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Spectator Behaviour

Spectator behaviour – Take a deep breath and enjoy the game

The topic of spectator behaviour is one that applies across all sporting codes, but in rugby issues tend to be concentrated on kids or school games, with overly passionate parents at times reacting in a method that has negative impact on numerous levels.

Overly passionate might not be the most apt term, for to suggest a Father or Mother can be ‘overly passionate’ could dictate that the parents are doing nothing more than ensure that their children are number one.

We can all relate to that.

In rugby we are lucky that crowd behaviour, especially in comparison with some other sports, is relatively serene.spectators

Recent rugby events in New Zealand, primarily the Rugby World Cup and the New Zealand International Sevens (the Wellington leg of the IRB World Sevens Series), have had evictions, arrests and convictions at record low levels.

When the police actually go out of their way to praise crowd behaviour, you know that the masses are watching their rugby in a relatively orderly manner.

The sights of high fences thankfully are part of a bygone era, although many of us can still remember the most famous pitch invasion in New Zealand rugby history.

In the 1981 Springboks tour of New Zealand, nearly 400 people ran out onto Rugby Park in Hamilton which led to the cancellation of the test match.

More visible police presence, an era where politically issues don’t invade day-to-day consciousness (such as apartheid) and greater education has led to the sights of unruly crowds becoming less and less frequent.

But what about children’s matches, the lifeblood of the sport at grassroots level?

The stakes for the spectators are far beyond any rugby test, for the players are often their own children, and the acts of other children, or even the referee, are sometimes too much for fired up parents to bear.

Rugby of course has a massive role in promoting health, mental wellbeing, the concept of team-work and competitiveness – but it is the latter that is at times taken too far.

Too much of this can lead to children feeling intimidated, and must be controlled by the parents or spectators as unruly behaviour has consequences far beyond hoarse lungs.

Verbal attacks on players, referees or even other spectators or parents can detract from the wonderful afternoon experience that is part and parcel of our weekends; while at times it can become physical – to which point everybody loses.

Thing to note – Negative crowd behaviour:

• Most of it comes down to a parent or guardians child (or siblings), so remember why they are there in the first place. We know rugby can be physical, and we know that one team always loses.
• Your influence ends when the game begins. Sir Graham Henry didn’t prowl the sidelines screaming instructions to Richie McCaw. Enjoy the game, get involved, but let the game play itself out.
• Don’t worry about the referees too much, for part of player development is letting the children understand (and even get frustrated themselves) how the official participates in the game of rugby. No referee in any sport will change a decision just because of a screaming fan – or in this case parent!
• If you are worried about your child being hurt, privately assess if you want them playing rugby in the first place. There is a risk of your child being upended in a tackle of course, but assuming ‘parental vigilante’ style behaviour won’t prevent anything from happening in the first place.

Before taking action, stop and repeat “it is just a game”.

But more importantly think of what you believe your actions will cause (i.e. the outcome). If behaviour gets out of hand too much, ultimately the game could be called off – and then everyone loses.

As a parent/guardian/spectator, there are initiatives you can employ, either via your own impetus or with involving members of the rugby community.

• Get involved beyond the game. Referees for examples are human, get to know them and even give your children an advantage by understanding what they will look for at Small Blacks level.
• Get to know other parents. Familiarity will prevent parental tensions in a high stakes Sunday afternoon game.
• If necessary, create a chill-zone, where there is no yelling. This gives those getting overly excited an area to escape, without lessoning their involvement in the game.
• Be a coach off the field. Teach your children about aspects such as recuperation, safe landing when tackled, and so forth. Knowledge is power, so the more tools you can give your budding All Black, the better they will become.

Finally, don’t forget it is about the players (the kids!), not you the parents or spectators.

Let them have their fun, and reap the rewards.