Eloquently put, in 2005, Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, stated, “Sport, used wisely, brings people together, regardless of their ethnic and social origin, religion or economic status.” When our youth is exposed to athletics from an early age, it exponentially expounds their growth in many different facets, including, but not limited to, teamwork, social skills, accountability, physical fitness, body awareness, motor control, and most importantly, true joy. However, what happens when parents or coaches cannot control their behavior? What effects does this have on the perception of our youth?
2006 marked the year for a championship game in Corpus Christi, TX, where 5 and 6 year old boys competed for the rights to a league football title. With 10 seconds remaining in the game, one of the coaches charged the field, tackling an 18 year old referee, knocking him unconscious and starting a violent brawl among parents and spectators.
A month prior to the aforementioned incident, a father in a Pennsylvania town took a gun onto his child’s football field. More recently, a 32-year-old peewee-league football coach punched and kicked a parent because he “thought” the man was recruiting one of his players.
The most current incident of violence was highlighted in a recent article in the Huffington Post, in which video evidence from a fan showcased a Sarasota youth football team and coach attacking a referee. The brawl began with the Sarasota Gator’s coach venomously arguing a call made by the referee. One of the Sarasota coaches then attacked the official, followed by a Sarasota player flying in from the sidelines, tackling the referee to the ground. Both teams rushed the field, ensuing in a brawl, which led to a dog pile of bodies, with the referee located at the bottom. The Sarasota Gators have been suspended for the remainder of the year and must reapply to the league for reconsideration for the 2012 season. A criminal investigation is underway; striking a referee is a felony in the state of Florida.
The issue of crowd control is certainly nothing new. Almost 10 years have passed since a fight between two parents at a youth hockey practice turned deadly. These incidents are not only saddening, they are scary. Violent behavior displayed at youth sporting events does nothing more than make a mockery out of the sport itself. It seems to me that parents are living vicariously through their children. The dire effects of poor sportsmanship have a profound impact on our youth, making it seem acceptable to erupt at opposing players and referees. “If Dad behaves this way, I surely can as well.”
How can educational leaders solve this overwhelming issue? According to a recent article in the Pittsburg Post-Gazette, the Roman Catholic Diocese is taking matters into their own hands, warning over 100 Catholic elementary schools that if parents can’t control their behavior, they would be banned from athletic events.
Furthermore, many youth soccer leagues are conducting “Silent Saturdays,” a program focused on taking the pressure off of young athletes by stifling sideline coaching and unruly parents. Coaches are not permitted to talk and fans are not permitted to cheer, yell or threaten the officials.
Silent Saturdays first gained national attention when fed-up administers of a youth soccer league in Cleveland, banned coaches or parents from talking. In doing so, it has been reported that less coaching, in turn, increased the quality of play among young athletes. The attention that Silent Saturdays gained in Ohio spread to other areas of the nation, with similar policies being demonstrated on the East and West Coast, including San Francisco and cities in New Jersey.
Is the acceptance of unsportsmanlike conduct the type of message we are trying to send our youth? There is no brilliant answer or scheme in making parents or coaches behave. No one can force others to do or act in a way that they see fit. It comes from within; obtaining a personal respect for oneself and the ability to control one’s own emotions. Until these two ideologies are realized, we will continue to witness eruptions from unruly parents. Count to 10 before reacting, or shall we say, overreacting.
Kristy Crowley has an extensive background in the field of sports. She has two master’s degrees, one of which is in the area of kinesiology. She most recently was a player and coach in a women’s professional basketball league in Denmark. She is currently a Teaching Assistant at the United States Sports Academy, where she is pursuing her doctorate in sports management. The types of ethical issues she writes about here are part of the curriculum at the Academy. For more information please click on http://www.ussa.edu.