Molly Corfman/AP

Can a State Council Solve the Problem of Argumentative Sports Parents?

March 09, 2009 05:15 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
Rhode Island wants a mediating council to deal with over-competitive parents at youth sporting events, but some think the state is overstepping its bounds.

Tassoni’s Heavy-Handed Council

Rhode Island state Sen. John Tassoni Jr. wants the state to create a formal council comprised of seven former coaches, officials and athletic directors that would mediate conflicts between sports officials and parents of young athletes. The Rhode Island Senate will evaluate the bill this week, and Tassoni is hoping his council will be up and running by June or July, according to CNN.

But some parents and officials are against the idea, calling it overbearing and saying it takes too much power away from sports programs. A similar system is in place in Waterford, Conn., but is overseen by the town, not the state.

Many say the intrusion caused by overzealous and competitive parents and fans should be addressed differently. Some contend that bandaging conflict with mediation still leaves the problem bubbling beneath the surface of youth sports.
In a column for the York Dispatch, Steve Heiser describes “parents with tunnel vision.” These destructively competitive moms and dads direct their angst at coaches, school officials enforcing codes of conduct, and even sports reporters and editors at local newspapers “who don’t give their kids enough press.” In the race for athletic scholarships, Heiser indicates, parents are losing sight of what makes sports worthwhile: enjoyment, physical activity, teamwork, and life lessons learned on the field.

Heiser writes, “[A] scholarship shouldn't be something that any teenage athlete—or their parents—count on. It can lead to serious disappointment. If it happens, count your blessings. If it doesn't, life will go on.”

Other youth sports initiatives are operating under the belief that mediation only fixes conflicts at a surface level. For example, a Portland, Ore.-based program called Showtime Athletics aims to instill a “sports-is-life philosophy” to athletes and coaches, who are often volunteer parents lacking the training to “grapple with the bad attitudes, competitiveness, and violence that have plagued the youth sports scene in recent years.” The Showtime program requires parents “to take part in practices and sometimes scrimmage with kids in order to learn the language of sports,” the program Web site explains.

Extreme competitiveness has become an issue even for athletes under 10 years old, as described in a recent post on Track Mom forum. The author points out that it’s time for new methods of instilling sportsmanship to emerge, before the value of athletics is lost forever in a haze of scholarship money and misguided ambition.

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Background: Abuse and harassment at youth sporting events

A February article in Canadian newspaper Times & Transcript said that in spite of “campaigns against abuse and harassment at youth sports events over the last few years,” poor behavior remains an issue in the sports community.

Glenn Hurley, chairman of officials for Hockey New Brunswick, told Times & Transcript that the situation was “not getting any better. The language and the viciousness of the tone is the worst thing.” Hurley also suggested the problem was rooted in parents’ “high expectations for young athletes.”

“Anything that stands in the way of Johnny becoming the next great one, they're not happy about that,” Hurley told the newspaper.

Related Topic: Parental codes of conduct

Last summer, officials in New Mexico floated the idea of a “new code of conduct” applicable to student athletes, fans and parents, enforced by each school’s administrators. Athletes and parents would be required “to sign a document” guaranteeing that they would “abide by the code,” which would disallow “booing and taunting” opposing teams. Those who broke the code could be banned from games.

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