As football is winding down at many of your schools, it’s time to shift gears and get into this year’s basketball season. Basketball is the heartbeat of most Christian schools. Probably because it’s the easiest sport to start at a small school. With basketball season comes fast action, close games, tiny gyms, and heated rivalries. This is definitely a recipe for confrontation at one point or another. More often than not, that confrontation comes from fan behavior at games. No where is fan behavior more obvious and impacting then at a Christian school basketball game.
The purpose of this post is to give you, the Athletic Director, some thoughts on how to proactively deal with those fans in your program that aren’t always on their best behavior.
Make the First Move
By this we mean to be proactive in every way possible. It’s important to take steps that neutralize incidents before they happen.
There are many ways that you could address fan behavior proactively. Here are just a few:
- parent meeting before season (let’s face it, most unruly fans are parents)
- public address announcements
- pep rallies
- public information (website, banners, athletic agreements/contracts
When you address the issue of fan behavior at games, make sure that you stay positive. Nobody appreciates being spoken to as if they were immature children (even if their behavior warrants it from time to time). Be sure to stay cordial. Appreciate your fans’ passion; just let them know that there is a line.
You should also make your expectations clear very early in the season. Remind fans of your athletic department philosophy and vision. Let them know what behavior you expect and what behavior you will not tolerate.
Another good way to make the first move is to put in place a series of penalties for those who can’t control themselves during games. Players are subject to discipline as part of a team and as a participant in an athletic competition. We should hold fans to the same expectation. If they can’t contribute to the environment, then they may need to be disciplined.
This goes along with making the first move, but it is a bit different in that it is an ongoing process. Remind your fans of expectations on a regular basis.
You don’t necessarily have to state your rules at every game. That would become repetitive and draconian all at the same time.
Instead, look for ways to remind fans in a positive way. Perhaps you could honor a fan of the game. Post their name or photo on social media thanking them for creating the type of athletic environment you desire.
Maybe find a way to treat your student section after a game where they cheered and contributed to an atmosphere of true competition and sportsmanship.
Be creative. Rewarding people for good actions, many times, has more influence than punishing others for their wrongdoing.
Promote Your Vision
We’ve discussed vision in previous articles. Does your athletic department have one? Do the fans and parents in your program know what it is?
Unite your program under one Bible verse, concept, phrase, slogan, hashtag, etc. Whatever it is, look to promote it to those in attendance at your games whenever possible.
This theme or concept will help establish your vision to your fans. The fans should, in turn, be more conscious of their behavior and actions. It also lets other from outside your program know what is expected of them the moment they step in your gym.
Enlist the Help of Problem Fans
As a former elementary teacher, one of the easiest ways to deal with a problem student was to give them a job. Once they got a job, more of their focus went into performing their task than went into distracting others.
Obviously, this can’t apply to all situations. The last thing you need is an unruly fan with authority. However, involving them in the game experience can help to change their perspective.
Ask for them to sit at the gate for a few games. See if they want to help with concessions. Teach them how to run the scoreboard or record the book. Whatever it is, find something for them to focus on instead of all the referee’s “bad calls.”
They don’t need to work every game, and unless they are the bookkeeper they probably won’t have a job when you travel to another gym. So this can’t be your answer to a fan problem. It can be a start, though.
Do What is Necessary
I was watching the Division I boys basketball championship this past season for our high school league. It was a very exciting, close game. During the game, a fan of one of the teams decided to distract the other team during free throws. (Our league’s rule is that you cannot deliberately yell at a player or make distracting noise during free throws. You can cheer loudly for your team, but you cannot distract the shooter.) This fan was definitely breaking the league rule. Our league president went over to him and told him that he needed to stop. After she left and at the next free throw, he did it again.
It was at this point that the athletic director of the fan’s school stepped in. I leaned in closer to here what he said to him:
AD: Steve (not real name), you need to stop. You’ve already been warned.
FAN: What a stupid rule. The other team is doing it during our free throws. She didn’t tell them to shut up.
AD: I’m not worried about them. I am worried, however, that you will cost our boys an opportunity to win this game because you can’t control yourself. You don’t want our boys to lose because of a distracting incident that you caused.
FAN: But, she isn’t…
AD: (interrupting) Steve, I don’t care. You need to control yourself, or I will go get the policeman and have him remove you from the game.
The AD of this school sat with the unruly fan for the rest of the game. There was no further incident.
The purpose of the story is to show that as an AD, sometimes you have to step in and diffuse potential situations. This AD had to “be the bad guy.” But by dealing with it on his own, he took the pressure off of league officials to do something drastic. Also, as the AD, he is responsible for his fans’ behavior.
Don’t be scared to do what is necessary in a situation like this. In the long run, it will send a message that you care deeply for your culture and for your athletes. That is something that all fans will respect and appreciate.
Do your best to create an atmosphere of positive energy in your gym during basketball season. Highlight fans who contribute to this environment. Be creative in dealing with those who don’t.
What does your athletic department do with unruly fans at sporting events?