The days of the abusive side-line parent are becoming a thing of the past as junior sport continues to put emphasis on enjoyment and off winning.
The Tasman union’s age-grade rugby saw a 38 percent reduction in red and yellow cards last season, a statistic that is being attributed to several initiatives to improve the game.
Thuggery has been phased out on the field and obnoxious behaviour off it, with less tolerance for both being implemented across the grades.
Tasman Rugby Union competitions manager Steve Mitchell says the introduction of a code of ethics which outlined expectations of player, coach and supporter behaviour, has contributed to the change.
This began with the simple act of repositioning the side-line rope.
“We now have a field set up with a technical zone. All reserves, management and coaches must remain in a technical zone which stops them marching up and down the field.”
He says this reduces unwanted input from the side-line and reserves.
“The off-ball biff and other bulls*** has stopped, players are more focused.”
He says, even when a player goes rogue, their teammates are more likely to pull him into line.
Parents are also being told to zip the lip by their own kids.
A system started last season saw the fairest team rewarded with a game of paintball.
“Some parents get carried away because they think little Jonny is going to be an All Black, but now we have kids telling dad to ‘pull your head in, we want to go paintballing’.”
Steve says it has been a process, particularly getting parents on board with the mercy rule which sees coaches forced to change things should they reach a score of 50-0.
“Initially, there was some reluctance from competitive coaches and teams, but we are trying to focus on the development of all players.”
He says being on the end of a 100- 0 hiding stops players coming back.
“The game is about upskilling player, but people as well.
Former All Black prop Wyatt Crockett has been coaching his son’s junior rugby side and says their enjoyment levels are soaring.
“They were counting the days and then the hours until the first game of the season.”
He says reducing the ugly incidents in the game is crucial to its survival.
“I haven’t come across any incidents here in Nelson which is great, but it is something we still need to keep talking about it.”
He says supporters need to let their kids enjoy their game and not get too worried about the outcome or upset at the referees.
Having played a record 202 times for the Crusaders and earned 71 test caps, Wyatt says he saw first hand, a change in attitude at the top level.
“When I first started, if you made a head high tackle early on the most you would get is a penalty, so there was no real deterrent. At the end of career any contact with head would be a yellow minimum so it would affect the team.”
Not using fists to solve on-field disputes is another aspect of the game becoming extinct.
Wyatt says it took a while for players to change habits, but we are now seeing less and less high shots at that level.
Wyatt says, with stricter rules at the top, it filters to the bottom.
“The kids will copy what they see their idols do and it sounds like things are working.”
Wyatt says, whether its mountain biking, martial arts or rugby, injuries happen, but it’s great that we are making progress towards a safer game.
“At the end of the day, we want our game to be one that parents feel comfortable letting their kids play.”