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Children lose under win-at-all-cost coaches

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A FRIEND tells a story of the father of a footballer in his son's junior league. So violent were his outbursts on the sidelines against the opposition, the officials and even his own child's teammates, police sought an order that meant he could not leave his car during games.

A total ban was considered, but the police figured he would turn up anyway. Better to have him thumping the horn or the dashboard than some poor child.

John Tomic's alleged assault of his son Bernard's hitting partner provided another example of the extreme behaviour of a high-profile ''Ugly Parent''. The role models - and parole models - for those tormented souls who live vicariously through their children's deeds.

On the ATP and WTA tours, where various officials are constantly intimidated by players (on court) and families (off it), Tomic's behaviour is, sadly, commonplace. However, at grassroots level, the anecdotal evidence suggests measures to curtail the behaviour of violent and abusive parents have been successful. If not in the somehow colder, individualistic world of tennis, then at least in team sports.

Yes, there are still plenty of cases of foul behaviour by those who mistake an under-12 rugby league match for the Battle of the Somme. Readers, no doubt, can relate numerous cases of foul language, intimidation of officials and fisticuffs between parents whose self-esteem has an unhealthy dependence on whether or not their son scores the winning try.

But, from first-hand experience, the observations of acquaintances and the testimony of junior sports administrators, the media reporting of the most extreme symptoms of Ugly Parent Syndrome no longer reflects the virulence of the disease. Rather, like ''soccer violence'', the worst cases are used to support a preconceived idea that, at every junior venue, there are packs of howling parents menacing the referees with baseball bats. On the contrary, it seems stricter guidelines on crowd - particularly parental - behaviour at junior sports have had a positive impact. When even respected former Swans coach Paul Roos is admonished, as he once was, for entering the field of play at a junior match when a player on his son's team went down behind play, you know tight regulations are in force - regardless of the wrongs and rights of Roos' intervention.


This has led, in the best cases, to a form of self-regulation. To a point where - at my admittedly rather cosy, middle-class inner-city park - parents are reluctant to make too much noise for fear of attracting a disapproving glance. Perhaps that's not typical of every venue on a Sunday morning. But, like another scourge on sport, racial vilification, the reporting of offences suggests they are the exception, not the tolerable norm. It's an indication the education process initiated by various governments and leagues is working - at least in team sports.

Perhaps the greater challenge for junior sport is the Ugly Coach: the over-ambitious coach who barks orders at a bunch of nine-year-olds who have failed to perform a complex training drill with the precision usually expected only on a North Korean parade ground.

The Ugly Coaches, it should be noted, are also a small minority. Those whose sense of proportion is overwhelmed by the power contained in their tin whistle. They are the product of pyramid-shaped sporting systems in which the race to identify and mould the most talented youngsters creates a ridiculously competitive environment in the lowest age groups.

Most well-meaning volunteer junior coaches stress participation and teamwork. They are aware that sidelining the marginal players, coaching for results rather than enjoyment and placing crushing pressure on children will only alienate members of a generation spoiled for alternatives.

But there are an increasing number of coaches, in the football codes particularly, who consider junior sport as a means of furthering their ambitions. Who - like some junior tennis coaches - figure the elevation of some elite young players might put their name in the spotlight. Or perhaps, allow them to nurture the belief they are the Craig Bellamy of their suburban heap.

You see it in the sharp admonishment of a fumble-fingered nine-year-old, the limited game time allotted lesser players, the implementation of complex game plans, and even the gathering of statistics accumulated by children who still sleep with teddy bears.

One outcome is that the skill in junior sport, even at primary school level, has improved remarkably. But has the joy diminished?

What is worse? Ugly Parents? Ugly Coaches? John Tomic is the daily double. No wonder, then, his malign influence has been multiplied and he is no longer welcome in his son's workplace.

Twitter: @rdhinds