violence in youth sports by teaching sportsmanship
Everyday I hear another story of adults getting out of hand at
some youth sports game.
|A pregame pep talk is a good
time to reinforce sportsmanship.
Does that surprise any of us? I doubt it, and if you've been to any
youth sports events lately, it shouldn't.
One of the most unfortunate aspects of all programs is that sports
violence is one of the most accepted types of negative behavior and abuse in our society.
"There has been a dramatic shift in youth sports away from a
sense of enjoyment, physical fitness and sportsmanship to intense competition," says
David Walsh, Ph.D., author of the book Selling Out America's Children.
Most of us look at this negative behavior at a ball game, and we're
appalled when it turns into violence. Unfortunately, our sports programs and facilities
are not immune to what occurs around us everyday.
An article that appeared recently in the Minneapolis Star Tribune
included a report of a survey conducted by the research group Public Agenda, a New
York-based nonprofit organization. The report included: "road rage, foul language,
the United States has become the land of the rude."
Seventy-nine percent of the adults surveyed said a lack of respect
and courtesy in American society is a serious problem. Sixty-one percent believe things
have gotten worse in recent years.
Imagine someone driving on his way to watch his kid play, and he
encounters road rage, regardless of who's at fault, he's already primed for an outburst.
When you get right down to it, it's the attitudes that people bring
to the events that potentially add to the displays of negative behavior.
Our society is filled with people in a hurry, only thinking about
themselves, which has resulted in a culture that nourishes disrespect. Add to this fact
that competition at children's athletic events grows more intense as parents see possible
college athletic scholarships ahead.
"In general, there has been a tremendous increase in parents'
emotional investment in their children's extracurricular activities," says William
Doherty, professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota.
As parents we want the best for our childrenwe want them to be
#1, and society adds to this with an attitude that, "Winning isn't
it's the only thing."
Everyday we're bombarded with the hype that being #2 isn't good
enough. So, when you add those pieces to the adult or parent who is in the stands at our
athletic events, it's no wonder that we've seen a tremendous increase in this type of
The actions that we see demonstrated at some athletic events would
never be accepted at restaurants, movies, malls or other public places.
|The positive ritual of a postgame
As administrators, we're conscience about "risk
management" and protecting our participants. We look at ways to insure that our
entire facilities are safe, including the floors, ball fields, swimming pools, locker
rooms, and so on, but what about the emotional safety of the participants?
It's time that youth sports associations, park and recreation
departments, and school district administrators set standards for our programs and
facilities that demand sportsmanship. We need to return youth sports to a positive and
safe environment for our kids.
Every time I do a presentation or workshop, I promote the positive
model that Northfield Youth Baseball Association in Minnesota uses as a solution to
educating and handling negative behavior in its program.
Here's how it works: At the beginning of the season, parents and
players receive and sign an agreement that outlines expectations and behavioral
If a fan demonstrates unsportsmanlike behavior directed toward
umpires, coaches or players, the following will take place:
Initial offenseUmpire will
stop the game and notify both coaches of the problem. Coaches are expected to take the
If behavior continuesUmpire
will stop the game and give "notification" (see card*) to fan involved. This
step can be eliminated if fan behavior is deemed excessive.
If behavior still continuesUmpire
will stop game until fan leaves the grounds.
The card reads: "We, the
NYBA, appreciate your attendance at our youth events. Our participants need your POSITIVE
SUPPORT and ENCOURAGEMENT. ABUSIVE BEHAVIOR of players, coaches, umpires or fans WILL NOT
BE TOLERATED. If your behavior continues, WE WILL STOP THE GAME UNTIL YOU LEAVE THE
The NYBA has refined these guidelines since 1996, and each season
they give out fewer and fewer cards, which in my opinion means it's working.
Athletic associations and school districts may tell you they have
codes of conduct or sportsmanship plans, but my questions are: Do they have consequences
tied to the code? Do they enforce the plan?
Today, codes of conduct or sportsmanship plans without consequences
have little effect.
Whenever you talk with someone who's involved with youth athletics,
they'll say, "I'm in it for the kids." It only takes a short time to watch and
know who's involved for the kids and who's involved for themselves.
When we think of role models, we shouldn't think of professional
athletes first, we should be looking in the mirror. As parents, educators, managers and
coaches, we have the potential to have a tremendous positive impact on young people's
A young person's development, personality and self-esteem are all
delicate and fragile. Every adult who comes in contact with a young person's life has an
opportunity to influence and leave a lasting impression beyond the season and possibly for
the rest of that child's life.
Let's hope that the impressions are positive ones.
Whether you're a player, spectator, parent, official, volunteer
coach, board member, park and rec manager, school administrator, or just a good ol' sports
junkie, I challenge each of you to become actively involved in changing our school and
youth sports programs.
You must ask yourself, what is the image that you want for your
community and athletic programs?
Think about sportsmanship in this way, and let these values prevail
in your sports programs:
efforts by opponents, officials and teammates
Civilitybe gracious in victory as well as in
Couragefollow the heart to do the right thing
Fairnessobserve the spirit and letter of the
Responsibilitytake charge of your actions and
Remember that sportsmanship starts with each of us.
Frank M. White is manager of the Richfield Recreation
Programs & Athletics in Richfield, Minn. He can be reached at Frank@respectsports.com or visit http://www.respectsports.com/.