Spectator Sports Etiquette

Stadium crowd cheering, boy (4-6) sitting on father's shoulders
Have fun at games, but don't let your behavior get out of control. John Rowley/Stone/Getty Image

Have you ever been to a game where people yelled obscenities at the players or referees? Have you ever seen parents belittle other people's children for making a bad play? Letting negative emotions and outbursts steal everyone else's enjoyment can get these people kicked out of the game ... or worse, cause a fight in the bleachers.

Good sportsmanship doesn’t end at the edge of the field or court. It continues into the bleachers filled with spectators who are most likely cheering for a favorite team or player.

Whether you’re there to watch a professional team or your child’s Little League game, following proper etiquette will make the experience much more enjoyable for everyone there.

Parking Lot

When you first arrive, park in a legal spot. Whether your team wins or loses will be a moot point if your car has been towed during the game. Avoid taking more than one space, or you come back to find that someone who isn’t such a good sport has keyed your car.

Getting Seated

Find your seat as quickly as possible and be respectful of those around you. If a short person is sitting behind you, don’t lift a toddler onto your shoulders, blocking the view. If someone in front of you consistently blocks your view, politely let him or her know. Try not to take more space than needed on crowded bleachers.

During the Game

Cheer for your team in a positive way. When someone makes a good play, it’s okay to yell out your support.

During an exciting play, go ahead and stand with the crowd. Most athletes enjoy hearing cheers from the stands.

Avoid obscene language. Even during close and spirited games between strong rivals, foul language never does anyone any good. Most people don’t want their small children exposed to obscenities and adults who can't control their bad manners.

During children’s games, leave the coaching to the coaches, even when you don’t agree with their calls. The coaches know more about the players as a group than anyone in the stands, and anything you holler might confuse the players. Avoid shouting at the children. They’re the ones on the field or court doing their best and trying to win a game. If they make a mistake, trust the coaches to let them know. On the flip side, don’t cheer when a player on the other team makes a mistake.

After the Game

Spectator sportsmanship continues after the game is over. As you leave the stands, avoid getting into an altercation with other spectators. If you can see that someone is spoiling for a fight, don’t make eye contact or a comment that will rile the angry person. Don’t push or shove your way to the exit.

If you are there for a children’s game, avoid making any comments about children from either team. You never know when the other child’s parent, family member, or friend might be in listening distance. Most parents are extremely protective of their kids, and they’ll do whatever they can to protect them.

Players and coaches always appreciate kind remarks after the game is over. If you have the opportunity to talk to them, let them know you enjoyed the game, even if your team lost.

Never tell them what they did wrong. First of all, it’s too late for that. Secondly, the coaches probably already know. The children already feel bad about any mistakes they made, and there is no need to further embarrass them at this point.

If the coach or parent leader has a special event planned for after the game, offer to help. Most of the time, they can use an extra pair of hands. If you have the financial resources to offset some of the cost, offer that as well. Use this time to reinforce the children’s efforts on the field or court.

Quiet Sports

Some sports require silence during specific times during the game or match. Respect this by honoring the rules and signals from the officials. Golf tournaments, billiards, and tennis matches require concentration, and a sudden sharp sound can ruin a good play.

Officials will have other rules in place that you need to honor. If you see boundary ropes or markings, don’t cross them. Many tournaments and matches forbid the use of cameras or flashes. Some events ban the use of signs and banners because they can distract players and obstruct the view of other spectators. Put your cell phones on silent.