Rugby Coaching Blog | Professional Rugby Advice & Coaching

Do we need a charter for rugby parents? by David Clarke


The RFU have recently reissued their charter for parents. Worried by reports of abuse from the sideline, the English rugby authorities want to clamp down on aggressive and rude parents who might bring the game into disrepute.


Most of us would agree that rugby has a strong culture of mutual respect, where players will knock seven bells out of each other on the pitch and yet happily share a pint in the bar afterwards.


This is not necessarily the case in mini and junior rugby. The influx of “new” players at much younger ages has brought in a wave of parents and coaches who are not aware of the environment of rugby.


Most of the time, there is no problem. But I have witnessed too many incidents in the fifteen years to suggest that the RFU is getting unduly worried. In fact I would say it is getting worse.


Many of you will be involved in the children’s game, either as coaches, or as the parent of a player. You will know how difficult it is for “weekend” coaches to deal with all this type of behaviour. There is enough to do without having to admonish parents for acting inappropriately.


You might say it is the duty of the coach to make sure the parents keep in line. Well it is, but it is not easily done. As a volunteer with perhaps a limited background in coaching, confronting parents about their behaviour is a very emotionally draining issue. And not one many of us relish.


I was asked on Friday by BBC Radio 5 Live to comment on the reasons for the RFU issuing this document again. I was also on BBC News 24 later on to comment further.


I look forward to your comments as well.


18 Comments so far
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I believe that the FA has issued referees with green and red cards for use in similar situations. Seems good – no need to get into a verbal argument, simply say “Not appropriate behaviour (for a parent, and rugby supporter).”

Comment by Steve Johnson

In most cases for me it has been the parents who do not know the game too well and are quite a lot of the time football supporters.
Once they start to get aggressive and abusive, their children often take on that role on the pitch. I have played against many kids who try to be aggressive because they think its the right way to act if an adult does it.
To be completely honest, i dont feel right if i dont have a few scraps in a game so i dont mind, but if it does deter some players game because they are worried about upsetting the fan again, i think it should be duly stopped.
Mike, 17

Comment by Mike

Yes – its a big problem. As a coach of mini/juniors I’ve seen a steady influx of “new” players into the game over the past few years. RWC success has made the sport even more popular and we see kids that cannot get into local football teams giving rugby a go – which is great. However, this influx brings many “football” parents, who bring the pitchside “aggro” and attitude. It isnt welcome and its hard to enforce. A charter may help but its not addressing the problem. Maybe volunteer coaches/referees need more authority and training,etc

Comment by Dave Bowen

As a referee for Under 12s I feel in a position to comment on this situation .. It comes down to the club that you are playing at… there are clubs out there that just will not accept bad behaviour , but others that will or will turn a blind eye to it Rugby however is massively ahead of other sports in this area most notably football which is the most aggresive environment for a youngster that I have ever witnessed. At the end of the day it is how you as a referree or club handle the situation… I Have had success by challenging the offender specifically at half time or the end of the game to discover they actually dont know the law / laws so they are coming from a place of ignorance .. perhaps either they should trust the referee or learn the laws…..???

Comment by Keith Standring

I coach and referee rugby at Under 12s level, and have experienced the same thing. I do not agree that this is purely down to ‘new’ players and their parents. Without doubt, the most aggressive bystanders I have experienced are also the poshest and therefore those most likely to have rugby knowledge. However, they do push their children harder and I believe that this manifests itself in their own behaviour.

Comment by Dave Round

Having returned to rugby after a break of more years than I care to remember,I have now started to help coaching our Junior u13’s team.The main attraction was the lack of aggro on the sidelines and I felt rugby was a more suitable environment for my sons to play sport.This was after seeing some truly disgusting behaviour by coaches, players and parents at under 8’s football.At our club (Gosforth RFC)we already have both a players and parents code of conduct which thankfully is enforced should any incident arise.Just to end a quick quote “football is a game for gentlemen played by thugs and rugby is a game for thugs played by gentlemen” Let’s keep it that way

Comment by Dave Graham

this is decidely becoming a world wide issue. in ZAR we have exceptionaly strong schools rugby competitions and the sportmanship is out the door. fist fights amongst parents are a regular occurence. a sad development is that parents are also now assaulting the players. we need that charter to be rugby law! offending parents and coaches must be red carded!

