Adults’ behavior is taking the sportsmanship out of youth sports


Most basketball games are played without incident. Players play, coaches coach and officials officiate. Nevertheless, there are still too many incidents like one that occurred recently during a youth tournament in Burnsville, Minn.

As reported in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the recent incident occurred after a sixth-grade tournament game. A father of one of the players was upset over the timekeeping of the game. He also yelled at the referees and coaches and said they were cheaters. Apparently the man was upset because a referee started the game while his son’s team was slow in sending in a substitution.

If that doesn’t warrant full-blown rage, what does, right?

Youth basketball commissioner Jeff Shand headed the irate man off at the pass before he could get to the referees, and told him he was going to call police. When Shand took out his cell phone to call 911, the man punched him.

Burnsville Sgt. Jef Behnken said the dad hit the commissioner, but Shand said it was a teen or man in his early 20s who “sucker-punched” him from behind, and that the dad had thrown a basketball at him. Either way, it was an unnecessarily ugly scene.

A bystander stepped in and also was punched. But, he got in a kick to the father’s groin and tackled him. Who needs reality TV when there’s youth basketball?

Shand suffered a dislocated jaw, a concussion and dental damage in the attack.

It’s not unusual for tempers to sometimes rise on the sidelines, Shand said, but “you can usually get people aside and let them vent a bit. Then they usually realize, ‘What am I doing here?’”

While Shand’s program does background checks on coaches, officials and others, he said, “the only people we can’t do background checks on are the parents.”

The attack is merely the latest example of what experts say is an increasingly serious problem.

The rise of out-of-control adults on the sidelines of youth sports is “striking,” said Bill Doherty, a professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota. “It’s a new phenomenon. This did not occur on this kind of scale as far as we know in past decades.”

Just a week earlier, post-game tensions involving high-school coaches erupted in a shoving match between players, and fans joined in. Apparently some fans believed this should be more than a spectator sport.

Two years ago, a St. Paul, Minn., man went to jail after a jury convicted him of threatening to shoot his son’s Little League baseball coach “like a dog.”

Competition brings out the best and worst in people, but sports seems to be more volatile. Doherty said the volatility is not in chess or piano recitals but in the culture of competitive sports, where parents who spend a lot of money and time lose control “because sports are so, so important” to them.

More parents and fans are guilty of bad sportsmanship than we care to admit. But most are smart enough to limit their bad behavior to a vocal level, refraining from physical contact. It’s the unpredictability of some parents and fans that concerns administrators.

“I think many people who start problems didn’t come planning to start something,” said Sam Griffiths, president of the Burnsville Athletic Club. “However, for whatever reason, when it comes to sports, sometimes people get too excited. And due to that excitement, they lose focus of what is logical.”

From road rage to airplane rage to cell-phone rage, children in sports aren’t immune to all of this. Now we have sideline rage,” said Fred Engh, head of the National Alliance for Youth Sports.

Some youth leagues are responding by banning rowdy parents from the stands, holding silent games and trying to teach coaches and parents how to behave.

When all else fails, authorities are putting the worst offenders in jail.

The Northern Ohio Girls Soccer League began a Silent Sunday two years ago that forced parents to keep their cheers and criticisms to themselves one game a season. It was eerily quiet but effective.

“It was the greatest time-out in American sports,” Engh said.


Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.