Archive for October, 2012

DANGERS OF CONCUSSIONS: Why Not Ban Tackle Football Until Kids are 14?

So here is today’s suggestion….why not pass a rule that kids can’t play tackle football until they’re 14?

It’s a pretty simple rule, but it could be very powerful in terms of cutting down on the number of concussions with kids. Example: in a recent Pop Warner game in Massachusetts, at least five kids under the age of 12 were diagnosed with concussions sufferered in that one game.

It was a game, by the way, that ended with the lopsided score of 52-0, and even though the three refs and coaches from both teams knew that, under Pop Warner rules, once a team is up by 28 points, mercy rules have to be implemented, none of these supposed grown-ups did anything. As a result, all the refs have now been banned from working any more more games, and the coaches have been banned as well.

The attitude of the winning coach? “This is a football game, not a Hallmark moment.”

True. Except that you’re coaching little kids, not the Green Bay Packers. In fact, the Packers probably have more protection from concussions than these kids do.

A number of callers this AM – many of them Pop Warner coaches or Dads with kids who play Pop Warner – embraced the idea of  banning tackle football until 14. I made the same suggestion regarding banning heading soccer balls until14, and body checking in ice hockey until 14 as well, but the callers all focused on football. And as noted, they liked this idea.

Why 14? Because this suggestion comes directly from Dr. Robert Cantu, the noted neurosurgon, who strongly advocates that age. Until then, says Cantu, kids’ heads are not well supported by their neck muscles, and besides, their brain connections are still developing.

I also want to point out that Pop Warner, under Jon Butler’s direction, has tried very hard to get out in front of the concussion concerns, and that they have been proactive to educate their coaches and leagues. Problem is, they can’t be there to watch every single Pop Warner game, and in truth, there are lots of youth coaches who just don’t get the concerns about concussions.

Bottom line? Like All-Star QB Tom Brady’s Dad, who kept his kid from playing tackle football until he was 14, I think the time has come to seriously consider letting kids play organized FLAG football instead of tackle football until they’re in 9th grade. The kids can still learn the basics of blocking and tackling along the way, but in the meantime, the number of concussions will be — hopefully -drastically reduced.

COACHING TIPS: The Long-Term Bonding Benefits of Youth Sports

 

 

How Team Social Events Create Team Bonding in Youth Leagues

By Doug Abrams

 

More than 40 years after I played my last youth hockey game, I remain grateful for the skills that our coaches taught us.  Skills instruction enabled me to play in college, and then to coach a few thousand youth leaguers in winter leagues and summer hockey camps for years afterwards.  

Skills learned in youth leagues, however, fade with time.  My hockey skills don’t matter anymore, but the friendships I made in youth hockey have lasted a lifetime.  Long after I strapped on the pads for the last time, I still remain in touch with many of my teammates and many of the players I later coached.     

Coaches and parents serve their youth leaguers best when they help the players finish the season with new friendships that may not develop solely from attending games and practice sessions.  Even on local teams whose players already know many of their teammates from school or the neighborhood, players are unlikely to know everyone at the first pre-season practice.  You would be amazed at how many youth league seasons end with players barely knowing the names of everyone in the locker room.  After months together, anonymity seems like a wasted opportunity.

This column discusses how the adults can help teammates develop lasting friendships on and off the field. 

Periodic Team Get-Togethers

Parents and coaches can encourage new friendships by conducting periodic team get-togethers away from the field throughout the season.  Attendance at these social events should be optional, but they produce immediate and long term dividends – immediate because team bonding can translate into success on the field, and long term because the players’ social friendships can outlast the final game.

Start with a “get acquainted” barbeque or similar pre-season gathering for all the families.  After that, bi-weekly or monthly events during the season might be almost anything that the players or parents would like to do together – a movie, dinner at a local pizza restaurant, attending a local minor league or college game, or a trip to an amusement park, for example.

The coaches can organize the events, or they can let one or more parents take the lead. I have found that parent-organized events work best (with the coaches attending too), but the adults can decide which approach seems more comfortable for everyone.  At younger age levels, an event may be for the entire family, or it may be primarily for the players and their parents. At older age levels, players might wish to get together without their parents, though a few parents should attend team-sponsored functions to provide adequate supervision.

Practice Sessions and Games

Periodic team get-togethers do not end the story because the coaches themselves should encourage new friendships during practice sessions and games. Here are some ways to do it.

