Have youth sports programs veered away from what's best for kids? In a recent study published in Sports Illustrated For Kids, 74 percent of the more than 3,000 youngsters who responded said they had seen out-of-control adults at their games. In Indianapolis, 21 percent of the parents polled by Survey USA said they had witnessed a physical altercation between parents at a youth sporting event. A similar study conducted by Survey USA in South Florida found that 56 percent of those polled said they had witnessed aggressive parents at youth sporting events.
No one knows the exact number of incidents that have taken place. But it seems as if we are hearing about violent outbreaks with increasing regularity. It is no longer unheard of for youth athletic events to unravel amid fist-fights and insults.
"I have coached, played and umpired, and now I have a 6-year old in soccer and T-ball. I'm just amazed at what I see," said Dr. Dan Wann, an associate professor of psychology at Murray State University and author of Sport Fans: The Psychology & Social Impact of Spectators. "We recently had a coach and umpire almost come to blows over a call, and none of the kids understood why. They didn't understand the rule the coach was nitpicking about, they just wanted to play. We have huge problems in our society that we can't do anything about, but this is something we can make better."
Bringing People Together
Last summer in Chicago, the National Alliance For Youth Sports hosted the National Summit on Raising Community Standards in Children's Sports to address key issues affecting organized sports. More than 50 representatives from parks and recreation agencies nationwide came together to examine problems and, more importantly, devise a meaningful approach to correct them.
The strategy the Summit delegates developed was recently unveiled through the Recommendations for Communities, which have been endorsed by the National Recreation and Park Association.
The Recommendations call for communities to evaluate what is occurring at their publicly-owned facilities. Communities can change the culture of youth sports and establish a fun and stress-free playing environment for youngsters through reform, education and accountability.
"I would like to see the Recommendations for Communities help the small, volunteer-run organizations," said Miste Adams, the recreation supervisor for the National Trail Parks and Recreation District in Springfield, Ohio, which serves about 3,000 youngsters. "I want them to have guidelines and follow those guidelines for all their programs.
"Too often small groups run their youth sports however it is convenient for the adults, and not what is best for the kids. Larger organizations like ours have people who work fulltime on youth programs. Volunteer organizations are just that--volunteers. The Recommendations will give them guidance, and hopefully make the programs better and stronger for the children."
For a free copy of the recommendations call 800-729-2057. In brief, the Recommendations stress the importance of implementing the following three steps:
* Adopting a community philosophy that makes youth sports safe and positive for children;
* Appointing a professional youth sports administrator to ensure adherence to the philosophy;
* Holding everyone associated with the program accountable for their behavior.
"A youth sports program is not something we can trust to run well without our vigilant involvement," said Bob Bierscheid, Director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Roseville (Minn. …