Comment by Dave Harris ZAR

In the modern era we tend to forget the old saying: “Nobody is bigger than the game itself.” Established coaches at schools should lay down the law to their players and indirectly to their parents. So often the kids will take heed to what the “idolized coach” (and not the parents) have to say. Let your team’s mindset on sportanship filter through to the parents. Those rude parents will soon read between the lines that their behaviour is not in line with the team’s ethics (code of conduct). All in all the kids do the talking for you!

The other main issue is that referees at junior level don’t want to do the job anymore because of all the sideline abuse. When you’re an all-in-one teacher/coach/referee (like in South Africa) you just don’t feel it’s worth it anymore. Parents don’t know the rules and forget you don’t have a TMO or replays to assist you. Refs should be able to “red card” a parent, etc. Empower them!

Comment by Charles Lamprecht

Whereas I am not abusive to refs it is very hard sometimes not to give them a bit of stick when you (and everyone around you) feel they have missed something important. I know the ultimate solution would be to do a refs course and get out there to see how really hard it is. However, I have taken to running the line, which now makes me his assistant and no longer in a place to give him too many verbals. Try asking your vociferous parents to do the same (assuming they know enough about the game to do it!)

Comment by Steve Morris

I have already commented on this matter above but reading the other comments, a memory came to me. Quite a lot of the time i have found (playing under 17’s and under 19’s rugby) that it is also the coach of the other team having a go at players.
It has got so bad that last year the oppositions coach ran onto the pitch mid play and started to push me around and grab me round the throat. No one could believe he was doing it, admittedly i had just cheated by holding three players into a ruck, but thats not the point. When there is an adult coach coming onto the pitch to fight with a 17 year old it is truly turning rotten. This needs to be stamped out.

I was quite alright with it happening to me because my dad is a stocky 6’4″ ex-player who had an in depth conversation with the coach after the game. (by in depth conversation i mean the coach may have had a head ache the next day.) It is atrocious that he did it and hopefully new laws and abilities are given to referees to stop this.

Has anyone else had problems with the coaches?

Comment by Mike

At this level, the ego has to removed from the equation. Too often coaches feel they are great simply because they have a great bunch of athletes in their charge. They aren’t great, they’re simply lucky!

The best coach I ever met had a losing record every year, because the players available to him were the smallest, and usually least athletic in the region. But thanks to his superb coaching, his team were the most sporting, likeable bunch of players ever, and they never lost by many points. He coached them to be as good as they could be, and although they frequently lost, they continued to praise and support each other, and anyone else that came into their presence. In this environment, there was never any need for a parent to call out “Come on ……., pull your fingers out – I didn’t come all this way to watch you lose!” (Heard yesterday)

Comment by Steve Johnson

As a referee, I feel that clubs who do not take responsibility for this kind of abuse should be refused entry into leagues and also the officiating referees society should refuse to provide referees.

I know this sounds harsh but the clubs themselves would deal with it if they actually want to play the game.

I’m sure we all appreciate that a ref will never see every infringement and will occasionally get things plainly wrong (even professional referees suffer from this), but no volunteer official should be subject to abuse.

Comment by Karl Craig-West

I have only been coaching for a year or so and this year has been as a lead coach for the u9’s. It is not only the ‘football’ culture creeping in, it is also win at all cost as well, ok if you in a league or cup but at u9’s all our matches are friendlies or festivals.
I coach my u9’s to be able to play rugby technically correct and more importantly safely, the u9’s themselves seem to grasp this concept but the parents are finding it hard, this I also attribute to the ‘football’ culture.

Comment by Bob Sambell

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

You should be a ref!!

I would like to ask where the common sense has gone!?
I have been involved with rugby coaching and refereeing for about 6 years at mini and midi level. I have occasionally seen some grime behaviour on the field of play but as far as frequency goes this is far outweighed by the off pitch touch line behaviour of coaches and spectators, are they/we not supposed to be the adults? I firmly believe that those who run the clubs and coach the kids have 2 major responsibilities:
1. to coach the kids to the best of their ability and in the best spirit of the game and therby hope to bring the best from them on the field of play
2. to set examples with respect to conduct and behaviour. We cannot control every touch line comment and action but we have a greater influence than we realise at times. To parade the touchline yelling “instuctions” only vents excess hot air with more chance of winding up the crowd than having any positive influence on the players performance. I know it can be frustrating and have been less than restrained at times myself, but never did I ever feel it made any realistic difference nor did I feel very good after. I only hope to be more restrained and more constructive in future.