At the pre-season meetings with parents and players on our youth hockey teams, the coaches explained the short-term and long term benefits of team harmony.  At the first practice session, personal introductions preceded instruction in skills and strategy.  The coaches would go around the room and have each player give his name and hometown.  On the ice or in the locker room early in the season, we encouraged players to ask new players for their names until everyone was on a first-name basis.  Simple perhaps, common sense perhaps, but it works. 

For practice sessions and games alike, the coaches insisted that all players suit up in one locker room, even if the ice arena had more than one room that players could use.  With at least one parent providing supervision, the locker room experience was for the players’ camaraderie until a few minutes before the team hit the ice, and then for the first few minutes after leaving the ice at the end. 

During practice session drills that required players to pair off in twos or assemble in small groups to work on individual skills, the coaches would insist that players run through the drills with different teammates each time, and not always with the ones who were their “best friends.”  If the need arose, the coaches would call the players together to explain why mixing during drills would help avoid cliques that could bring the team down and leave some players feeling like outcasts. 

Conclusion

Even at the youngest age levels, players can understand the value of team unity when the coaches and parents explain it to them.  Among players guided by adults who are sensitive to the longer view, this understanding can grow as the season progresses.

OBNOXIOUS SPORTS PARENTS: An Alarming Wave of Sports Parenting Violence

After a decade of relative peace and quiet on the sports parenting front when it comes to out-and-out violent acts, suddenly it seems that there’s an epidemic out there.

As I rattled off on my show this AM (and by the way, you can always hear a podcast of my show on WFAN.com), there are all sorts of reports from all over that sports parents are committing horrible acts, specifically:

A dad at a youth football game in Utah steps up to the sideline during a game and clotheslines an unsupecting 13-year-old from the other team. The kid suffers a concussion, is out for the season, and the dad is looking at serious legal charges.

Another dad, angry at his 11-year-old son’s ice hockey coach about discipline and playing time, attacks the coach by choking him to the point where the coach can’t go to work for several weeks as he recuperates. That dad was convicted and was just sentenced to six months in jail.

A youth baseball coach from Long Island allegedly sends threatening text messages to an opposing coach.

A dad at a practice session for 4th grade football players takes exception to how hard his kid is tackled on a play, and the dad retaliates by punching the other kid’s dad in the face.

And the stories go on and on. In short, this serious problem seems to be gaining momentum all over, and that’s disturbing.

Perhaps this new generation of sports parents have forgotten, or don’t know about, the infamous Thomas Junta manslaughter conviction in 2000. Junta was “defending” his son during a hockey practice, and as Junta got into a fight with another dad, the other dad ended up dead at the hockey rink. Junta was convicted and spent years in jail.

I worry that the Junta lesson has not been reinforced with parents today.

Solutions? Not sure that there are any that are sure-fire, but for starters:

Go back to having mandatory pre-season training for all sports parents. Let them know that their kid CAN NOT practice with the team until Mom and Dad both attend a seminar on how to behave.

Education continues to be a major force in getting the word out to parents. We have to go back and make sure the message continues to go forth.

Have your league fully adopt a zero tolerance policy towards parents. In other words, they don’t get a second chance. If they are out of control at a game or practice, they are to be banned for the rest of the season. Grown-ups should know how to behave at kids’ games, and if they don’t, then stay away.

In short, unfortunately, it’s time to take action again.

 

COACHING TIPS: Harness the Power of Video to Teach Sportsmanship

 

Using Video of Ugly Incidents to Teach Sportsmanship

By Doug Abrams

 

“If you have a lemon, make a lemonade.” 

So wrote Dale Carnegie in his popular self-improvement book, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living (1948).  Carnegie’s point was that people succeed best when they seek positive lessons from unanticipated personal setbacks.  Good salespeople lose contracts, good employees face hurdles on the job, good parents face occasional obstacles in childrearing — and good youth coaches and school administrators face headwinds throughout the season.

In everyday life, some personal crises are so crushing that pursuing positive lessons may be fruitless, at least in the short term.  But youth sports games are — well, games.  Losing a tight game, for example, can be tough pill to swallow, but most coaches and athletes can work through defeats and even learn from them. 

Throughout the season, most of a youth team’s lessons stem from the coaches’ careful preparation for practice sessions and games.  Planned lessons may concern fundamentals and skills, or they may concern sportsmanship, respect and similar values. 

