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Violence in Youth Sports

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Violence on the Sidelines in Youth Sports

Violence on the Sidelines in Youth Sports

Everyone agrees that parent involvement is a good thing. But when the parent behaves inappropriately it creates a poor environment for the children to learn and enjoy themselves. "Sideline rage" with parents behaving badly at youth sports events is such an epidemic, that 76% of respondents from 60 high school athletic associations said increased spectator interference is causing many officials to quit (Associated Press, 6/3/01). Parents are supposed to be role models, and the lessons they teach will determine their values and actions in the future. These days violence in children's sports is not limited to the playing field; overbearing parents are creating dangerous situations on the field. Involving your child in sports is important part of growing up. There are several benefits to children playing sports. The child will learn how to make friends outside of school, church, and family. It will help develop self-esteem and physical skills. They discover what it means to be a member of a team and how to win and lose with self-respect. Children also need to be active every day; exercise promotes growth and improves physical and emotional health. The Office of the Surgeon General states that active children are at less risk to high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease as well as many cancers (Office of the Surgeon General, January 11, 2007). Growing up, my brothers participated in many sports activities. They played hockey in the winter and baseball in the summer. Practice was held once a week and a game was scheduled for the weekend. The coach was usually a volunteer teacher or a parent of a teammate. In my brothers’ free time, they simply played whatever sport or game they wanted to play. Youth sports have changed in the past 30 years. Children as young as four years old are playing in one specialized sport and stay with this sport year round. At age ten, many kids have private coaching and attend specialized clinics in the off season. The coach is usually someone with a background in sports, either a retired professional player or coach. Practices are now scheduled for twice a week and attending a weekly clinic is strongly recommended, with a strength conditioning workout schedule between practices. All of these changes mean more involvement time for the parents. Parents are now spending up ten hours a week watching their children compete with other children, and this pressure can sometimes be too much for the parent. In 2002, Thomas Junta was convicted of involuntary manslaughter after he attacked Michael Costin, who later died of his injuries. Mr. Costin was refereeing a pickup game of hockey. The fight was witnessed by a dozen children including the children of both Mr. Junta and Mr. Costin (Butterfield, 2002). While this is by far one of the worst incidents in sports rage, there are other types of behavior that can still harm our youth. Physical violence is often a rare occurrence; verbal abuse and intimidation have been seen frequently. When a parents scream at their child after practice that he/she did not run fast enough or hit hard enough, can be considered a form of verbal abuse. Also consider when a parent of one child screams at the team for not performing well and not winning the game, this combined with swearing can reduce a child to tears. Daniel Wann, PhD states that if a child cries because a parent or coach yelled at them or embarrassed them, then we have a problem (Pallerino, n.d.). Another type of abuse is the intimidation of a child or team. When the fathers of a hockey team stand behind the glass of the opposing teams' goalie and pound on the glass as to distract and intimidate is a form bullying.
However extreme this may be, incidents of this type are becoming more frequently. There have been reports of incidents ranging from verbal abuse to outright physical violence. Sports rage is defined as "within the context of an organized athletic activity, any physical attack upon another person such as striking, wounding, or otherwise touching in an offensive manner, and/or any malicious, verbal abuse or sustained harassment which threatens subsequent violence or bodily harm." (Heinzmann, n.d.). Nationwide, incidents of violence among parents involved in youth sports quadrupled between 2000 and 2005 (McMahon, 2006). One reason for the increase can be linked to the jump of involvement in youth sports. There are currently 25 million children playing sports. As a result, there is more parental involvement which can lead to more conflict. A youth sports study interviewed 3000 children and reports that seventy-four percent of them have seen out of control adults at their games. Of that, thirty-six percent of the children stated that they were embarrassed and twenty-five percent were disappointed. Forty-eight percent of the children went further to say that they wish the parents could relax, while another thirty-six percent would like to see the offending parents banned from the games (Sports Illustrated for Kids, 2001). Fred Engh, head of the National Alliance for Youth Sports, states that in 1996, only five percent of parents displayed this type of out of control behavior. In 2001, that number jumped to fifteen percent (Dahlberg, 2001). With dreams of glory and college scholarships, many parents push their young athletes to play through the pain. Some parents are seeking help from sports psychologists to help their child become more focused. In Bradenton, Florida the IMG Academy, tuition cost $100,000 a year. At this boarding school, the kids can have class in the morning and train in the afternoon. Mark Hyman, a sports journalist, states that 3.5 million children under the age of 15 will require medical treatment