NORTHGLENN, Colo. — Northglenn Police Department cited two referees and two parents for a brawl that took place at a youth basketball tournament earlier this month. The incident happened at the The Courts, a sports complex in Northglenn.
A referee and his 15-year-old son were officiating a game. Police said a parent had a disagreement with the teen referee and a brawl broke out. The two referees and two parents were cited for disorderly conduct for the incident, according to police.
9NEWS spoke to parenting expert and psychologist Sheryl Ziegler on how violent incidents like this have an impact on the young athletes on the court.
(Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for context and clarity.)
What are some of the repercussions when young kids witness incidents like this?
Ziegler: So something like that, which is violence, right? Let’s just call it what it is. We say, 'Oh it’s a brawl at a basketball game' but at the end of the day what it was, is violence. So what it’s showing kids is that when there’s conflict, one of the ways to resolve it is either verbal abuse or actually physically becoming violent, and this is exactly what we’re trying to teach kids not to do.
So what the repercussions are is that next time that they maybe have an altercation with someone or have some kind of confrontation or disagreement or simply going to the basketball court for another game, they’ll have those images again. They’ll be worried, they’ll be scared is it going to be my parent this time?
I would say a lot of the kids that I talk to, they’ll say, ‘Yeah, I wish my parent wasn’t so loud, I wish they didn’t get so angry, I just wanted to go home afterwards.’ Usually they’re very embarrassed. They’re fearful. I mean when we look at the embarrassment that they have, what really underlies that is fear, fear of violence or aggression so this is just perpetuating that.
Do you think this can create a cycle of violence?
Ziegler: I think that one of the things that we really need to understand that when in stressful situations, people fight, flight or freeze. So a lot of the times kids will freeze, meaning they’re watching and thinking, 'Oh my gosh is this really happening.' A lot of the times they flight, the younger they are they run away and they’re scared. But in this case, they actually fought back, they were involved.
So it’s a huge problem in all sports. It’s also getting a little bit desensitized, which is what’s really concerning to me. Meaning that we almost expect, maybe not a full out brawl, but we almost expect people to be screaming and yelling at refs. Even coaches, kids from the other teams in certain sports. Like baseball and soccer have a huge reputation for really vocal parents, and so one of the things that I would suggest is that in addition to the sportsmanship contracts that we have, that we really have one for parents and there’s a no tolerance policy around that.
Do you have any tips for parents or officials that find themselves in these situations?
Ziegler: I think parents have gotten the message that the way we help with bullying, the way we helped with really raising good humans, is leading with empathy. So I think if a parent leads with empathy, if they look at the ref and say, 'Gosh this is another 15-year-old kid, or this is a 50-year-old man and they’re just doing their best that they can, and this is not a all-stakes game. None of this is life or death.' It can be frustrating, but they need to have strategies. They need to have strategies for when they’re frustrated, when they feel like calling out, they need a timeout. If they have a partner with them, a spouse with them, they need to have a timeout, go out and get some fresh air and truly I think the coaches of those teams have a responsibility to say with those parents, we have a zero-tolerance policy.
Here’s what zero tolerance means, it means you literally will be banned for the remainder of the season. I think it’s that kind of hardline we need to have with parents, that way often times we do with student athletes that will start getting us to a place where we want to be which is to have fun and support kids.
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