Many of the team’s lessons, however, arise unscripted. Even for youth coaches and school administrators unfamiliar with Carnegie’s work, unexpected events offer “teachable moments” for adults who are perceptive enough to help players draw positive lessons from setbacks — that is, to make lemonade from lemons.

 “We Can’t Let It Cross the Line”    

Earlier this week, an unanticipated teachable moment hit the headlines in Salt Lake City, Utah, thanks to release of a video taken by a fan at a girls’ high school soccer game on September 27.  The video shows an East High School player approaching a fallen opponent and kneeing her in the face after the play.  The unmistakably intentional nastiness near the net quickly found its way to YouTube, where it has already received a few hundred views.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3QDSVJf0Gc (:14).

According to press reports, East High School authorities did not sweep the kneeing incident under the rug, make excuses, or otherwise seek to deflect personal accountability.  “You need to know how to be physical and not cross the line of being physical,” East’s principal said after watching the video, adding that “the play had been stopped in this case, and it was blatant and no excuse for it.”

The offending player publicly apologized, and discipline may await her from the school and the league. Even more important, however, the Salt Lake City School District announced that it would “take the video and show it to the soccer team and other teams.  We understand games get physical or emotional, but we can’t let it cross the line.”

Players Learn What They Watch

To a younger generation raised on visual instruction, video can be a potent teaching tool when it shows actual incidents of sportsmanship and respect taking a hit in youth leagues, high schools and professional sports.  The video need not even show a local incident because YouTube and other Internet sources provide plenty of useful video clips from around the country.   

Rather than wait for their teams’ first nasty incident, coaches can be proactive and show a few of these video clips when they discuss sportsmanship in preseason meetings with players.  As Rick Wolff and I have urged on the air, coaches should remind players that the chances of getting away with on-the-field assaults are not good today because video cameras are everywhere.  What player wants to be an international YouTube sensation because of a momentary lapse in the heat of the game? 

Most youth leaguers watching the video clips will know right from wrong, and they will get the message.  This week’s East High School video clip would be instructive for players from coast to coast.  If East High School indeed uses the clip as a teachable moment for its teams, lemonade will be in the school’s future.

 

[Sources:  Dale Carnegie, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, p. 138 (1948);                                Cristina Rendon, Mother Speaks About Daughter’s Assault on High School Soccer Field,  http://www.abc4.com/mostpopular/story/Mother-speaks-about-daughters-assault-on-high/g9iZsbIuyk2B0Ihda7Sj4A.cspx (Oct. 15. 2012); Shara Park and Lori Prichard, East High Knee to Opponent’s Head Caught on Video, http://www.ksl.com/?sid=22565601&nid=504 (Oct. 15, 2012)]

 

COACHING TIPS: Has Running Laps Become a Form of Corporal Punishment?

That seems to be the general consensus regarding a news item coming out of Des Moines, Iowa, last week.

In short, a HS varsity football coach reprimanded a JV player, who had been making some derogatory comments about the varsity squad. The kid was told to start running sprints, then some laps, and some up-and-down drills as well as a form of punishment.

Mind you, the youngster didn’t get injured or hurt, except perhaps his ego was understandably bruised. But over the next few days as word of this punishment was reported, it was the coach who came under fire. Why? Running laps was viewed as punishment that bordered on bullying and was an extension of corporal punishment.

Whoa….first of all, for as long as I can recall, coaches have always had the right to discipline their players during practice and games. If a kid is goofing off in practice, the coach would simply bark, “Okay, smart guy, start running…and I’ll tell you when to stop.”

This has been standard coaching procedure for a long, long time. And nobody has ever compared this disciplinary tactic to being a form of corporal punishment. I have always linked “corporal punishment” with actual physical contact, where a coach slaps, hits, punches, or paddles a kid. In other words, very physical and harsh stuff. And that IS wrong and illegal punishment.

But running laps or doing sprints? I think the Iowa board of physical education directors may have gone a tad too far. They’re suggesting that coaches need to now develop some new kinds of disciplinary techniques that will get kids to stay in line. To me, while creative appraoches to discipline are always welcome, I’m still not convinced having kids run laps as a punishment is going too far.

Bottom line? Iowa phys ed administrators? When I blow the whistle, start running laps…and keep on running until I tell you to stop.

