Bad Sportsmanship Among Parents at Children's Sporting Events (page 3)

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

Josephson’s Findings

Of course, in the world of interscholastic athletics, coaches, parents and spectators aren’t the only ones who need to be educated. Indeed, many school leaders believe the purposes of interscholastic athletics should be instructional and developmental, and that sports are a means to build a youngster’s character.

The Josephson Institute conducts a biennial survey on sportsmanship, which is believed to be the most comprehensive measure of the attitudes and behaviors of high school athletes. (Josephson’s latest report was to be released this spring.) The 2004 survey of 4,200 high school athletes identified high percentages of students who said they thought it is proper to deliberately inflict pain in football to intimidate an opponent (58 percent males, 24 percent females); trash talk a defender after every score (47 percent males, 19 percent females); soak a football field in advance of a game to slow down an opponent (27 percent males, 12 percent females); build up a foul line in baseball to keep bunts fair (28 percent males, 21 percent females); throw intentionally at a batter who hit a home run the last time up (30 percent males, 16 percent females); and illegally alter a hockey stick to improve shooting (25 percent males, 14 percent females).

Findings such as these prompted Michael Josephson, the institute’s president, to warn that “the values of millions of youngsters are directly and dramatically influenced by the values conveyed in high school sports” and that “coaches and parents simply aren’t doing enough to assure that the experience is a positive one.”

Although the survey found 90 percent of the athletes thought their coaches set a good example, large percentages also endorsed coaching practices that involve intimidating or influencing future calls by referees (51 percent males, 30 percent females); instructing how to illegally hold and push opponents without getting caught (45 percent males, 22 percent females); advising a player to fake an injury to obtain an extra timeout for the team (39 percent males, 22 percent females); and using profanity and insults to motivate players (37 percent males, 15 percent females).

“Too many youngsters are confused about the meaning of fair play and sportsmanship, and they have no concept of honorable competition,” Josephson reported in his organization’s most recent report. “As a result they engage in illegal conduct and employ doubtful gamesmanship techniques to gain a competitive advantage,” he said. “It appears that today’s playing fields are the breeding ground for the next generation of corporate pirates and political scoundrels.”

The Control Factor

As alarming as this assessment is, it’s encouraging to know that dealing with student athletes is among the easiest tasks a school administrator faces when it comes to sportsmanship.

That’s the view of David Hoch, who spent 24 years as a coach, including 14 at the college level. Now the athletic director at Loch Raven High School in Towson, Md., Hoch, has a doctorate in sports management and 38 years in education. He has written more than 200 articles and has presented across the country on sportsmanship.

“Athletes you have control over,” Hoch says. “If your athlete doesn’t behave properly [and] exhibit good sportsmanship, the coach can simply say, ‘Sit by me on the bench,’ or ‘We’re going to do a little extra work at practice,’ or ‘You’re going to have to sit out the next game.’ You have a handle on the athlete. You don’t always have a handle on the fans or on the parents.”

Good coaches, Hoch says, use practices and games as “teachable moments.”

“Every single day our coaches should be helping young people learn and grow and mature,” he says. “A good coach goes a long way toward improving things. Consequently, a bad coach, one who doesn’t mandate or enforce good sportsmanship, can really be a trigger for bad sportsmanship. If you have one coach out of bounds, you have problems.”

Sometimes, though, even the best-laid plans and coaches aren’t enough. That is especially true when it comes to what Hoch calls “the absolutely hardest group to deal with, the individual who comes to your game who’s not a member of your school community.”

As Hoch put it, “You have no link, you have no way to communicate with, to educate, the person who drove a hundred miles just to see the game.”

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