Parental Violence in Youth Sports: Facts, Myths, and Videotape. (Social Issues)

By Heinzmann, Gregg S. | Parks & Recreation, March 2002 | Go to article overview
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Parental Violence in Youth Sports: Facts, Myths, and Videotape. (Social Issues)


Heinzmann, Gregg S., Parks & Recreation


Recreation professionals who oversee community facilities can begin to assert their influence by taking responsibility for educating parents about their proper role and responsibilities in the athletic triangle.

For several days this past January, aided by extensive media coverage, recreational youth sports riveted a nation still reeling from the aftermath of terrorism. Unfortunately, the pivotal event was neither heroic nor uplifting, but, rather, another in a series of episodes which one youth sport pundit characterized as, "a rising tide of violence that's ravaging the youth sports landscape" (Engh, 2002).

Can this be possible? Has the incidence of violence in organized youth sports actually reached a level to warrant this type of rhetoric? Moreover, should parents of young athletes be fearful that their child could be exposed to criminal behavior similar to what occurred in that Massachusetts hockey rink? Perhaps most important, what role should recreation professionals have in the administration of local youth sport leagues in order to minimize the likelihood of negative or violent incidents occurring in their community?

The Role of the Recreation Professional

As the gatekeepers of public park facilities, recreation professionals have a critical role in ensuring that the highest standards of conduct are upheld at youth sporting events. Beyond the moral imperative, youth sports administrators have a legal duty to ensure that the activity is conducted in a safe manner. To the extent that spectator violence and injury arises as a result of the administrator's negligence, then the sponsoring agency or township could be named in a subsequent lawsuit.

One of the strategies often recommended to address the possibility of unruly spectator behavior is that of requiring all youth sport parents/ guardians to sign a "Code of Conduct." In so far as they provide a measure of accountability for adults who may "cross the line," codes of conduct are useful. However, they are not a panacea for preventing inappropriate spectator behavior. (1) In addition, there are several caveats.

First, not unlike most participation agreements, codes of conduct must be explicitly worded and clearly identify the penalties for potential violations. Second, these social contracts must be developed in accordance with existing federal/state laws so that the accused is not deprived of basic constitutional rights. (Recreation administrators should consult a qualified attorney for assistance with drafting the document). Third, the violation must be evaluated as part of a formal hearing process, which ensures the confidentiality of the accused. Fourth, there must be a mechanism for violators to demonstrate evidence of successful rehabilitation (e.g., anger management counseling). For those seeking more information, the National Youth Sports Safety Foundation has developed a comprehensive Sport Parent Code of Conduct that can be viewed at www.nyssf.org.

Recreation professionals must also recognize that codes of conduct are not "the solution" to the problem of parental misbehavior in youth sports, but, rather, one strategy that can minimize the likelihood of its occurrence. Ideally, expectations for proper behavior should be discussed prior to the start of the season as part of a parents' orientation meeting. According to Smith & Smoll (2001), the overall objective of the meeting should be to improve parents' understanding of youth sports and the goals of the program. In addition, the meeting can:

* Acquaint parents with the coaches and administrators.

* Educate parents about the objectives of youth sports and clarify the goals of the program.

* Inform parents about the specifics of the program and what is expected of the children and parents. (This includes obtaining parental assistance for accomplishing various tasks and conducting the season's activities.)

* Get parents to understand and reinforce the coaching philosophy that will be used.

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