Some of the callers today even related stories from 30 or 40 years ago when their HS coach told them to “start running” as a form of punishment, and these fellows were grateful for the lesson. One caller even related that he had never run before in his life, but once he had been disciplined to run, he not only found that he enjoyed it, but was actually quite talented. It led to a wonderful HS career as a miler. Amazing.

 

COACHING TIPS: Putting It All into Perspective – How Times Have Changed

 

A Stroll Down Memory Lane:

How Pro Sports Has Changed Parents’ Views of Youth Sports

By Doug Abrams

On October 10, 1962 – fifty years ago this week – I attended my first New York Knicks home game, and I did not even have to take the train from Long Island to Madison Square Garden.  I was a sixth grader at Bowling Green School in Westbury, and the game was played a few blocks away in the W. Tresper Clarke High School gymnasium.  It was a pre-season exhibition game against the Syracuse Nationals, the team that would become the Philadelphia 76ers the following season.

The Knicks-Nationals game shows how much the National Basketball Association has changed in the past half century.  The NBA does not play games in public high school gyms these days, and its teams charge more for admission than that night’s $1.00 tariff!

At Rick Wolff’s prompting, memories of that game also led me to consider how the profound changes in basketball and other major professional sports have changed the way some parents approach their own children’s participation in youth leagues.  I think that the connection can be made.  

A half century ago, “youth sports” generally meant neighborhood pickup games organized by the youngsters themselves, supplemented by local leagues.  In too many places today, “youth sports” means a spiraling arms race fueled by seven-year-old select teams, elementary schoolers cut or warming the bench, expensive private coaches, interstate and regional travel, and seemingly interminable games schedules that can over-extend many children and intrude unduly on family life.   

“History is Who We Are”

I understand the disappearance of the largely unstructured sandlot play that prevailed well into the 1960s, and its displacement by organized sports programs that adults create, incorporate, administer, outfit, coach and officiate.  This “adultification” of youth sports marks today’s reality and is unlikely to change.  Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough, however, explains why looking backward in time can yield lessons that help produce a better future.  “History,” he says, “is who we are and why we are the way we are.”

Looking backward today might lead some youth sports parents to rethink the unhealthy pressure that they place on themselves and their children, particularly pressure that may stem from the parents’ visions of collegiate athletic scholarships, and sometimes even from their dimmer hopes of professional contracts for their children.  In recent years, plenty of parents entertaining these aspirations have asked me how they might help position their 10-year-olds.  Many parents remain edgy even as their children get older.  Newspapers regularly report about parents who hector their child’s high school coaches, undermine their leadership, and sometimes force their termination for failing to deliver an athletic scholarship. 

The Numbers Tell the Story

I don’t recall that attention to collegiate athletic scholarships and pro contracts drove youth sports in the 1960s, but those were the days before the cost of higher education began outpacing inflation nearly every year for decades, and before the most prominent professional athletes began drawing well publicized seven-figure annual salaries.  College costs remained within range for wide segments of Americans, and ordinary professional athletes regularly supplemented their income with off-season work on construction, retail sales, and other employment that might prepare for a lifetime of salaried work after sports. 

Times have changed.  Athletic scholarships can appear more alluring today when, according to CNN, “college costs are spiraling wildly out of control”:  “For more than two decades, colleges and universities across the country have been jacking up tuition at a faster rate than costs have risen on any other major product or service — four times faster than the overall inflation rate and faster even than increases in the price of gasoline or health care. . . .  The result: After adjusting for financial aid, the amount families pay for college has skyrocketed 439% since 1982.”

With collective bargaining and free agency today, the salaries of leading professional athletes have hit the stratosphere.   Even adjusting the earlier salary figures to reflect 2012 dollars, today’s numbers are princely sums, even before the lucrative endorsement deals available to the leading players.

In 1960-61, for example, the Los Angeles Lakers’ future Hall-of-Famer Jerry West received a rookie salary of $15,000. In 1977, U.S. News & World Report labeled average annual National Basketball salaries ($126,000) “fantastic.”  In the National Basketball Association today, the average player salary is about $5.8 million. 

In the National Football League, average annual salaries have increased from about $6,000 in the early 1960s, to about $50,000 in the mid-1970s, to nearly $2 million today.  Average annual salaries in the National Hockey League have increased from about $15,000 in the mid-1960s, to $90,000 in the mid-1970s, to more than $2.4 million today.

