Some Thoughts About Youth Sports
Recently a trial was held that involved a father who killed another father at a hockey rink in Reading, Massachusetts as their children looked on in horror. The trial received national media attention. Ironically, the argument began when the father convicted of involuntary manslaughter complained to the victim who was refereeing this supposedly “noncontact” pick-up game, that there was too much checking and body contact occurring. An argument and physical fight ensued between the two men that led to the death of one of the fathers. The incident and the subsequent publicity once more placed the spotlight on parental behavior and youth sports.
As most of us are aware there have been numerous documented cases of so-called “sports rage” by parents at their children’s games, including parents attacking referees, umpires, and coaches. On many occasions the anger is not expressed physically but instead through hostile, demeaning words and obscenities. In some cases parents have been banned by sports officials from attending future games as a consequence of their outbursts. A number of towns have required parents to attend a meeting to review appropriate behavior at youth sporting events and still others require that parents and their children sign a code of conduct as a prerequisite to a child participating in a sport sponsored by the town.
In a television interview, a man involved with youth sports recommended that parents not be permitted to attend their children’s games. Although I did not agree with his suggestion, as he said it I thought back wistfully to my childhood in Brooklyn. Sports activities that took place outside of school such as basketball, football, and stickball (a well-known New York City game) were organized by the kids themselves with nary an adult around. Somehow we even settled disputes peacefully without the input of a referee. I recall that the only sport in which I participated outside of school that involved an adult was baseball. The league was similar to Little League except it was called PAL (Police Athletic League). As the name implied, the police organized the sport, provided a bat and balls, and served as umpires at the game (you didn’t argue with a police officer about any call that was made). No parents were present. I also remember some pick-up basketball games in schoolyards that went on hour after hour on the weekends. They were fun. Again, no parents attended.
Permission to reprint granted by Dr. Robert Brooks. All rights reserved.
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