SPORTING MANNERS

Last week's jury verdict against a Massachusetts father for killing his son's hockey coach helped to focus the nation's attention on the strong parental emotions expressed at youth sports events.

But it can also help spur a national trend to promote the learning of sportsmanship among children - and their parents.

The National Alliance for Youth in Sports says incidents of unsportsmanlike conduct, which had been occurring at 5 percent of the events it monitored up through 1990, now happen at 15 percent of those same events.

Rage, hypercompetitiveness, a pattern of general coarseness, and uncontrolled emotions tell the story of a society stretched thin on patience - and point to some out-of-whack values in need of more thorough examination.

The good news: Hundreds of schools across the country are taking action against uncivil behavior on the field, and off. Such steps are designed to curb school violence in general. Hopefully, their actions will spill over to society at large.

National programs like the "Positive Coaching Alliance," which holds coaches, parents, players, and fans accountable for their actions, appear to be having an effect. Where this program has been implemented, the number of parents expelled from games, for instance, has dropped.

"Enjoy the Game" and "Character Counts" are other programs attempting to inject greater civility into sports and further demonstrate that this worrisome trend can be reversed.

Restoring some decorum to the stands and sidelines amid the competition that naturally surfaces at sports events shouldn't be too much for today's parents and coaches to accomplish.

The next generation of citizens will thank them.

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