Not many days go by without some kind of incident in youth sports that reminds us that, all too often, adults are not modeling strong and positive behaviour for our young people.
A recent case in point: In a youth football league for 12 year-olds in Texas, a recent game saw coaches involved in not only a dispute with one another, but a rather disturbing brawl which was captured on film.
In an ensuing TV news report, a young player from one of the teams suggested that he had been grabbed and thrown by an opposing coach, which allegedly led to a fight between coaches from both teams.
Since that time, the league in question has suspended a number of coaches, but not any players, as their behaviour was not an issue. However, both teams were initially barred from participating in the upcoming playoffs, though that decision may be rescinded.
Regardless of whether it is fair to punish youngsters for the poor behaviour of their parents or coaches (and some will argue that the kids must suffer if only to discourage adults from behaving badly in future), the events tell a sad tale. Why would any adult coach in any way touch or physically handle a young person? Whether the young player is on their team or the opposing side, surely aggressive physical contact is never acceptable.
We all understand that youth sports is emotional and often a highly-charged atmosphere. It doesn’t take much to get some people going. If a coach did engage with an opposing young player in this way, it’s not surprising there was a negative reaction from the other bench. That said, for the game to degenerate into fisticuffs will surely—and sadly—lead to long, painful and negative memories for all concerned, most importantly the youngsters who were there simply trying to compete and have fun.
Adults have long created chaos at youth sporting events. This is not new. But the standards of what we consider acceptable behaviour need to be seriously re-visited. Parent coaches are often (not always) an issue, as opposed to a solution. But where do we find enough qualified, trustworthy coaches without their own children involved willing to donate their time to teach youngsters?
Education is part of the answer. Developing specific programs that parents and all coaches are mandated to attend will help. Working harder to make people understand that their negative behaviour is intolerable and socially un-acceptable is part of it as well.
Hopefully, we won’t have to depend on 12 year olds being more mature than their parents and coaches to change attitudes, but if that’s what it takes, then that is part of the solution as well.