It's No Longer a Spectator Sport: Eight Ways to Get Involved and Help Fight Parental Violence in Youth Sports

By Docheff, Dennis M.; Conn, James H. | Parks & Recreation, March 2004 | Go to article overview

It's No Longer a Spectator Sport: Eight Ways to Get Involved and Help Fight Parental Violence in Youth Sports


Docheff, Dennis M., Conn, James H., Parks & Recreation


Imagine watching a father become incensed when his 10-year-old boy receives an elbow to the nose during a body cheek from another hockey player. Immediately, this irate parent screams at the coach to curtail the violence. When the coach skates off the ice, he is confronted by the enraged parent. After some verbal sparring, the agitated parent is asked to leave the premises. Later, the stressed father returns to the rink, challenges the coach again, and begins beating him while young athletes yell helplessly for the crazed parent to stop. It's too late. Two days later, a spokesperson for the hospital announces that the coach has died.

It's difficult to visualize this incident occurring at a youth sport activity. The parent was arguing with the coach about the violent behavior at the practice, and then, ironically, he turned to violence to solve the problem. Sadly, this story is true and took place on July 5, 2000, in Reading, Mass. The coach supervising the practice was beaten to death by the parent of the 10-year-old hockey player.

The parents of millions of youth participating in organized sports today threaten coaches, assault referees and hurt kids. Horrific events like this often referred to as "Little League parent syndrome" or "sport rage" demonstrates a pattern of violence and verbal abuse orchestrated by adults at youth sporting events upon children, coaches and officials. While there is little scientific support demonstrating that sport rage is increasing, anecdotal evidence seems to indicate that sport rage is on the rise.

There are many examples that seem to indicate that parental behavior is, in fact, out of control at youth sporting events. In May 2003, a little league secretary in "Wakefield, Mass., faced criminal charges of assault and battery for allegedly kicking and swearing at an 11-year-old boy who had been fighting with her son at the baseball field. In September 2003, a Toronto father was charged with assault after grabbing and shaking his 10-year-old daughter's face mask at a youth hockey game. These are not lone incidents. Every year we hear stories about parental violence in youth sports: a soccer dad punched a 14-year-old in the face because he had scuffled with his son over the ball; a father dressed in slacks and a shirt leaped into the pool to slap the water by his child mad starting yelling at his son for losing a race at a swim meet; a mother slapped her 9-year-old daughter in front of everyone at a swim meet because she missed her race, and more. Perhaps one of the most widely reported cases of violence involved a woman who was jailed for trying to hire a hit man to kill the mother of her daughter's cheerleading rival, which eventually led to a made-for-TV movie, "Willing to Kill: the Texas Cheerleader Story," which aired on ABC in 1992.

The violence at youth sporting events is not just directed toward children. Parents are also attacking each other, coaches and officials. In fact, parental violence is so threatening that many referees have turned to buying "assault insurance," while some state legislatures (Okla., N.M., Tenn., Ala., Pa., Mo., Ky., Wash., R.I., Miss., Ore.) have passed laws prohibiting assaults on referees and umpires. According to a recent survey by the National Association of Sports Officials, 76 percent of the respondents from 60 high school athletic associations reported that increased spectator interference has caused many officials to quit. Even though this survey is related to high school officials, it is clear that officiating in parks and recreation programs is much more difficult. Their lack of training and development leaves them open to greater criticism. If parks and recreation sport managers are not careful, they may lose officials as well.

Reasons for Parental Behavior

Youth sports events generate a forum where parents struggle to balance their paternal instincts with their hunger for victory. It is time for sports managers to focus on the violent behavior exhibited by parents at youth sports events and reduce the violence with proactive measures. …

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