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Rethinking Youth Sports

Soccer Family The Blame Game

From all that one might think from reading the newspaper, listening to the news or watching the television talk shows lately, the only problem with youth sports today is the out-of-control parent, and that all we have to do is to stick a code of conduct or laundry list of rules under the nose of every parent and ask them to sign on the dotted line, and everything will be fine.

But in youth sports, as in life, there are no easy answers. We at MomsTeam believe that playing the "blame game" and singling out out-of-control parents as the villains in the youth sports crisis obscures the real problem: that misbehaving parents are a symptom of what is wrong with youth sports, not the disease itself.

The real problem, in our view, is much more fundamental: all too often youth sports today are not about kids playing sports. Youth sports is now about:

  • Adults and youth athletes wanting to win at all costs, even in a pee wee football game between 8-year olds;

  • Adults entrenching themselves as coaches and on the board of directors on youth sports clubs and refusing to give up or share "power;"

  • Adults lured by the unrealistic dreams of college scholarships and pro careers for their sons/daughters/players, pushing them to play sports year round (and to play through nagging injuries);

  • Violence toward officials, trash-talking, deadly hazing rituals, the use of performance-enhancing and recreational drugs and alcohol use, and cheating in every form imaginable are steadily increasing;

  • Serious social problems: rape by athletes, violence toward their partners and non athletes, coaches bending eligibility rules, adults setting terrible examples by losing their tempers at kids and other adults.

  • Deadly serious catastrophic injuries and even death while playing youth sports;

  • Adults keeping travel teams small so that their club wins more games and places more teams in post-season tournaments; and

  • Adults yelling and screaming when a coach takes out the star player to give a benchwarmer some playing time and coaches, administrators and athletic directors who either cave in to the pressure to only play the best players or get replaced.

The Solution

What's the solution? It isn't simply to require parents to sign a code of conduct and be banned from the sidelines if they misbehave. It is to recognize that everyone with a stake in youth sports - parents, spectators, players, coaches, trainers, athletic directors, school administrators, members of club boards of directors, referees, umpires, sponsors and the citizens in the local community - has played a part in creating the crisis in youth sports, and that the only way we are going to solve it, to make youth sports safer, saner, less stressful and more inclusive for every stakeholder is for everyone, not just parents, to agree to and then actually implement fundamental changes in the way we all view youth sports. In other words, to understand that we are all part of the same team, and that, like any other team, its success depends on teamwork, and on putting the goals of the team - to put the youth back in youth sports and to make it the best possible experience for our children -- above individual, parochial concerns.

How, of course, will be the challenge. It won't be easy. It won't happen overnight. Our society may be too competitive, too intense, too bent on winning to change. But we have to at least try! Here are some thoughts we at MomsTeam have on accomplishing our mission.