In 1966, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, two future Hall of Famers and major league baseball’s best pitchers, jointly held out for a month during spring training before signing one-year contract for $125,000 and $110,000 respectively. In 1970, the average major league ballplayer’s salary was about $25,000.  The average salary today is about $3.2 million.  

Playing the “Youth Sports Lottery”

 

Parents sometimes impose pressure in a well-meaning effort to help their youth leaguers reach the highest levels, but some parents overlook the harsh sifting process that determines advancement. Professional athletes are so talented that they make their game look deceptively easy, but the odds against a child’s making the pros in any sport are about 12,000-to-one or higher.  Two million children participate in competitive gymnastics each year, but only seven or eight participate in the Olympics every four years.  Less than 4% of varsity high school football players play college football, and less than 1% of college players win professional contracts.  For every 2300 high school senior basketball players, only 40 will play college basketball and only one will play in the NBA.

 

With odds like these, parents eyeing their children’s entry into Division I collegiate sports and especially the pros might as well play the state lottery.  Like adults who see a lottery winner’s smiling face in the newspaper and rush out to buy tickets, parents are sometimes tantalized by media accounts of players like Tiger Woods, Mickey Mantle and Venus and Serena Williams, whose parents pushed them and won the “lottery” when the child made it big.  These news accounts are noteworthy precisely because they are so extraordinary, and they do nothing to improve the overwhelming odds.  Rational adults would not gamble their own valuable property at such odds, and they should not gamble their child’s fun and fulfillment either.  Fun in youth sports is valuable, and it belongs to the child, not the parents.

Sometimes the pressure imposed by parents nowadays is merely to win, as if winning at a tender age is a sure gauge of later proficiency.   But more and more parents also push their particularly young children to seek advantage by specializing in one sport.  Drawing on medical studies a week ago, sportswriter Michael Arace of the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch described the high price that year-round specialization can exact:  “Focusing on just one sport is about the worst thing a young athlete can do. It mitigates the developmental benefits that come from playing, it is physically dangerous and, for the vast majority, it is actually a hindrance to their primary athletic pursuit.”

The cruel irony is that with millions of child athletes quitting in frustration by their early teen years once adults take the fun from the game, parental pressure undoubtedly aborts many more collegiate and professional careers than it creates.  Some children who quit playing early, before ever developing skills and demonstrating genuine talent, would have stood a better chance of reaching the collegiate or pro ranks with parents who allowed them to engage in natural play as they develop their talents.

Rewards That Money Cannot Buy

Memories of the 1962 Knicks-Nationals basketball game at Clarke High School, and of the face of youth sports in those days, suggest that supportive parents today should turn down the thermostat a bit and spurn the more counterproductive aspects of the “youth sports arms race.”  Competitive drives will not (and should not) disappear, but the most enduring rewards of youth sports lie in the players’ physical and emotional growth from competition — rewards that money cannot buy — and not in the pursuit of elusive scholarships or pro contracts. 

Even if adult excesses do not drive a child to quit playing prematurely, a youth sports career is fleeting because youngsters pass through adolescence so quickly, emerging only with the memories, good or bad.  Desire to win within the rules should energize any player or parent, but I have seen youth leaguers play their best for years, only to feel ultimately that they let down their parents for not reaching higher levels.  In a society that places such value on athletic achievement, reliving perceived failure throughout adulthood defeats the mission of youth sports.

[Sources: David C. McCullough Quotes, http://thinkexist.com/quotation/history_is_a_guide_to_navigation_in_perilous/203335.html; Penelope Wang, Is College Still Worth the Price?, http://money.cnn.com/2008/08/20/pf/college/college_price.moneymag/ (Apr. 13, 2009); Jack Bogaczyk, West Knows the Hurt of Losing, Charleston (W. Va.) Daily Mail, June 3, 2008; Jackson Michael, The Average Salary in Basketball, http://www.ehow.com/about_6507704_average-salary-basketball.html#ixzz291ksHBP4; Jonathan Lister, The Average Salary of a Pro Baseball Player,  http://www.ehow.com/info_7758566_average-salary-pro-baseball-player.html; NFL Salary History, http://www.ehow.com/facts_5005953_nfl-salary-history.html;   Chris Newton, The Average Salary of an NHL Hockey Player, http://www.ehow.com/info_7858061_average-salary-nhl-hockey-player.html;  High-Priced Players: What Inflation is Doing to the World of Sports, U.S. News & World Report, May 16, 1977, p. 53; Douglas E. Abrams, The Challenge Facing Parents and Coaches in Youth Sports: Assuring Children Fun and Equal Opportunity, 8 Villanova Sports & Entertainment Law Journal, vol. 8 (2002); Michael Arace, Single-Sport Youth Athletes Sell Themselves Short, Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, Oct. 6, 2012]

