Imagine, if you can, Frank Martin seated quietly in the stands, watching a basketball game.
The USC men’s basketball coach was doing so in Charlotte recently, preparing to watch his 10-year-old son, Christian, play in his club basketball game.
Before the game got going, a parent from an earlier game charged onto the court to berate an official — in front of the 9-year-old players.
Martin pulled out his phone and documented the madness in a tweet.
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“I’ve seen it multiple times now,” Martin said later. “Parents walking on the court going after a ref, saying all kinds of obscenities just in threatening ways. I’ve seen parents start fights in the stands.”
Martin often employs an impassioned coaching style, sometimes exhibited while disagreeing with an official’s call. The evidence is in the collage of faces that appear in a Google image search of his name.
But that’s only when he’s on the court coaching the South Carolina Gamecocks, Martin said, not when he’s watching his children play sports. In those games, he cedes to their coach and doesn’t bother referees who are making little money.
Not all parents adopt his demeanor.
Worsening sideline behavior is a problem that, Martin says, might soon become a public safety threat for other fans. The only solution might be for organizations to hire off-duty police officers to keep order, he added.
Martin’s perspective is shaped by experience at all levels of the game. He officiated youth games when he was younger, coached high school basketball in his native Miami and served as an assistant and now head coach at major college programs.
The problem with questioning authority isn’t limited to basketball and includes other youth sports and education, Martin said. And he believes it’s getting worse.
“It’s not a basketball thing, it’s a societal thing — where we’re always questioning authority,” he said. “We feel it’s our responsibility to get loud and create a scene, especially in front of young kids. When kids see that, they think they can question authority as well.”
A parent who has an issue with a referee or another adult who has authority over their child should talk one-on-one in private, Martin says. He offered an example of parent-teacher conference versus a parent undercutting a teacher’s stature by confronting the teacher in front of a student.
It’s not a path he sees taken often enough.
At a church league game a couple of years ago, Martin watched two adults face off at midcourt as if preparing to fight. The Gamecocks coach huddled the bewildered 8-year-old children on each team to one side until the feud blew over.
The adults’ spat was only bluster, but Martin worries that at some point, a parent will go too far.
“And something really scary can happen,” he said. “That’s my biggest fear. Kids deserve better.”