Jim Daly Christian Blog and Commentary

Are Parents Ruining Youth Sports?

  • Jim Daly Jim Daly is president and chief executive officer of Focus on the Family, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping families thrive.
  • 2012 Mar 15

Posted by Jim_Daly Mar 14, 2012




This is taking "March Madness" too far.

Springfield, Massachusetts, father Timothy Lee Forbes was arrested this past Friday night for allegedly assaulting the winning coach in a sixth-grade championship basketball game. His son was on the losing team and apparently managed the loss with a greater degree of self-control than his dad, who actually bit off part of the victorious coach's ear.

As Dave Barry would say, "No, I'm not making this up."

Some are suggesting that since all of this took place at the Holy Name School as part of the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) sports program that it's something of a black eye on the faith-based community. However, from my perspective, it's a reminder that everyone is susceptible to taking a good thing (in this case competition) and making it into an idol.

Faith or no faith - we're all vulnerable to mismanaging our emotions.

But the incident has gotten me thinking.

Although biting off somebody's ear takes this incident to an entirely new level, the problem of out-of-control parents in youth sports seems to be growing. Just a few weeks ago another father was ejected from a girl's state hockey championship for shining a laser pointer in the eyes of players on the opposing team.

What's going on?

Are things really getting worse or is this a matter of media hype? And if the incidents do reflect a troubling trend, why - and what can we do about it?

First, regarding the perception that the problem is getting worse:

As a general rule of thumb, it's always been popular and rather easy to suggest that things are getting worse within a culture. The late British preacher and writer David Martyn Lloyd-Jones once observed:

"The idea that the problem of humanity is different today from what it has been in the past is, of all teachings, the most ludicrous. Different? Men and women are no different at all. They are still exactly what they have always been."

I think Dr. Jones was correct. Times and circumstances change but man's state of sinfulness has remained consistent through the ages.

Practically speaking, I'm not aware of any definitive research that confirms parents are more likely to misbehave at youth sports games today than they were 30 years ago - but anecdotally, there does seem to be a greater incidence of such misconduct.

The reasons, I think, are many.

Many people live vicariously through their kids, and perhaps even more so when families are splintered. Hungry for affirmation, moms and dads make idols of their children and thus their kids’ sports. In other words, they've put their child on a pedestal. They're getting their value and significance from their children's accomplishments. If the child fails to deliver or they perceive that a referee or coach is responsible for costing them a victory or high honor, the parent's emotions often spiral out-of-control - even to the point of violence.

Like biting off a coach's ear.

Instilling in our children a spirit of age-appropriate competition can be a very good thing. It's good to be passionate about sports or any other healthy hobby, but too often people are confusing passion with anger. Strengths taken to extremes become weaknesses and liabilities.

And don't forget that our kids are watching us and taking notes. How a parent reacts at a child's game influences how that child will react at their child's game in 20 or 30 years.

When it comes to the matter of youth sports, moderation would seem to be the operative word. Rooting should never turn rowdy or rude. Play is an important part of life - but when play turns violent it's no longer play, it's poison. Play to win - but play to win well.

As a mom or dad, have you encountered times when a fellow parent takes a game a little too far?

How have you managed your emotions on the sidelines or in the stands?

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