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The Dark Side Of Youth Sports

Violence In Youth Sports

Here are just three examples of the kind of youth sports violence that fills our newspapers on an almost daily basis:

  • Unhappy about the unfair treatment his son received in the previous week's game, a father sharpened the buckle on his son's football helmet like a razor, gashing five players, one injured serious enough to require five stitches.

  • A youth baseball coach, feeling that the umpire had been unfair in his decisions, stayed behind after the game was over to physically harass the umpire. He was just sixteen years old.

  • After verbally abusing a basketball official, a female assistant basketball coach, whose sister was in the game, attacked the official as he was starting to leave, jumping on his back and hitting him. The reason? She was upset because she did not agree with some calls he had made!

Apologists for this sort of behavior point out that professional sports on television are often violent, such as some the big hits we see in hockey and football. But this argument really has nothing to do with the violence associated with youth sports. The parents just mentioned are not imitating the pro athletes they see on television - that violence takes place within the game. What is disturbing about the violent behavior we see on the sidelines and in the stands is that it takes place outside the game. Once again, these parents are out of control, behaving in blind response to feelings of anger and frustration generated by watching youth sports.

Meeting The Needs Of Kids And Adults

Despite these problems, I still believe that youth sports programs can do a great deal of good for children and for families. There are many positive aspects of organized sports for children.

But if we are to improve the programs we offer to our children, we need to acknowledge and confront the problems. Not only do we need to understand that youth sports are not just "games for kids," but we also need to understand the important roles they play in our society and the powerful psychological pressures they exert on children, families, and communities. We need to realize that youth sports programs are for adults as much as children - perhaps more so. Until we recognize this fact, we will not be able to organize programs that meet the needs of these involved adults and best meet the children's needs.