for a sports injury; approximately half of these injuries are due to overuse. Perhaps the best example of a young athlete playing through the pain is Karri Strug at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. At 18 years old, Karri Strug was the last of her team to perform on the vault. On her first run she fell and injured her ankle. After slowly limping her way back to the starting point, she shocked everyone by completing her second vault and stuck the landing before collapsing in pain. By playing through the pain, she helped the American team win the gold medal. She had to be carried to the podium to receive her medal, and was driven to the hospital shortly thereafter. The Doctors treated her for a third degree lateral sprain. Due to her injury, she could not compete in the individual event finals. The next day, her picture graced the front page of every newspaper and was dubbed a national sports hero. It is this kind of example that parents and coaches look to when they are telling their children to play through the pain or to walk it off. Of course, most parents do not expect this level toughness from their children. Parents simply want their child to perform at their own individual level of skill and give 100% for every game and practice. Most parents are experienced enough to realize that every child, including their own, to prone to laziness every once in awhile. It is this laziness that makes Parents want to push the child to become stronger and faster. When a child does have a minor injury for example, a bruise or a sore muscle, asking the child to play through the pain is a practical request. Rubbing a sore muscle or walking off a Charlie horse for a few minutes and then asking them to resume playing in not unreasonable. In fact, in a study conducted by the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission (MASC) reports that only 21% of children surveyed had been pressured into playing with an injury (National Alliance of Youth Sports, n.d.). The majority of Parents will spend hundreds of dollars on expensive protective equipment that will reduce the amount of injuries. A concussion resistant helmet alone can cost up to $300. Coaches also make time to ensure the children do proper stretches and warm ups to avoid injury. Taking these precautions also ease the mind of the child that they are unlikely to receive a major injury. It is important for parents to understand the difference between verbal abuse and tough love. Parents sometime feel that they need to "toughen" up their child; this should not be done at the expense of the child's feelings. Parents often misinterpret the lack of motivation for weakness. This can be easily resolved by simply changing the way both the parent and child value the sport experience. When the parent puts the emphasis on winning and not the experience itself, the child can feel overly pressured. Many parents seem to live vicariously through their child and live out their own dreams through the child's participation. For this reason, children see the game as fun while the parents tend to see it as a win or lose situation. Unfortunately some parents compare their child's progress with that of other children and as a result they lose perspective about the importance of their child's participation. In response to the increasing incidents on the sidelines, schools, leagues and even counties are taking steps to reduce the violence and maintain a form of etiquette. The city of Corning, Iowa now has a no tolerance policy. In Jupiter, Florida, Parents have to sign a pledge stating that they would not cause a problem at the youth sporting events. In California, the Positive Coaching Alliance has workshops for parents and coaches to attend (Dahlberg, 2001). There are many ways we can help our child become a stronger competitor. First, the parent can emphasize and reward effort, the learning of new skills and self discipline. Secondly, we can provide guidance for our children and not force or pressure them. Finally, we can be a role model by staying positive and teach our children to have a healthy perspective and understand success and failure (Taylor, n.d.). Additionally, a parent should never make your child feel guilty for the time and money you are spending. Sports can have both a positive and negative impact on children. It can instill the importance of hard work, cooperation, sacrifice and teamwork. Parents will always want what is best for their child and will try to protect them from experiencing hurt and disappointment. But creating a healthy and safe environment for everyone is more important. Everyone can enjoy the game when parents, fan and athletes learn to value play and effort more than winning. Parents need to be supportive and model positive behavior. This will create fond memories and a positive experience for everyone.


Associated Press (n.d.). Retrieved March 27, 2011 from
Butterfield, F. (January 2002). Father in killing hockey rink is given sentence of six to ten years. New York Times.
Dahlberg, T. (June 2001). Parents sideline rage hurts youth sports. CBC Sports. Retrieved March 24, 2011 from
Heinzmann, G.S. (n.d.). Parental violence in youth sports: facts, myths and videotape. Rutgers Youth Sports Research Council. Retrieved March 30, 2011 from
McMahon, R. (November 2006). Parents, coaches who need time-outs. Adult violence at kids' sports sets a terrible example. Retrieved February 2011 from Website:
National Alliance of Youth Sports (n.d.). Retrieved March 27, 2011 from
Office of the Surgeon General (January 2007). Retrieved March 29, 2011 from
Pallerino, M.J. (n.d.). Parental violence at youth sporting events in increasing. Retrieved February 10, 2011 from
Sports Illustrated For Kids (August 2001). Retrieved from website:
Taylor, M.A. (n.d.). Do’s and Don’ts for Sports Parents. Retrieved from February 10, 2011 from Website

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