Bad Sportsmanship Among Parents at Children's Sporting Events (page 2)

By — American Association of School Administrators
Updated on Feb 17, 2011

A Violent Reaction

Like Albert Lea, many school districts begin to address poor sportsmanship while it’s a nagging problem but not necessarily a matter that demands a full-court press. Other school leaders have to confront a volatile situation in the wake of flagrantly foul behavior, which is why in January the Deer Park Union Free School District in central Long Island hosted a packed public meeting to discuss its decision to suspend the boys junior varsity basketball season after three players stood accused of attacking a younger teammate in the locker room.

Tragically, some districts have to deal with the unthinkable, as when a disgruntled parent in Canton, Texas, about 60 miles east of Dallas, was arrested for last year’s shooting of Canton High School football coach and athletic director Gary Joe Kinne Jr., who recovered and has since joined the coaching staff at Baylor University. The parent, Jeffrey Doyle Robertson, who had been upset with the coaching system at the school for quite some time, was found guilty in February and sentenced in March to 20 years in prison.

In a society that glorifies athletes and tolerates ethical transgressions in collegiate and professional sports, alarming reports from the field of schoolhouse athletics abound, starting as early as the elementary school and youth league levels. The allegations of sexual assault against members of the nationally ranked men’s lacrosse team at Duke University captured national attention this spring. Compounding the media’s glare on poor sportsmanship is the growing competitiveness and rising costs of increasingly selective colleges.

An editorial in the San Jose Mercury News last year put the issue of monetary competitiveness in interscholastic athletics in perspective. Because fewer than 200,000 of the nation’s 75 million school-age children ultimately will earn full-ride scholarships for their athletic prowess, the editorial concluded: “It’s past time for the 99 percent of parents whose children won’t win college scholarships to reclaim control over youth sports and bring back sanity and fun to our children’s lives.”

Donald Collins, the commissioner of athletics for the San Francisco Unified School District, addresses the issue of sportsmanship on his website ( There, he keeps track of what he calls the “parade of awful things that happen when you lose that dignified environment.” Noted, for example, is the high school coach who was suspended for cheating after he was videotaped moving a yard marker during a football game and a parent who body-slammed a high school basketball referee after he ordered the man’s wife out of the gym for allegedly yelling obscenities.

Collins defines good sportsmanship as the “obligation to make sure that you have a dignified setting, where people can express themselves in a dignified manner while still supporting their team.” He welcomes the growing movement to legislate and otherwise establish a more professional service delivery of sports to youth.

“And part of that movement is because people have seen that someone has to help parents put things in perspective,” Collins says. “Not all of the sportsmanship activities involve playing athletes and coaches. Some of the acts are simply rabid parents, rabid spectators who have no notion of how to behave, and the reason they have no notion of how to behave is because no one taught them.”

With 17 years in sports administration and the past four as commissioner in the San Francisco district, Collins offers a contextual understanding for why good sportsmanship is essential (“We’re asking athletes to be dignified while they do an inherently undignified act, which is to beat somebody”) and why his district supports that expectation with more than just regulations and penalties. The comprehensive effort, he says, requires education, training and an emphasis on sound game management, which includes making sure the clocks are running right, the books are being kept accurately, potential problems are being anticipated and adequate security is on hand.

Sports coaches in San Francisco are required to become certified through the American Sports Education Program, which will become a statewide standard for all coaches in California beginning in late 2007. San Francisco also uses resources from the Positive Coaching Alliance, which was established at Stanford University in 1998, and the Pursuing Victory With Honor program, which is a product of the Character Counts Coalition, affiliated with the Josephson Institute of Ethics in Los Angeles.

With increased training and a concerted focus on the issue, Collins says he has seen in San Francisco “far fewer” incident reports related to poor sportsmanship.

“Everyone has a mutual interest in this,” Collins says. “And they need to see it’s not an intangible you’re talking about, but something that becomes part of your daily life involving where you can play, who you can play and what people think about you. My goodness, would you really want to be in a position where you can’t come to a game unless you’re accompanied by your parents? Do you want to be in the newspaper because you had a hundred people brawling at a game? Do you really want to be putting that much time into athletics when you could be running your school?”

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