MOVIE REVIEW: “Bad Parents” is Right on Target – Should be Mandatory Viewing for All Sports Parents

Caytha Jentis is a sports parent just like the rest of us. A former tennis player at Syracuse University, her daughter Sally is currently a lax player at the Univ. of Virginia.

And like all of us, Caytha fully bought into the “sports-induced madness” that accompanies all the pressures and anxieties of watching our kids make their way through competitive youth sports.

The only difference is that Caytha decided to write a script and then turned her efforts into a terrific satire called BAD PARENTS. This should be mandatory viewing for all parents and coaches of sports teams (I would recommend it for kids, too, except that’s some very coarse language and some R-rated scenes in the film).

In any event, the movie focuses on an affluent suburan New Jersey U-8 girls’ soccer team where the usual sports parenting worries abound: will my daughter make the A team, or be cut to the B team? Will my kid be a starter? Will she get enough playing time? Does the coach play favorites? Why does the coach yell at my child so much? And on and on. It really hits all the low marks of our obsession with sports and kids.

This, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg as well-known comedic stars like Janeane Garafalo and Cheri Oteri play their roles smartly as soccer moms right to the point.

BAD PARENTS is just in the process of being shown in a few select venues right now, but take a minute to watch the trailer at Badparentsmovie.com….trust me, it’s a hoot. Share it with your friends. According to Caytha, sometime in March, the film will get much larger distribution. This one has all the earmarks of becoming a sports parenting classic very soon.

OBNOXIOUS SPORTS PARENTS: It’s Now An International Concern – and Growing

 

 

 

Australia’s “Ugly Parent Syndrome”

By Doug Abrams

 

With globalization influencing Americans’ lives so profoundly these days, I devoted recent columns to youth sports in Britain and New Zealand, two nations whose passions for competitive athletics resemble our own.  Both nations maintain youth sports systems that are beset by troubles similar to the ones we face here in the United States.  The most publicized troubles concern the efforts of youth sports organizations to counter violence and other misconduct committed by some parents.  

This column examines Australia’s recent youth sports troubles, which are also similar to ours.  The Queensland Courier Mail blames incidents of parental violence and other misconduct on “vicarious living, mob mentality and an overemphasis on winning,” even at the earliest age levels.  For years now, Australians have diagnosed the malignancy as “The Ugly Parent Syndrome.”

 “Terrific Opportunities”

President Obama is right that in “a world that is getting smaller because of technology, . . . there are terrific opportunities for us to partner with people around the world.”  In so many areas of economic and social life, global partnering enables the United States to study how other nations (and sometimes other cultures) grapple with common problems.  Americans can learn much from other nations, and other nations can learn much from us.

The challenges posed by the relatively few adults whose violence and other misconduct mar youth sports transcend national boundaries.  A 2010 international survey, conducted by Reuters News and the marketing research firm Ipsos, ranked American parents as the world’s “worst behaved” parents at children’s sports events. Sixty percent of U.S. adults who had attended youth sports contests reported that had seen parents become verbally or physically abusive toward coaches or officials.  Runners-up were parents in India (59%), Italy (55%), Argentina (54%), Canada (53%) – and yes, Australia (50%). 

This summer, an Australian survey confirmed the earlier Reuters/Ipsos findings.  As reported in the Geelong Advertiser on June 25, 64.3% of respondents said that they had seen incidents of Ugly Parent Syndrome in their local youth sports.  The incidents included “throwing beer bottles at umpires, imploring their children to strike opponents, and publicly criticizing volunteer coaches.”

On September 11, the Northern Territory News reported that teenage officials had been “punched, sworn at and threatened” by irate parents at Australian games for children as young as nine.  One observer likened these parents to “people who steal, bash children or bully the weak.”

On September 17, the Courier Mail reported “a spate of weekend junior rugby league brawls involving parents.”  After witnessing one brawl, a Queensland Rugby League board member said that the violence “makes you wonder why on earth any parent would want to attack a kid.”   

