New survey confirms adult misconduct during children’s games
Posted by Dean Holden at January 2nd, 2014
by Doug Abrams, 3 October 2013
In a national survey released on September 18, Liberty Mutual Responsible Sports provides yet more disturbing news about adults’ behavior at children’s games. Forty percent of the youth coaches surveyed said that they have experienced parents yelling negatively at other children. Fifty-five percent of the coaches said that they have experienced parents yelling negatively at their own children. Forty-four percent said that they have experienced parents yelling negatively at officials, and 39% said that they have experienced parents yelling at them.
The Liberty Mutual Survey underscores the 2010 poll that Reuters News and the market research company Ipsos jointly conducted in twenty-two nations. The poll ranked parents in the United States as the world’s “worst behaved” parents at children’s sports events. Sixty percent of U.S. adults who had attended youth sports contests reported that had seen parents become verbally or physically abusive toward coaches or officials. Runners-up were parents in India (59%), Italy (55%), Argentina (54%), Canada (53%) and Australia (50%).
“It’s ironic that the United States, which prides itself in being the most civilized country in the world, has the largest group of adults having witnessed abusive behavior at children’s sporting events,” said an Ipsos senior vice president.
Consistent Earlier Survey Results
The Reuters/Ipsos poll and the new Liberty Mutual survey confirm earlier estimates of adult excesses at children’s games. In a Survey USA poll in Indianapolis, Indiana, for example, 55% of parents said that they had seen other parents engaging in verbal abuse at youth sports events, and 21% said that they had seen a physical altercation between other parents. In a Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission survey, 45.3% of youth leaguers said that adults had called them names, yelled at them, or insulted them while they were playing in a game; 21% said that they had been pressured to play with an injury; 17.5% said that an adult had hit, kicked or slapped them during a game; and 8.2% said that they had been pressured to harm opponents intentionally.
The National Alliance for Youth Sports estimates that about 15% of youth league games see a confrontation between parents or coaches and officials, and a national summit on Raising Community Standards in Children’s Sports concluded that youth sports is a “hotbed of chaos, violence and mean-spiritedness.” In a survey conducted by Sports Illustrated For Kids magazine, 74% of youth athletes reported that they had watched out-of-control adults at their games; 37% of the athletes had watched parents yelling at children, 27% had watched parents yelling at coaches or officials, 25% had watched coaches yelling at officials or children, and 4% had watched violence by adults.
The Societal Costs of Bad Adult Behavior
I cannot help but think that somber numbers such as these help explain why 70% of youngsters quit playing organized sports by the time they turn 13, and why nearly all quit by the time they turn 15. When researchers ask youngsters why they stopped playing, the reasons given most often are that practice sessions and games stopped being fun because parents and coaches imposed too much pressure to win, yelled at them for making mistakes, and cut or benched less talented players.
Some youngsters drop out of a sport because they enrolled as an experiment and learned that they did not like the sport after all. Particularly in the early teen years, some youngsters stop playing when they realize they lag behind their peers in skills or strength, even if their parents and other adults urge them to continue playing as their skill level catches up. Other youngsters stop playing when they develop new interests or find part-time employment, but many who cite new interests or part-time employment may have begun looking elsewhere when the adult pressure cooker spoiled their youth sports experience.
The high national dropout rate means that millions of youth leaguers quit early through no fault of their own, but because adults drove them out. In a sedentary age marked by unacceptably high rates of childhood and adolescent obesity, adults jeopardize the public health when they churn out bumper crops of athletic dropouts year after year. Some adults may ratchet up the pressure with visions of college athletic scholarships or pro careers for their children, but the high dropout rate suggests that unreasonable pressure may abort more sports careers than it creates.
The adult-induced dropout rate also means that the nation squanders opportunities to teach millions of children the valuable character lessons that can come from athletic competition. Athletics, after all, can teach nothing to a child who has quit.
Too often the damage is permanent because many youth leaguers quit with their self-esteem so tattered that they despise athletics and avoid participating for the rest of their lives, even in such invigorating carryover sports as swimming, bicycling, or jogging. Emotional scars linger into middle age and beyond, despite the demonstrated health benefits of lifelong physical exercise.
When Kids Giggle at Adults
The negative effects of adult misconduct hit home one Saturday a few years ago when my squirt hockey team, comprised of nine- and ten-year-olds, played a game in St. Louis. We arrived early and sat in the stands to watch two teams of 14-year-olds. We also got to watch parent spectators directing a torrent of insults at the referees. At every insult, the squirts would turn to me, cover their mouths, and giggle. They knew stupidity when they saw it.
Children’s laughter at their elders is not a healthy sign for youth sports programs, whose role models should be the adults and not the pre-teens. The steady stream of disturbing survey numbers, however, continues to reaffirm that many adults could learn plenty about respect and vigorous sportsmanlike competition from their own children.
[Sources: Parents and Coaches Express Conflicting Opinions Regarding Priorities in Youth Sports, https://responsible-sports.libertymutual.com/youth-sports-survey; https://responsible-sports.libertymutual.com/article/1733/ (press release); Douglas E. Abrams, Player Safety in Youth Sports: Sportsmanship and Respect as an Injury-Prevention Strategy, 39 Seton Hall Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law 1 (2012) (discussing prior survey results)]