I am not sure if it is a parents charter or coach’s councilling that is required most! I have seen some pretty shaken coaches after touchline parent/spectator incidents. Perhaps this whole issue needs adressed at coach education level, i.e as part of entry level coaching courses. I am well aware that we have a major dilema hear in so far as many small clubs/schools rely heavily on a few willing volunteers, to suddenly have them find out that they might require some policing/self defence tuition may well discourage them from taking any further involvment.
I certainly do not have all the answers but do agree that there is a serious problem. And I also agree with the referee’s comments 2 above that the clubs must take all necessary steps to nip these issues at the source by involving the most experienced coaches along with senior club officials as well as local development officers where possible. We have had a couple of incidents this season and will be trying some new measures to reduce the chance of these occuring in future: enforcing the use of technical areas for home and away coaching staff/officials and replacements, keeping spectators at least 1m back from the pitch where possible, making all coaches within the club aware of the issues we are trying to deal with so that we all “sing from the same hymn sheet”

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
………you’ll be a rugby coach my son!

Comment by Ewan Simpson

As a coach of both sports, I can honestly say that this problem is not so apparent over here in WA. Yes, there are “ugly parents” in both sports but the major difference here is Rugby always has an official ref not a parent or coach filling in from the age of 11 up. Whether they are any good or not is another matter but people tend to respect their decisions more than a fill-in. This is not the case with football where the fill-in refs are abused by both parents and coaches (and sometimes players). This is in general due to a lack of knowledge of the rules (WA being dominated by Aussie Rules in the past) when people fill-in due to the shortage of official referees. The lower age groups, playing on a smaller pitch, have both coaches and the ref on the field at all times and I haven’t witnessed any particualrly bad incidents at this level.

Comment by Steve In Perth

I have read your comments with great interest. Down here in Australia, all your comments resonate loudly. Yep, the football culture is entering our game; parents who don’t know the laws pass stupid comments and coaches who overrate themselves think it is their right to abuse refs. I coach, sometimes play, and occasionally referee. My son (14 yrs of age) assists me in coaching and referees and boy he has copped it twice big time this last season!

As a coach I established the ground rules with the parents up front. Essentially, I said you will see poor refereering at times but you cannot say anything! Any comments form the side line can only be encouraging ones. As coach, I patrolled the side-line to enforce this. The focus here was discipline from the parents which then translated into player discipline – I do not tolerate any bad language on field. All I want my boys to do is play rugby. At the end of the game, we present an award to the opposition’s best team player. This achieves two things – it makes my boys understand my reinforcement of team play and secondly it allows my parents to mix with the opposition parents, which in turn deflates any possible friction that may have occurred during the game. I have found the above formula to be successful but there again I believe that coaches at junior level are responsible for both player and parental behaviour.

As for (junior) referees, I believe that they need some sort of course that teaches them how to handle coach or parental abuse. I believe that the main reason why coaches get upset is psychological. Coaches get upset because here is someone (the ref) who in one sense is penalising his team because the team is playing in the methods that he has taught them. The coach sees this as a “direct insult” or a direct criticism of his coaching methods. His counter will be to attack the person (ie the ref) who is criticising him! As a ref, I have stopped the game and spoken to the coach to speak to his parents about sideline abuse/niggle. However, I would always say it nicely and with a smile on my face and with an occasional hint of humour. Hand the whistle to the parent and ask him to come out and ref is another way – that soon shuts him up. By the way, I have used “he” in the generic sense but I have found in my experience that females can be just as bad as males.

Comment by Fragopogo

In Canada, rugby is becoming increasingly popular with under 12’s and younger. Hockey and soccer have (well-deserved) terrible reputations for abuse of officials and both of those sports have worked hard to reverse the tide, but it’s a long road. Rugby in Canada seems to have very little of this negative sideline behaviour. I believe that this is largely a product of parents/fans not really knowing enough about the game to criticize officials. More importantly, the zero tolerance attitude that referees have towards abuse from players contributes to this climate a great deal, as well. Hopefully this aspect of Canadian rugby will continue to distinguish us from our minor hockey and soccer colleagues. Hopefully, these other sports follow rugby’s lead in creating a fun and responsible climate for participation.

Comment by Dean S

Having been physically assualted by a parent and spat at by one of the players at an U15 match. The game is descending into a area of soccer.

The opposing team were becoming increasingly aggresive and I attempted to calm the situation down. I was attached by a female spectator followed by her husband and 5 other men.

This totally shocked me, but it meant that I had no choice but to report it to the opposing clubs youth chair. As well as our own club for so that they can have the discussion, report to the RFU and to get a letter of apology.

Comment by Richard Rochester

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