Two years ago I witnessed the ugly side of sport. At the conclusion of a game of under 21s rugby, when the teams were lined up to shake hands, one player decided to use his fist instead.

I was shocked at this foul act of behaviour and I went straight to the victim’s coach to offer myself forward as a witness.

A few weeks later I was approached to write a witness report and in a strongly worded letter said that the thug should no longer be playing rugby.

What then transpired was the player got a very light sentence. He was to miss a small number of games, when in my opinion he should have been banned for a season or more. Not only would it have been the best-disciplined approach, but it would have sent a strong message within a grade that was at the time grappling with violence.

I’m not sure if the player is still in rugby, but due to the light sentence I would say he’s hardly been scared off any further acts of thuggery. I hope I’m wrong!

The winter sport codes are close to starting again and I hope that there’s greater vigilance on poor behaviour both on the playing field and the sideline.

Sport Hawke’s Bay is set to launch a sideline behaviour campaign in partnership with some of the major codes such as rugby, hockey, football and basketball, along with EIT.

The code of conduct and a widened team approach has been developed by Edmond Otis, a senior lecturer in Sport and Health Science at EIT.

It expands the nucleus of the team to everyone involved – both on the field and on the sideline, including family and friends, sponsors and administrators.

When I told my wife that this campaign was set to kick off and which codes were involved – she quickly wondered why it was restricted to them and not for all sports.

We have a family of five girls, four of whom play netball at varying school and club grades.

The eight year old is just learning the ropes and parents and other family members of budding netballers of this age are mostly positive and supportive.

However as the other girls have moved into high school and club grades, the more competitive nature has brought out the nastier side of sport.

At this point I should emphasize that I’m not picking on netball, I’m just using netball as an example, based on it’s a sport we regularly watch.

Rugby, football, et cetera are no different in their increase in sideline ‘misbehaviour’ as the stakes rise and parents start to take the game more seriously than perhaps their children.

I recall back to my childhood and I actually don’t think too much has changed over the years. As a junior rugby player I recall two sets of parents being asked to tone it down on the sideline.

Funnily, both players went on to very high honours in the game. However, I’m sure they were also not comfortable with the attitude of their fathers.

The Otis Edmonds sideline behaviour campaign must have buy-in from everyone and although the campaign has merit and the potential to be very successful, it will rely on the leaders setting an example.

The leader is the team’s coach and it will be his or her role to put in place the behavioural expectations of the players and their sideline supporters.

Otis calls it ‘the simple solution’ and it’s being successfully implemented in a variety of forms, by more and more sport codes.

All parties are on THE TEAM and are told that they have a role in the desired outcome of positive, supportive, and sportsmanlike sideline behaviour.

The coach could call a pre-season meeting where the conduct plan is developed and outlined with everyone understanding how important their contribution is.

There could be strict rules and penalties, to education and branding, to mentoring and ‘cheer teams’, based on the code, the problem, and the goals.

An example of this is if you are the host of a gathering (e.g., party, wedding) whereby you police your guests and you are responsible for their behaviour.

So will it work?

I think it has huge merit and it will work if there’s also plenty of promotion and a genuine buy-in from parents on the sideline.

As adults we don’t really like being told what to do. But we have to realise that it’s in the best interests of our children and that if we act responsibly on the sideline and actually enjoy watching the game, so will they enjoy playing.

Their experience will be one of fun … without worrying about Mum or Dad playing foul on the sideline.

We want as many kids as possible playing sport. We don’t want them put off the game by our behaviour and instead head to their bedrooms and play Xbox or Play Station.

The benefits of sport are just too great!

Edmond Otis is a Senior Lecturer in Sport and Health Science at the Eastern Institute of Technology (EIT), in Hawke’s Bay. He can be reached at eotis@eit.ac.nz.

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