Idaho Youth Football Program Cancels Games Because of Adult Misconduct
By Doug Abrams
Late last month, the Coeur d’Alene Junior Tackle League canceled the season’s remaining football games against Post Falls, its nearby Idaho rival. The two leagues each outfit several teams, and the cancellations sidelined about 325 players in the fifth- through eighth-grade age brackets.
No media report suggested that the kids had played dirty. Or that the kids had violated league rules or shown disrespect to opponents, coaches, or officials. The wholesale cancellations stemmed instead from misconduct of both leagues’ parents and coaches.
Coeur d’Alene’s president told KREM about “parents arguing with the refs themselves. Coaches arguing with the refs. Out of line behavior up and down the sidelines.”
“We don’t want a YouTube video of a melee,” the president explained to the Bonner County Daily Bee, adding that many referees were unwilling to officiate the overheated games and absorb the abuse.
Regardless of the circumstances that drove this particular case, the Idaho cancellations invite a renewed look at parental and coaching misconduct nationwide – and at how this misconduct can deprive the players, who are, after all, the ultimate beneficiaries of Youth Sports.
The Familiar Script
The script was written years ago: Most problems at youth league games are triggered by people over the age of 18 because many players display sportsmanship and respect better than some parents and coaches do. This turnabout stains the game because adults, not children, are supposed to set the example.
In 2014, the Liberty Mutual Insurance Responsible Sports program released a nationwide Sportsmanship Survey conducted by ORC International. Sixty percent of respondents reported either witnessing or participating in negative or abusive sideline behavior by parents or youth coaches. Twenty-six percent of parents said that they had witnessed a verbally abusive coach, and 16% of parents said that that they had witnessed a physical confrontation between parents. Fifty-five percent of coaches said that they had experienced parents yelling negatively at officials or their own children, and two in five coaches said they had experienced parents yelling negatively at other children.
Liberty Mutual’s survey reaffirmed results of a similar survey that the Responsible Sports program had commissioned a year earlier. In the 2013 survey, 40% of youth coaches said that they had experienced parents yelling negatively at other children. Fifty-five percent of the coaches said that they had experienced parents yelling negatively at their own children. Forty-four percent said that they had experienced parents yelling negatively at officials, and 39% said that they had experienced parents yelling at them.
The Liberty Mutual sportsmanship surveys are not outliers. For example, in an earlier Survey USA poll in Indianapolis, Indiana, 55% of parents said that they had seen other parents engaging in verbal abuse at youth sports events; 21% said that they had seen a physical altercation between other parents. In a Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission survey, 45.3% of youth leaguers said that adults had called them names, yelled at them, or insulted them while they were playing; 17.5% said that an adult had hit, kicked or slapped them during a game; and 8.2% said that they had been pressured to harm opponents intentionally.
In 2010, Reuters News and the market research company Ipsos conducted a sportsmanship survey in 22 nations. The survey ranked parents in the United States 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 they 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 Australia (50%).
“It’s ironic that the United States, which prides itself in being the most civilized country in the world, has the largest group of adults having witnessed abusive behavior at children’s sporting events,” said an Ipsos senior vice president.
Winners and Losers
We should view these “eyewitness” surveys in context. The National Alliance for Youth Sports has estimated that about 15% of youth league games involve at least one confrontation between a parent and a coach or official. Assuming this estimate, it matters little whether in the typical sports association, only a relatively small minority of adults cross the line into misconduct; that minority can ruin the experience for other families, including ones who find the misconduct distasteful or otherwise contrary to the atmosphere and values they seek from the association.
Last month’s Idaho game cancelations left no winners, only losers. Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls league administrators each recognized that the brunt fell most heavily on the youngsters, who simply wanted to play football.
Beyond northern Idaho, many shortsighted adults overlook the central role that youth league sports can play in strengthening family bonds. When teenagers begin seeking independence from their parents and resisting their influence, organized sports still enables parents to share wholesome activities with their children who wish to play. Most teens want their parents and siblings to attend the games, root for them, and share their experiences. But instead of embracing this opportunity to bring the family together, some parents misbehave in ways that drive their teenagers either to wish that the parents would not attend, or to quit playing altogether.
Youngsters would play just as well, and perhaps better, if their parents and coaches cheered hard for the team, without jeering or taunting one another. And if the adults let the referees or umpires do their jobs free from verbal assault. If officials can hear profanity and other verbal abuse directed at them by parents or coaches, the players on the field can also hear it. Adults should not shout anything from the stands or bench that they would be embarrassed to say in front of the youngsters off the playing field.
Wise parents and coaches seek out “teachable moments,” opportunities to educate youth leaguers with positive lessons drawn from negative events. But sometimes the adults can learn as well as teach.
The Idaho youth football cancelations provide yet another reminder that adults can do better for their young athletes who strive to win and perform their best in youth leagues from coast to coast. In a talk reported in the Biloxi (Miss.) Sun Herald earlier this summer, former all-star outfielder Darryl Strawberry delivered this lesson drawn from his 17 seasons in Major League Baseball:
“We need to get back to letting kids have fun and enjoy themselves. Parents need to chill out. Don’t go to games yelling. Let them play. We just have to get back to understanding that the game is fun. . . . It’s fun. Fun. Remember, fun.”
Sources: KREM, Taylor Viydo, N. Idaho Football League Cancels Games Due to Parent Behavior (Oct. 21, 2016); Ryan Collingwood, CA’A Cancels Youth Football Games with PF (Oct. 21, 2015); Liberty Mutual Insurance Responsible Sports, New Survey Identifies Decline of Sportsmanship in Youth Sports According to Parents and Coaches, https://www.libertymutualgroup.com/about-lm/news/news-release-archive/articles/new-survey-identifies-decline-of-sportsmanship-in-youth-sports-according-to-parents-and-coaches; (June 2, 2014 press release); Parents and Coaches Express Conflicting Opinions Regarding Priorities in Youth Sports, https://www.libertymutualgroup.com/about-lm/news/news-release-archive/articles/parents-and-coaches-express-conflicting-opinions-regarding-priorities-in-youth-sports; US, India Parents Seen as Worst Behaved at Kids’ Sports, Reuters, Apr. 7, 2010; Jeanie Tavitas-Williams, Play Ball (Not Brawl): Adults Often Forget To Be Good Sports, San Antonio Express-News, Apr. 27, 2004, p. 1C; Douglas E. Abrams, Player Safety in Youth Sports: Sportsmanship and Respect as an Injury-Prevention Strategy, 39 Seton Hall Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law, p. 1 (2012); Patrick Ochs, Darryl Strawberry Has the Best Advice For Baseball Parents, Biloxi (Miss.) Sun Herald, June 28, 2016.