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Winning At All Costs

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The reputation that has been associated with youth sports in society today is one that portrays the implementation of solid core values that are important to the development of the youth participants. There are many lessons that can be learned on the field of play that can affect the individual that particular child grows up to become. However, lately that reputation has begun to become seriously tarnished. No longer are youth sports as admired for they character and values that they instill. Instead, the topic has become almost shunned in many circles because of the controversial issue of parental involvement, or in many cases, parental insanity. Parents of kids participating in youth sports have been the cause of countless problems within the institution. Encounters arising from small circumstances, such as a discrepancy or a bad call, are becoming more and more common within youth sports, and the notion that a serious problem is present is becoming clearer with every instance. Youth sports have taken on the form of venues for repeating episodes of parental insanity, slipping from the traditional values, such as teamwork and fair play, which previously placed them on such a high pedestal.

Never was this problem more evident to the nation than in July of 2000, when the focus of the national media shifted to New England for the trial of Thomas Junta, the hockey father on trial for killing his son's coach in a post-practice argument. Junta was eventually convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the killing of Michael Costin, and sentenced to a six to ten year term in prison, (Bronston, 3). This landmark case sent shock waves through the world of youth sports and left many parents concerned for the safety of their children and themselves. The problem of over- involvement in youth sports was merely a rising concern at the time this tragic event occurred. It may have taken the images of Junta's son on the witness stand to alert people about the severity of this concern. Or maybe it was the images of Costin's family in court, watching the trial of a fellow youth sport parent who took things too far one day after practice. There are many examples of parents taking things too far when it comes to youth sports. However, the trial of Thomas Junta put an extreme emphasis on the concern and had a tremendous affect on the world of youth sports.


In order to fully grasp the level of the problem with this particular situation, it is necessary to understand the aforementioned values formed in youth sports that made them so beneficial. Youth sports have traditionally been responsible for instilling core values in their participants to help shape their lives, (McManus, 2). They have provided children and young adults with qualities such as teamwork, leadership, and the concept of hard work in trying to help shape their lives in the right direction. Youth sports have also been credited with providing a release for troubled youth. Sports allow them to concentrate their time and effort on positive things, and help them escape the potential for trouble that comes from not having any extra curricular activities, (Burns, 1). Simply stated, sports benefit the community, children and adults alike.

This is evident in a report conducted by the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) in 2002. The report included numerous studies conducted to determine the benefits of youth sports. Children who participate in youth sports generally perform better in school, and are less likely to drop out. Also, the report concluded that there are also correlations between youth sport participation and low smoking rates, as well as low drug use, (Burns, 1). However, along with the results yielded about the benefits, the NAYS report also included findings of a Sports Illustrated article that contained a survey of three thousand youth sports athletes. The survey determined that 75% of the youths surveyed said they had seen more than one out-of -control adults at their games. In addition, 45% said they have been yelled at or insulted during the game, and 21% said they have been pressured to play with injury, (Burns, 2). NAYS also indicates that the number of confrontational or violent encounters involving coaches or parents nearly tripled in the five years separating 1997 and 2002, (Burns, 2). These survey results reveal how escalated the problem of parent involvement in youth sports has become. A problem is present, and it is damaging the future of youth sports in this country.

Living Vicariously

Experts have been trying to figure out what exactly are the reasons parents in youth sports act the way they do. While every situation is different and contains its own story and background leading up to the confrontation, there is a psychological theory that seems to be in play in the majority of these situations. That theory is based on the idea that parents in youth sports, whether it be known to them or subconscious, are trying to live vicariously through their children, (Weineke, 2). There are many reasons why a parent may want to do this with their child. Possibly they had a dream themselves of one day being a professional athlete? Typically, these parents are former stars from their athletic days that are looking to relive some of the glory, or they are individuals who maybe weren't successful and are trying to make their kids enjoy the success they could not, (Bronston, 3). In any event, the child is the one that suffers from this. Mick Franco, a sports psychologist at Notre Dame believes the child is seen by the parent as a way for them to "recover and recapture something from their youth," (Wieneke, 2). Mr. Franco also makes an interesting point that offers evidence as to why parents try to do this. He says, "No athlete, even the superstar, ends their career having hit their last shot in their last game to win a championship, which means most individuals end their careers frustrated. Therefore, guess who we want to be able to live the dream?" (Weineke, 2). The problem with these parents living vicariously through their children is simply caused by a lack of perspective. As illustrated by the reputation mentioned earlier about youth sports in society, parents encourage kids to play to attain important qualities for their character development. Qualities like discipline, teamwork, and courage. The problem is not all parents are able to keep their views of youth sports in perspective.

In all fairness to the parents involved in these situations season after season, it has certainly become easier in society to lose our perspective about youth sports. This is true because of a couple reasons. The amount of attention that youth sports draw in our society today can be very appealing to a parent,



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