In the Canberra City News last year, sportscaster Tim Gavel reacted to several ugly incidents by asking, “Is there a worse sight in sport, apart from outright thuggery, than the image of an abusive parent at a junior sporting event?”  He may have meant the question to be merely rhetorical, but listeners responded by inundating him with instances of “over the edge” parental behavior in that city’s youth league games.

High Stakes

In the United States, between 30 and 35 million boys and girls — nearly half the nation’s children — play at least one youth sport each year.  The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that about 1.7 million boys and girls — about 63% of Australian children — play at least one organized sport outside school hours.  In both nations, no other activity reaches so many youngsters outside the home and schools. 

Recurring instances of parental disturbance may seem a cause for pessimism, but — in the United States, Britain, New Zealand and Australia alike — these instances are offset by the majority of adults, who seek to assure wholesome experiences for millions of young athletes.  With the stakes so high, the majority in both nations can learn much from one another. 

This mutual learning already seems to be bearing fruit as Australian youth sports organizations have countered parental misconduct with measures similar to ones taken in the United States.  Australian parents may be required to sign preseason good-behavior pledges and attend meetings about sportsmanship and fair play.  At sports venues, sports programs post signs requesting proper parental behavior.    Parents may be barred from approaching their children’s benches during games and at the end of a quarter or half.  Some programs maintain zero-tolerance policies for parental misconduct, and violation has led to suspension or dismissal of parents and, in particularly extreme cases, their children.    

In the United States and Australia, national and local governing bodies, local sports leagues, and private reformers could learn from sentiments expressed in the other nation, and from written materials generated to support and explain these sentiments.   Rich with new ideas, these sources are only a mouse click away on the Internet.

Government agencies have taken the lead.  In the United States, the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports & Nutrition instructs that “Nothing ruins the fun of physical activity and sports participation faster than a poor sport.  Practice the principles of good sportsmanship.  Be courteous and show respect at all times, win or lose.  That goes for players, parents of all young players, and coaches.” 

The Australian Sports Commission has published Codes of Behaviour.  The Codes “identify a series of key principles on which young players, parents, coaches, teachers, administrators, officials, the media and spectators should base their sporting involvement.”  The Commission seeks to “ensure that young people develop good sporting behaviours and have an enjoyable experience of sport, which will encourage them to remain involved throughout their lives.”  The Codes of Behaviour stem from the Commission’s central creed:

 

“In Australia we are proud of our sporting ability and our reputation as a nation of good sports.  Our society expects high standards of behaviour from all people involved in sport and it is vital the integrity of sport is maintained.  The main responsibility for this lies with the decision makers at every level of sport who should ensure that all policies, programs and services are based on the principles of fairness, respect, responsibility and safety.”

 

 

 

[Sources: Chris Garry & Andrew MacDonald, Brawl Parents “Need Ego Boost,” Courier Mail, Sept. 17, 2012; Four In 10 (37%) Global Citizens Have Been To Children’s Sports Event, http://www.marketwire.com/press-release/Four-In-10-37-Global-Citizens-Have-Been-To-Childrens-sports-Even-1143748.htm;  Parents Are Bad Sports, Survey Finds, Geelong Advertiser, June 25, 2012; Remarks by the President to Students at Parkville Middle School and Center of Technology (Baltimore, Maryland), www.whitehouse.gov (Feb. 14, 2011); Middle Class Dads Put On a Nasty Display, Northern Territory News, Sept. 11, 2012; Fiona Baker, Good Sports, Sunday Telegraph, May 27, 2012; The President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, The President’s Council  on Physical Fitness and Sports, The First Fifty Years, 1956-2006, p. 38; Tim Gavel, Sport’s Ugly Parents, Canberra City News, June 8, 2011; Brigid O’Connell, Ugly Parents Tackled at Sports Events to Protect Children, Herald Sun, Sept. 8, 2008; North Sydney Junior Rugby League, Ugly Parent Syndrome, http://www.sportingpulse.com/assoc_page.cgi?c=1-1125-0-0-0&sID=13503&articleID=52179&news_task=DETAIL; Australian Sports Commission, Junior Sport Codes of Behaviour, http://www.ausport.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/115576/8._JnrCodesofBehaviourbrochure.pdf ; Australian Sports Commission, The Essence of Australian Sport: What We Stand For, http://ausport.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/312869/A4_brochure_7_05-V5.pdf ]