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Field of Screams

“Little league baseball is a good thing ‘cause it keeps the parents off the streets and the kids out of the house”
Yogi Berra

We seem to be a nation of extremes, and it’s happening at younger and younger ages. I am a big believer in youth sports as well as activities that promote fitness and health for youngsters from little tykes to teenagers. Unfortunately, more and more children are following their parents footsteps to the couch, TV and computer where sedentary behavior, and all it’s negative health aspects, including obesity, become lifetime habits.

Youth sports are wonderful. No question about it. Tremendous life lessons are learned on the playing field. Lessons about teamwork, fairplay, winning and losing, “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat”. And it’s very healthy. Strong body, strong mind. Less incidents of child obesity (now and epidemic) as well as all of the other significant health risks associated with being a couch potato kid, including high cholesterol and increase cardiac risk factors. Also, less drug use, teenage pregnancies and the list goes on.

Also, children involved in sports and other fitness activities do better academically! This is why it never makes sense to me, during times of school district budget crunch, the first programs cut are usually sports programs and physical education classes. In an attempt to save money and keep the kids smart we are probably negative impacting them from an academic standpoint. Counter-intuitive but true.

So it is a no-brainer? Sports for all kids, the more the better? It’s not that simple and yes there’s a dark side, that is the other extreme that is becoming more common place on the court, ball fields, and ice rinks in our nation.

Parents are getting out of control and perhaps doing more damage then if they stayed home on the couch, with their kids, eating chips and drinking soda. It’s no longer “road rage” on the drive over to the field, but a new phenomenon called “sideline rage”, a growing epidemic.

Consider the following stories:

  • a brawl among parents at a junior hockey game in update New York leading to 8 misdemeanor charges and a dad with dislocated shoulder from being pushed off the bleachers
  • a high school basketball game in Pittsburgh where an angry dad gave a referee a concussion because the ref had asked mom to leave for shouting obscenities during the game
  • a fifth grade mom standing and cheering on her daughter, not for scoring a basket, but for making an opponent cry
  • a bench clearing parental brawl at a junior T-Ball game in Florida
  • a girls rugby coach was beaten until he was bloody and unconscious, by parents and another coach
  • a dad berating and beating a baseball coach for taking his 11 year old son out of a game
  • a father beaten to death in front of his son by another parent at a hockey game in Massachusetts
  • the list goes on and on…

Because of stories like these all over the nation, 15 states have actually created laws making it a crime to assault sports officials. Many youth leagues have also developed codes of conduct that parents must sign as well as preventive education programs for parents on the brink.

When I played sports as a youngster, it was the coaches who were the drill sergeants and often pushed kids too far. Most knew when to back off and we were none the worse for it. It’s now become more personal. Now the parents are often the culprits. Are you one? I’ll bet you know a few. Also you can read more on this topic in MSNBC’s “Going for the Pros” feature. And here’s some solid thoughts and advice from Paul Reddick, the Director of the Yogi Berra Baseball School, for the “psycho travel ball parents.”

The damage goes beyond the violence, poor behavior and awful examples being set. Kids are often being pushed both mentally and physically beyond what is healthy, and too often to the breakpoint. This results in both “burnout” and physical injuries. They are inappropriately being treated like “little adults”, which they are not, or pro athletes and are no longer having fun. It’s no wonder that according to The National Alliance For Youth Sport, approximately 70% of kids involved in sport quit by age 13.

Most parents are well meaning, and thinking of their children’s future but it’s easy to be lured into what youth sports expert Bob Bigelow has termed “The Tiger Woods Syndrome”. Parents see the green of pro contracts, endorsement deals, scholarships and are blinded by the fame and riches-unfortunately the kids wind up paying the price.

By backing off slightly, observing your child not only for talent, but also for enjoyment, and listening to them (often between the lines), you can make sports and activity a lifetime positive force. It’s about putting them first, and growing up as you watch them grow.


Keep the young ones you love active everyday-but always do a “smile check” and remember it’s about them, not you.

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