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Sports shouldn’t bring out“dark side” in parents, students

            Anyone with a child in sports has likely  had to sit uncomfortably close to “that” parent whose aggression goes too far. They’re overbearing, they’re screaming, they’re threatening referees, coaches, and other players or parents. Just a few weeks ago one of our staff members saw one of these red-faced adults argue with an administrator before being escorted out of the Pickens High School gymnasium.

            A recent USA Today article, “Sports Parents Are Out of Control and Officials Don’t Feel Safe,” delves into what the author calls “a darker side to youth sports.” A study cited in the article found that 50% of the officials polled said sportsmanship is worst at the “youth competitive” (travel) level, then at high schools — but the bad behavior is prevalent at youngest levels too.

            “I think people have become so used to being able to say whatever they want on social media, and with no repercussions whatsoever, that I think they feel like they can do the same thing now in person,” Ron Nocetti, executive director of the California Interscholastic Federation told USA Today. “And some of the things that are said, it’s not like booing a bad call. Like it or not, people are gonna react to calls. But what we’re seeing now is just on a personal level. It’s gotten completely out of hand.”

            But kids and teen players get out of hand, too, as we’re reminded after an unfortunate incident at a regional game last weekend that involved some of an opposing team’s student section making racial slurs during the game. There is no place for this kind of behavior at games, or anywhere else for that matter. This brings back bad memories of racial slurs made at one of our middle school players a decade ago, which resulted in a fight, our team forfeiting the game and the middle school kids being escorted out of the gym for their safety.

            We’ve heard about some nasty on-court hazing as well between teammates, and also about inappropriate things that were posted on an opposing team’s student social media page (which is private and not affiliated with the team’s school).

            Being competitive in sports obviously comes with the territory, and cheering on your team or throwing out some boos and vocal criticism is expected  — but just like Travis Kelce did when he got in his coach’s face at the Super Bowl, some people cross the line.

            Being too aggressive and hateful can spoil things for everyone, and it unfortunately seems to be happening more often. A Google search will find videos and articles about parents storming the field and tackling players; parents punching out refs; students in other communities making racial slurs; players fighting each other; and on and on. Are we sucking the fun out of youth sports?

            Even as far back as 10 years ago a NY Times article “Keeps Sports Fun” talks about how youth sports were becoming more intensely competitive, and one downside of that pressure.

            “We know why kids drop out of youth sports…” writes Mark Hyman, author of Until it Hurts: America’s Obsession With Youth Sports and How it Harms Our Kids. “They’re not having fun anymore. They’re weary of the pressure. They’re tired of being yelled at….Many adults are supportive, of course. But those for whom winning is the most important thing can unravel a child’s devotion to a team and a sport quickly.”

            All of these elements – angry, violent, overbearing parents; kids who feel pressured to perform; players who go too far hazing; refs scared for their safety  – are not ingredients that make for a good time. A lot of games go smoothly with no issues at all, we know, but it only takes one person making a disgraceful remark or getting in a referee’s face before things can turn violent.

            As spring warms up in a few weeks and springs sports get underway, let’s keep cool heads and not go to the dark side.

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