Teaching Mom, Dad to lighten up at the game
It seemed as though tensions had eased when the boys lined up to shake hands after a particularly volatile football game here. But with a single comment from one of them, another fight erupted.Skip to next paragraph
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The bigger battle, however, was raging in the stands.
"The parents started shouting at each other and calling each other names, then lawn chairs started flying," says Melanie Giles, mother of one of the boys. "I finally pulled my son out of this program because of the parents."
All across America, parents can be found screaming on the sidelines, bellyaching in the bleachers, and fistfighting on the fields.
Jupiter, an upscale beach community north of West Palm Beach, is one of the places trying to do something about it.
Fed up with out-of-control parents, youth sports organizations around the nation are taking drastic steps to bring a sense of peace - and fun - back to the game. In northern Ohio, parents must remain silent during certain games. Parents in Los Angeles are asked to sign a "promise" of good behavior. But in Jupiter, parents will now be required to take a good-sportsmanship class before their children are allowed to play ball.
While other organizations have asked parents to volunteer for similar classes, the Jupiter-Tequesta Athletic Association - with more than 6,000 children involved - is the first to make it mandatory. Participate, or your kids won't, is the attitude.
"I've seen parents screaming at their kids, pushing them too hard to perform; children fighting in games, incited by their parents; kids crying on the mound because their parents embarrassed the stew out of them," says Jeffrey Leslie, president of the Jupiter-Tequesta Athletic Association. "There is nothing like youth sports to bring out the worst in parents."
While disruptive parents are nothing new to youth sports, participation in the games is on the rise, especially among girls, and competition for collegiate athletic scholarships is getting stiffer. This combination makes for mounting pressure on kids - the majority of whom are simply out to have fun.
Wiping the sweat from her face after scoring a goal during soccer practice here in Jupiter, 11-year-old Tracy Baynham is glad her parents will have to go through the good-sportsmanship class.
"When my parents come to my games, they shout, 'Come on, Tracy! Shoot! Go!' It's embarrassing," she says. "And they make me play softball. My dad thinks I have a better chance to get a scholarship playing softball, even though I prefer soccer. I just want to have fun."
The one-hour class, created by the National Alliance for Youth Sports, a nonprofit association in West Palm Beach, includes an instructional video and discussion of parents' roles and responsibilities.
It's an extension of the current system of having coaches merely talk with parents, says Kathleen Avitt of the alliance, adding that many other beleaguered communities across the country have expressed interest.
As they drop their children off for soccer practice on a balmy Jupiter evening, parents talk about good sportsmanship, the mandatory class, and youth sports today.
Ron Ferguson thinks the class is a "great idea," though he says the trouble always begins with the other team's parents. Mr. Ferguson says that sports are supposed to be fun - at least, that's what his nine-year-old daughter, Kate, tells him.