Friday, May 18, 2007

Parent violence in youth sports

For my last assignment for my Creative Nonfiction class I wrote about the topic above. Since it's about sports, and I actually enjoyed writing it, I figured I'd post it on here. So, I haven't been completely wasting my time after all... here it is:

In July of 2000, Thomas Junta watched his 10-year-old son participate in a hockey pick-up game at an ice rink located in Reading, Massachusetts. During the game, Mr. Junta grew increasingly infuriated with the rough level of play on the ice, and he yelled for the man monitoring play, Michael Costin, to make the kids tone it down a little. Mr. Costin, who also had a son participating in the game, was confronted by Mr. Junta on the ice before Junta was ordered to leave.

Later on that same day, Mr. Junta returned to the facility, found Mr. Costin, and slammed him down on the concrete floor next to a soda machine. If the severity of that blow was not enough, Mr. Junta then proceeded to wedge Mr. Costin to the floor using his knee and repeatedly punch him in the head. Mr. Costin died soon after the fight ended.
Since the incident, Mr. Junta was tried and convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to six to ten years in prison.

While this tragic event may seem like an isolated act of violence, it highlights a disturbing growth in the number of incidents of parental abuse and violence in youth sports. Fred Engh, the head of the National Alliance for Youth Sports, mentions that “[f]rom road rage to airplane rage to cell phone rage, children in sports aren’t immune to all of this. Now we have sideline rage.”

Sporting Kids Magazine recently conducted a survey of 3,300 parents, coaches, and youth where 84 percent admitted to having “witnessed parents acting violently (shouting, berating, using abusive language.)” If those numbers aren’t shocking enough, according to the National Alliance, parent violence in youth sports has “quadrupled between 2000 and 2005,” and the group has seen reports that “documented 100 incidents of parents or fans physically assaulting youth sports coaches or officials in 2005” alone. Bob Still, a spokesman for the National Association of Sporting Officials (NASO), also noted that his organization receives “two or three reports of this kind of behavior a week.” A trend has definitely formed, and the problem is increasing.

Parents are not just verbally expressing their anger at coaches or sporting officials anymore; they are actually exhibiting violence as a way to show their displeasure. One such incident involved an adult man striking a referee in a soccer match involving 11-year-old girls. The referee happened to be the town’s mayor, and the man was sentenced to one year in jail. Another incident occurred when a former police officer offered a Little League baseball pitcher two dollars to hit an opposing player with a pitch. The officer was charged with soliciting assault. Yet another confrontation took place when a baseball coach of 11 and 12-year-olds followed a 62-year-old volunteer umpire into an equipment room and repeatedly punched the umpire in the face. The coach had simply been upset over an apparent non-call during the game.

Thousands of incidents of parent violence such as these have been reported over the last several years. As more reports of parent violence continue to flow in from all over the world, the question of why this problem persists arises. Parents and coaches seem to be more aware of the issue, yet many still feel the need to react violently during youth sporting events.

Several justifications are available that would at least partially explain why these occurrences keep happening. One reason is pride or hope, and some parents believe their child may turn into the next superstar athlete that achieves immense fame and wealth. A father in San Fernando, California, assaulted his 11-year-old son’s baseball coach for removing the boy in the middle of the game. “How dare you make my son a three-inning player,” the father yelled at the coach. Maybe he figured his son would become the next Derek Jeter.

Another issue is jealousy – some parents feel the need to push their child into sports because they were never talented enough themselves to go very far. Because realizing their previous shortcomings in sports is very difficult for some parents, they may treat every moment for their child on the court or field as a win-or-else experience. Some parents even constantly and visibly criticize their own child athletes for apparent failure or mistakes. Sometimes “it’s not the kid at bat,” said Mr. Engh, “it’s the parent.”

Violent parents also may be reflecting the nature of sports themselves, which are inherently violent to a certain extent. Big hits, rough plays, and destructive athletic behaviors are glorified on TV shows such as ESPN’s SportsCenter and websites containing updated videos such as Parents may get the idea that their child can be just as aggressive and, therefore, just as successful. And if their child isn’t, they blame everyone else involved in what transpires during certain events.

No matter how many other explanations remain, the issue of declining sportsmanship, especially by parents, runs constant. Obviously, not all parents have issues controlling themselves at youth sporting events. Many parents understand how to express their desire for kids to have fun while hoping their child succeeds as well. At the same time, though, youth sports have been littered with too many overbearing parental figures that care for winning at all costs instead of hoping that kids make friends, learn important lessons in teamwork, and have an enjoyable time competing. These violent, abusive parents are ruining youth sports for children, and many parents still confusingly wonder why willing volunteers, coaches, and officials continue to decline annually.

“It’s not worth risking your life [to umpire] for $50 a game,” added Mr. Still.

Adults and parents should be able to control themselves while their child competes. They should not need supervision just so they don't go over the edge or feel the need to physically attack a coach or referee. Exactly when will violent parents stop ruining youth sports for everyone else involved?

That day may never come, and William Pollack, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School, noted that these recent violent episodes may just be “the tip of [the] iceberg.”

1 comment:

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