I am often asked what it really looks like when parents get stuck in the Intensity Web. The following examples shows how parents can get caught up in their children's soccer game and lose focus, dramatically increasing the chances that they will act in ways that do not reflect their values.
Setting The Stage
It is a great day for a soccer game. Two Under 12 select girls' teams (red team and blue team) are meeting in the final game of the season to determine which will represent their league in the city tournament. The teams have already met twice during the season, each coming away with a win. Both games were often physical, with neither team willing to be intimidated by the other. Each team feels the other team plays dirty, and that the referees haven't called the previously games fairly.
The teams will share one sideline; their parents stand on the opposite sideline. Instead of practicing good sportsmanship by exchanging friendly greetings, each group of parents stakes out "their" own turf on the sideline and eyes the other with suspicion and distrust. After all, they are "the enemy".
During the pre-game warm up, the red team parents become a little agitated when they learn who has been assigned to referee the game: a man who they feel has not treated the red team fairly in previous games and one who they think lacks the skills needed to handle a game with playoff implications. The parents start to talk about how this may be a long day for the red team. The game hasn't even started and yet the tension level has already gone up a notch or two.
When the game begins, the teams feel each other out. After the red team's goalkeeper saves a weak shot, she punts it to midfield. Two players jostle a bit for position as they go up for the 50/50 ball. The blue team player heads it to a teammate; the red player ends up on the ground, rubbing her head. The parents on the red team start abusing the ref. "Hey, ref! Are you blind?" one yells. "Are you being paid by the blue team?" another shouts? The sideline intensity continues to increase.
Several minutes later, the blue team's defense clears the ball to midfield, where a midfielder traps the ball and heads towards goal. Dribbling the ball into the red team's offensive third, she sees a striker streaking down the left side completely unmarked. As she is about to send a through ball for the wing to run under, a red team defender steps up field hoping to create an offside trap. But the offside flag of the assistant referee stays down.
The non-call creates a break away. Only the red team goalkeeper stands between the blue team striker and goal. Drawing the goalie off her line, the striker drives a hard shot just under the crossbar into the back of the net. Goal! The referee signals a goal for the blue team and the blue team parents begin to chant, "Ole, Ole," in celebration of the goal and their Mexican heritage
Caught In The Intensity Web
The goal sends the red team parents straight into the sticky clutches of the "intensity web." Their girls have worked hard but have given up a goal. They feel the officials have missed several calls and, to make matters worse, the obnoxious parents from the blue team are taunting them by singing their celebration song.
The stage is set for bad things could happen. One of the red team parents is tempted to charge over to confront the assistant referee for failing to call the wing offside. Another parent wants to scream at the blue parents that they have no class. The red team parents are frustrated; they are a ticking time bomb seconds away from exploding. They are beginning to experience what I call "tunnel vision".
Tunnel vision is the state where a parent loses his or her ability to see the whole picture of the youth sports contest they are watching. Instead of being able to think about different alternatives for handling a situation based upon experience and good judgment, the parent starts to think there are only a few ways to respond the intensity of the moment. Tunnel vision often causes parents to take a difficult situation personally and believe they have to respond forcefully to defend their honor, or the honor of their team or family.
Tunnel vision is so dangerous because it limits a person's range of options and makes the parent blind to the rest. Often times, under extreme pressure, a parent will respond with violent, or at least verbally abusive, behavior. The person loses the ability to think clearly and often will take action that he or she would normally not dream of doing.