression on the sidelines and in the stands at sporting events, including a column by Jen Hogan.

People regularly attending sporting events – whether underage club games or big international matches – will have witnessed adults shouting abuse at players, and referees in particular.

We asked for your views, what readers think about the swearing and acting aggressively that occurs on the sidelines – particularly in front of children, and in games involving children. Here are a small selection of the submissions.

Too afraid

“Increasing use of negative, derogatory and thuggish language by spectators at GAA games is appalling and does not respect the hours and dedication of the players on the pitch. I wish I had a video to share of a recent match in Antrim. I was too afraid to take it.” – Claire


Nobody replied

“I recently witnessed a parent, who ‘helps’ train my son’s under-10 team stride on to the pitch during a match and give the referee abuse. It was embarrassing, as a parent, as a club member and for the children. Our team will be tarred with the ‘scumbags who can’t travel’ label because of his actions – traumatising some of the children with that level of aggression, and giving the rest the worst example of disrespect and bad sportsmanship. I messaged into the group to say how completely out of order this behaviour was in front of children, but nobody replied. I think these sporting organisations need to spend more time laying down the law with these coaches before they’re allowed to shape and mould our kids in their unsporting image.” – Therese

Horrendous abuse

“Let’s jump back to the Romans in the Colosseum – the clash of gladiators, the roars of encouragement, the abuse, the aggression, the fear and elation amongst the tiers of the spectators. Roll forward hundreds of years and yes, it’s much the same on the sideline of a game. So, it begs the question is this learned behaviour, expected behaviour and if so, is it acceptable behaviour. One thing we all have in common with our ancestors throughout the years is stress and how better to deal with a week of suppressed anger and annoyance than exploding it at the top of your lungs at the side of the pitch once or twice a week. Is it right, absolutely not; should we accept it, absolutely not; yet it’s still a massive part of sport. Sporting arenas have provided a safe environment to enable the spectator to rant and rave and shout and abuse. And most often it is left at the sideline or in the stand, for it’s rare to meet someone 10 minutes after a match that is still aggressive or intense with anger. Bearing that in mind it’s not an excuse for what can sometimes be horrendous abuse on the sidelines. I recently heard a manager telling a player at an under-15 match: “Keep stamping on his effing feet, don’t stop.” That’s teaching abuse. Did I say anything at the time, no, and the next day I was sorry I didn’t so when this happens again, I will have more courage. Abuse of any kind on the side of a pitch is not acceptable at any age level. Whilst we are teaching our children to respect each other and to behave in a decent and non-judgmental manner at a match, we must also teach them that there will always be people that will hurl abuse, but to be sure they know that it is not personal, it is the woes the crier bears and these people are more to be pitied than anything else because they are unable to behave with manners and respect.” – Maria

Booing or swearing

“Time was when the crowd at Lansdowne Road, oops, sorry, it’s Aviva now, were admired by visiting fans for remaining silent, no booing or swearing, when the visiting team was taking a free, etc. Sad it’s changed, and not for the better.” – Tony

Cross the line

“My son plays under-14 GAA. Parents and coaches cross the line every week.” – Gerard

Heated exchange

“I’m a coach of an under-11s boys football and hurling team. At a game on Saturday morning, while acting as a stand-in referee (because we couldn’t get a referee) I was verbally abused by a parent of my own team. I responded with something along the lines that I was the referee and I didn’t need his input. There followed a heated exchange of words that ended when the parent’s son parroted his father’s initial words. A perfect example of what we’re teaching our children about how to treat referees (and their coaches)! I did talk to the parent at half-time and an apology of sorts was given, but the damage was done.” – Shane

My behaviour

“As a soccer coach for my son’s under-12 team, I experienced the best and the worst of both worlds. There were instances when opposition’s parents started to shout abuse to the referee and there were also heated discussions between coaches and parents, with me involved. However, the vast majority of matches go well, with people cheering and supporting their teams as they should. As a coach, I get sometimes too involved on the sideline, shouting instructions to the boys and venting frustrations at them after a bad chance missed or a bad pass. I need to learn how to let the players play their game and allow them to make their decisions without blaming so they can flourish and risk new things. Also my behaviour on the sideline influences the players’ behaviour and also the parents’ behaviour. The most important thing at youth sport is that the kids have fun and the right level of challenge for their abilities and results don’t matter.” – Leonardo


“Parents shouting obscenities to players, and advising their own children, with vulgarity, how to play should be banned from matches for life. As should their children. It might teach them to act respectfully.” – Colleen


“I also have experienced similar issues with my girls who play under-10s Gaelic football. While the majority of parents are respectful and don’t shout at the girls during matches, I am appalled during matches some times to hear some parents actually hurling verbal abuse at their own kids and players on their own team, let alone the opposite team. I am always ashamed to hear this, as no child should be subjected to rants of abusive (encouraging) expletives during any children’s football match. My eldest daughter quit football when she was 12 because she didn’t like the competitiveness of some of the players and the atmosphere during matches. My middle daughter continues to go because she loves the game, but I think there should be an outright ban on parents shouting abuse and cursing during the matches. It should not be tolerated.” – Carolyn


“At the ripe old age of six and seven, my nephews were removed from GAA due to the aggressive language of so-called coaches. One did stick with sport – soccer – but had to be supported through some years of bullying and changed teams because of same. They are beautiful young men now who’ve learned how ignorance and aggressive behaviour has no place in sport. But I would not allow a child to participate without one parent present to guide your child through the sorry mess adults have made of children’s sport. My brothers enjoyed and did well at GAA without unwanted parental interference.” – Kaye

Same small group

“Over the years I’ve watched many matches from under-5s to seniors, and a lot of League of Ireland games. The aggression never ceases to amaze me, almost always from the same small group of parents or supporters. Some teams seem to suffer more than others, but all teams have them. I’ve seen parents saying things they should be ashamed of and behaving appallingly in front of children. I know one professional player who left his club because he got fed up listening to the personal abuse from some ‘fans’. He was 21 at the time and now plays in the UK.” – Wyon

Damian Cullen

Damian Cullen

Damian Cullen is Health & Family Editor of The Irish Times