OBNOXIOUS SPORTS PARENTS: “We Are Not Alone”
“We Are Not Alone”: The Globalization of Youth Sports
By Doug Abrams
Shortly after we posted last week’s column about troubles in British youth sports, a friend e-mailed me with perceptive four-word message: “We are not alone.”
My friend is right. In this age of globalization, Americans’ responses to a wide range of economic, political and cultural challenges depend intimately on learning how other nations meet similar challenges. In turn, other nations can learn from the United States. Technology and instantaneous communication have made the world a smaller place, so the globalization of youth sports — its successes and its shortcomings — should not surprise us.
In many other nations, youth sports systems face stresses similar to the stresses we face in the United States. At all ability levels and age divisions, sports offers positive influences for most child athletes, both during their playing days and afterwards. But youth sports also suffers too often from parents who take the fun from the game, coaches who overlook responsibilities to teach life lessons, and players who abandon sportsmanship. Americans, indeed, are not alone.
I continue last week’s column here by looking at the youth sports scene in another nation – New Zealand. Just the other day, the Southland Times (Wellington, N.Z.) reported that a Southland Boys’ High School rugby player was suspended for five weeks for kicking an opponent in the head in a U-15 game in Wyndham last month. After reading this account, I collected other articles that have appeared in the New Zealand press in just the last three months.
“Yeah, Sort of Embarrassed”
On May 19, a father ran 30 to 50 feet onto the field during a U-10 rugby match in Papatoetoe, blindsided the referee and grabbed the official by the throat. According to an eyewitness, the father was shouting, “Why don’t you referee the game properly?” After the father was arrested for common assault, the New Zealand Herald (Auckland, N.Z.) reported that he was asked whether he was embarrassed. “Yeah,” he said, “sort of embarrassed.”
“If We Lose This Match. . . .”
When a coach threatened to kill him, the volunteer referee called off a Wellington-area soccer game for 11th graders with five minutes remaining on May 12. The coach’s verbal attack in front of the players led the referee’s 10-year-old son to leave the field crying.
The referee, who had just disallowed a goal by the coach’s team, said that the coach “was swearing . . . and getting really agitated and I said, ‘Look I need you to leave the field.” The coach responded that “This is our home field – I’m not leaving. . . . If we lose this match, I’m going to f—ing kill you.”
“Having that kind of guy around kids is scary,” a parent told the Dominion Post (Wellington, N.Z.) about the coach, who was later suspended for the rest of the season.
“It is an Honour to Represent the School”
On May 5, WaiteraHigh School’s U-15 rugby team turned post-game handshakes into a brawl against a team that had just beaten them soundly, 123-0. Local rugby officials applauded the decision of Waitera’s principal to suspend seven players and forfeit the team’s next match. The New Zealand Herald reported that at a closed-door meeting, the captains of the school’s two older rugby teams lectured the U-15 players about “pride at playing for the school, the fact that you play hard but you play fair, the fact that it is an honour to represent the school.” The captains told their younger classmates that “they have brought not only the school but the sportspeople of this school into disrepute.”
According to the Taranaki Daily News (New Plymouth, N.Z.), Waitera’s principal herself told the offending players that “if people get inside your head on the sports field, then you are always going to lose. You have to learn to lift yourself above what others are doing. You have to ignore that and play the game showing good sportsmanship.”
“An Example of Worst Practice”
In early May, the Waikato Times (Hamilton, N.Z.) reported that a small Hamilton secondary school played a rugby match against a much stronger opponent, and lost by more than 100 points. The Times condemned the winning coach, who continued running up the score even after the outcome was no longer in doubt.
“Instead of instructing his team to ease off and let the badly-beaten side emerge with some modicum of satisfaction, enjoyment and encouragement,” said the Times, “he continued to push his young . . . impressionable charges to seek as many tries [efforts to score] as possible. . . . What he didn’t realize is that sport reflects character – and character contains compassion and common sense.”
The Times looked to the United States for the proper approach. “[I]n the US the practice of ‘running up the score’ is rightly regarded as an example of worst practice. Coaches of kids’ sport in the US have been lambasted, stood down and sacked from their roles after overseeing one-sided blowouts. Others who have seen the bigger picture and controlled the damage are widely praised.”
The Times concluded its thoughtful editorial with advice about youth sports similar to what United States newspapers often provide: “Winning is part of the equation, but it’s not the first thing a kids coach should be aiming for. . . . A good coach can foster kids with a lifelong love of sport. A bad coach can bring the end.”
These over-the-edge incidents carry a common thread – each one reflects the dark underside of youth sports, but each one also produced a swift arrest, suspension, or editorial rebuke from voices who found the incident unacceptable. Much the same action and reaction characterizes youth sports in the United States, and produces optimism that the majority’s values can overcome the lapses of the few.
Even if we sense that the media sometimes covers only particularly egregious incidents, the recent New Zealand articles collected here portray challenges similar to the ones that characterize American youth sports. Sport New Zealand, a government agency responsible for sport and physical recreation in the nation, points adults in the right direction.
Sport New Zealand’s mission is to “have more kids playing and enjoying sport [and] more adults participating and getting involved.” To encourage “young New Zealanders to develop a love of sport and recreation that leads to lifelong participation,” the agency reaches out to parents (who are “our children’s first inspiration”) and coaches (who “have a positive influence on the lives and values of those they come into contact with”). According to one Sport New Zealand official, the goal is to teach children to love sports for the rest of their lives and not “burn them out or put them off.”
Conclusion: The Globalization of Youth Sports
Foreign perspectives about youth sports can help sharpen understanding about problems in the United States. The 2010 Reuters/Ipsos survey about parents’ behavior in 22 nations, discussed in last week’s column, recognizes the globalization of youth sports. So too does the thoughtful 2010 report of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Protecting Children from Violence in Sport: A Review With a Focus on Industrialized Countries,
Ever since its creation in 1946, UNICEF has been a world leader in care, research and public advocacy for children who face poverty, hunger and disease throughout the world. Now another external influence has hit the international radar screen — youth sports.
[Sources: Nathan Burdon, Player Banned After Head-Kick Video, Southland Times, Aug. 8, 2012, p. 1; Aggressive Coaching Fails the Players and the Sport, Waikato Times, May 26, 2012, p. 8 (editorial); Andrew Koubaridis, Man “Embarrassed” Over Rugby Incident, New Zealand Herald, May 24, 2012; Blair Ensor, Dominion Post, Threat to Kill at Kids’ Soccer Game, May 26, 2012; Tony Bird, After-Match Handshake Turns Into Brawl, Taranaki Daily News, May 10, 2012; Matthew Theunissen, School Team Banned for Brawl After Thumping, New Zealand Herald, May 10, 2012; Sport New Zealand,
; Good Sports, Dominion Post, July 23, 2011, p. 12]