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Parent Rage in Youth Sports

Why Parent Rage In Youth Sports Is a Serious Problem

The emphasis on winning gets out of control when overzealous parents become aggressive in their quest for being number one. Recent events show that parents have become increasingly hostile at youth sporting events, and the results can be devastating.

The Pressure to Perform

Are parents pushing their children too far when it comes to team sports? Are they pressuring their children to perform for their own personal gratification rather than for the team or the player? Is this causing parents to become overly competitive and often aggressive in their attempts? Is it win at any cost?

"The structure of team sports is outdated and broken," says Scott Lancaster of Somers, N.Y., the senior director of youth football development for the National Football League. "Preconditioning children to value only final results in sports competitions robs them from the joy of spontaneous play and learning new skills in a positive environment."

Lancaster believes it is the way that youth sports are organized, taught and implemented that is at the very root of the problem.

"Kids are forced to play adult versions of games to satisfy an 'adult' thirst for experiencing what they watch on television," says Lancaster, who is best known for revamping the NFL's youth sports programs.

"At my son's soccer game, we had a parent who was substituting for a coach [and] insisted on enforcing ALL the rules of the game," says Kathleen Whitfield of Riverside, Calif. "He also divided the team so that all the best players were playing together. He didn't understand why anyone was upset with him as he ran out the clock arranging inbound kicks with his team lined up in precisely the perfect formation."

When parents and coaches spend all their time focused on the scoreboard, they are bound to lose sight of their purpose: to teach and guide our youngsters in skill development in their sport of choice, to provide encouragement, to build self-esteem and to have fun!

How Serious Is It?

Survey USA took a poll of 500 parents in Indianapolis, Ind., in 2001, asking about views of parent violence in youth sports. The survey found the following:

  • 55 percent of parents say they have witnessed other parents engaging in verbal abuse at youth sporting events.
  • 21 percent say they've witnessed a physical altercation between other parents at youth sporting events.
  • 73 percent believe that parents who become verbally or physically abusive during games should be banned from youth sports.
  • 22 percent would allow aggressive parents to remain in the stands.
  • 5 percent aren't sure what to do about parents who are prone to sports-induced tantrums.
  • 27 percent think "silent" games are a good idea.

Parent rage in youth sports is becoming a very serious problem. From coast to coast, more and more cases of violence during games are popping up. In Laporte, Ind., a father who was disturbed over his son's lack of playing time threw the league commissioner to the ground as he approached to talk with the angry man. In Athens, Ala., the father of a youth baseball player was charged with assault on another man who had complained that the father was heckling the other 11- and 12-year-old players. A knife was pulled, and one of the dads required more than 100 stitches to his face and back.

There are innumerable cases reported throughout the country every month – reports of games turning tragic at the hands of enraged parents. "Children generally become frightened by their parents' rage," says Richard S. Lustberg, a licensed psychologist in Long Island, N.Y. "In addition, depending on the nature of the child, they can also be embarrassed by their parent's behavior."

Another concern that Lustberg shares is that these children will grow to model these behaviors in their adult lives. "When parents become overly invested in their children, the child becomes confused as to why and who they are doing the activity for. Thus, in the long run, the child thinks that the activity is more important to the parent than it is to them."

The Solution?

A growing number of sporting associations are struggling to maintain control of overly aggressive parents at youth sports events. They are looking to enforce new systems that would set forth guidelines of behavioral conduct that would give the game back to the kids.

One such program that is gaining widespread appeal is the Parents Association for Youth Sports (PAYS) program offered through the National Alliance for Youth Sports. PAYS is a program for parents that educates and motivates youth league parents to make the sports experience safe and meaningful. One of the most appealing aspects of the program is its emphasis on good sportsmanship, positive reinforcement and keeping sports in its proper perspective.

PAYS is essentially a training program for parents. The parents are required to attend a 30-minute clinic where they view a training video, meet other parents, participate in discussions and sign the Parents' Code of Ethics pledge.

Positive slogan buttons are distributed to parents to wear at the games. This is intended to remind other parents to also demonstrate good sportsmanship. A quarterly publication is sent to parents that features great information on ways that parents can help their children experience a rewarding sports experience.

In Rolling Meadows Park District, a suburb of Chicago, Ill., the rule for behavior at sporting events is very clear. "We told the parents the goal for running the PAYS program was that we want to keep out of the police blotter," says Brian Meyer, the facilities division manager for the Rolling Meadows Park District. "We want everyone to have a positive experience and not open the newspaper and see their name in it ... because that is ridiculous."

Meyer explains that the main goal of the PAYS program is to prevent incidents from happening. Including parents in this voluntary program offers a very proactive approach, making it easier on the coaches and encouraging a setting that is harmonious for all involved in the game.

Currently, more than 450 communities across the nation have implemented the PAYS program, including more than 30,000 parents who have been through the training. The program helps to educate parents in the rules of the game, which has proven to be a great help in Rolling Meadows.

"I've been a referee, and there are always parents yelling 'That's a travel!' and those types of things, and that kind of drives you nuts," Meyer says. "So we educated the parents with a little clinic on commonly-misunderstood basketball calls."

As long as the expectations for behavior in the stands is understood from the start, the experience can prove to be a very rich and positive one for everyone involved, especially for the children. After all, isn't that what it's all about?

Set an example for your child: Be a good sport.

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