While negative adult behavior continues to cause problems of varying degrees across the youth sports landscape, a growing number of recreation professionals are fighting back. Not with their fists, of course, but with high-quality programs and initiatives that support positive youth sports settings.
"Just look around at the number and severity of youth sports-related fights, deaths and child abuse incidents," says Dan Reidy, director of recreation services for Lantana, Fla. "It's the recreation professional's duty and responsibility to do everything in their power to prevent such occurrences. They'll expend a lot of time and effort researching state-of-the-art equipment to maintain their fields, and they should be no less diligent in implementing state-of-the-art programs to prevent violence on those fields."
Reidy means what he says. Under his guidance, Lantana's is one of several recreation agencies nationwide that has emerged as a leader in a rapidly evolving movement to reshape how youth sports programs are conducted. Approximately a year and a half ago, Lantana got involved in Time Out! for Better Sports for Kids, an initiative of the National Alliance For Youth Sports and the National Recreation and Park Association. The program helps recreation departments and sports organizations maintain programs that promote fun, learning and skill development in a safe environment where games end in handshakes, not fistfights.
A Program Whose Time has Come
A recently released study on the effectiveness of Time Out! in Lantana clearly signals that it's a useful tool to help get programs back on their intended course or, if problems are nonexistent in that program, maintain its current level. The in-depth, one-year study, conducted by InnovativeLeisure Inc., a Florida-based professional recreation service, found that Time Out! had generated dramatic improvements in several important categories, particularly in coach and parent behavior.
When asked to compare the behavior of parents in the season before Time Out! was implemented, 85 percent of the coaches, 76 percent of the parents and 57 percent of the youngsters said it had improved. Furthermore, when asked about the behavior of coaches compared to the previous season, 87 percent of the coaches, 70 percent of the parents and 55 percent of the players said their coaches' behavior had improved.
Perhaps most telling of all, when asked if they wanted Time Out! to be continued as a condition of their participation, 87 percent of the parents and 84 percent of the coaches said yes.
"Anyone responsible for a youth sports league today owes it to him or herself and the participants of the league to implement these programs," Reidy says. "It takes a commitment, but it is well worth the effort. It is purely and simply the right thing to do."
After all, several recent events--including the father who was charged with assault after using a knife to inflict more than 100 stitches in a fight with another dad at a baseball game involving 11- and 12-year-olds in Alabama--serve as more grim reminders of how a short-fused parent or win-addicted coach can cause irreparable harm to a program.
It's also why Jefferson City Parks and Recreation in Jefferson City, Mo. …