Violence in youth sports -- a bottom-line issue
Less than 1 percent of high school graduates in the United States receive sports scholarships to college. Still, financial pressure, fueled by the prospect of a scholarship and the expense of competitive youth sports teams, increasingly is pushing parents beyond the brink of good sportsmanship when youth sports become viewed as an investment.
Fan violence at youth sporting events can range from yelling to physical violence, such as parents striking coaches. Lynn Jamieson, professor and chair of IU Bloomington's Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Studies, said the amount of sports violence occurring at youth sporting events has not increased, but the negative influence of financial pressures has.
"I know a woman who worked two full-time jobs so her child could compete with a traveling team," said Jamieson, whose research interests includes sports violence. "When your life revolves around the sport and competition, the stress and frustration can manifest itself in the player and parents."
She suggests that parents consider the benefits of investing in a college savings plan. "There are other avenues of success for youth," Jamieson said. "Every dollar spent on leisure could be saved for higher education."
Jamieson offers these tips and resources to minimize the occurrence of violence in the bleachers and on the playing field:
- Verbal abuse can be worse than physical abuse when it comes from coaches, parents or other players. It also can accelerate physical violence. To address this, "silent" matches are held across the country. During these special athletic events, fans can only applaud -- no yelling or commenting on the game is permitted.
- Remove children from situations where there are abusive patterns. A bad experience can have a long-term effect on how youth view sports. "There's no reason to put yourself in a situation where there are no choices," Jamieson said.
- Keep the family's sporting activities affordable for the whole family.
- Be vigilant about unsportsmanlike behavior -- and don't take it. Jamieson encourages people to report unsportsmanlike behavior and to become aware of relevant codes of conduct and solutions employed by other communities. This can include lobbying community leaders for change.
Often youth sports leagues rely on parents and other volunteers to coach and referee. Volunteers might not be aware of training programs and other resources that could help them deal with violence and ethical issues. These resources could help:
- StopHazing.org, http://www.stophazing.org, contains information about many aspects of hazing including fraternity, sorority, athletic, high school and military hazing.
- The National Alliance for Youth Sports, http://www.nays.org, is a good source for codes of ethics and other youth sports guidelines.
- IUB's Center for Sport Policy and Conduct, http://www.indiana.edu/~cspc, has a useful "resource" link.