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One-year-old Sam toddles across a yard into the arms of his welcoming parents. In kindergarten, he loves to run and jump with his classmates on the playground. When he is 6, his parents sign him up for t-ball and eventually to Little League. Although he still loves baseball, his parents encourage him to try out for JV football in middle school and he makes the team easily. Because of his agility and strength, he quickly becomes one of the school team’s star running backs.

Sam begins to be concerned about his involvement with football. He wishes he had never had to give up baseball, and he never got a chance to try basketball, although he thinks that might be fun. The football games take up many of his evenings, too, and he wonders about the effects on his grades. Is it all worth it? He wonders if he should quit or continue to pursue a dream he no longer thinks of as his own.


The Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s definition of sport notes that it is “physical activity (as running or an athletic game) engaged in for pleasure or exercise.” Other definitions mention goals of entertainment and diversion. Most definitions make no mention of scholarships and lucrative advertising deals, crushing opponents, and winning at all costs. Yet, more than 50% of children and youth who begin with a love of sports end up dropping out by the age of 12 or even younger because of these and other pressures (Ewing & Seefeldt, 1991). Among the reasons given are that they are no longer having fun, that parents are becoming too invested in whether they play or win, and that they have had to specialize at the cost of other sports they once enjoyed.

This week you examine youth sports, with a focus on individuals ages 6–18. According to Sage and Eitzen (2015), high school sports have become an American obsession.

Many debates swirl around youth sports:

· Do they affect academics, cost too much, take away the fun that students once enjoyed?

· Are sports on this level guilty of misplaced priorities: entailing expenditures that would be better spent on academics?

You will debate different sides of specialization: an issue related to ethics in youth sports.

Ewing, M. E., & Seefeldt, V. (1991). Participation and attrition patterns in American agency-sponsored and interscholastic sports. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University, Institute for the Study of Youth Sports.

Sage, G. H., & Eitzen, D. S., (2015). Sociology of North American sport (10th ed.). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

> Use the Weekly Learning Materials to support this discussion.


For this Discussion, you will develop a debate on a very prevalent ethical issue related to youth and interscholastic sports: specialization. Half of you will argue in favor of specialization on youth sports and half of you will argue against specialization in youth sports. Those of you with last names beginning with A–L will argue in favor of specialization and those with last names beginning with M–Z will argue against specialization in youth sports. Individually, you will develop arguments in favor of your side.

Consider these questions:

· Who are some of the drivers of this trend, and what are their motivations?

· What are some of the short-term effects of specialization on students?

· What are some of the long-term effects of specialization?

· What are some of the pros and cons?

By Tuesday, 11:59 p.m. ET:

Post a description of the youth sports specialization issue and the side of the debate to which you have been assigned. Then, justify your side of the specialization debate by including the case and arguments you have developed.




Running head: Sport Specialization vs. Diversification

Sport Specialization vs. Diversification

Youth Sport Specialization vs. Diversification: The Debate Continues

Michael Fraina, Ph.D.

Susan P. Mullane, Ph.D


May 2020


A topic that has gained attention within the sport industry is the discourse between youth sport specialization and diversification (Normand, Wolfe, & Peak, 2017). Sport specialization has been defined as “the age or point in time in an athlete’s development when sports training and competition is restricted to and focused upon a single sport in the pursuit of elite performance” (Capranica & Millard-Stafford, 2011, p. 572). This practice has become increasingly common for children as young as five years old (Hecimovich, 2004).

The opposite method of youth sport participation is diversification. Wiersma (2000) defined sport diversification as “the participation in a variety of sports and activities through which an athlete develops multilateral physical, social, and psychological skills” (p. 13). Any individual having competed in multiple sports and/or recreational activities has participated within the model of sport diversification.

Although there are strong opinions on both sides, limited research has evaluated the topic in a quantitative or qualitative environment. As expressed in the review of literature, studies (e.g., Baker, 2003; Ferguson & Stern, 2014; Russell & Molina, 2018) have generally examined one element of the specialization issue (e.g., psychological, physical). The current study is designed to comprehensively measure, in a retrospective manner, the perceptions of current college students as to the merits and downsides of both specialization and diversification at the youth level. Topics to be evaluated include the factors that influence one’s decision of whether to specialize, psychological and academic outcomes attributed to athletes’ sport participation decisions, and participants’ recommendations to current youth athletes. Prior to the methodology, results, and discussion, a review of the existing literature on sport specialization is presented.

Specialization: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

In conjunction with the trend in recent decades toward early sport specialization, there are many proponents of this strategy. Coaches, administrators, and parents in favor of devotion to a single sport generally report three specific justifications: the “10-year rule”, case studies of successful athletes, and enhanced athletic development.

From a theoretical perspective, a commonly held stance is that the only pathway to elite athletic performance is through extensive practice. In a study designed to explore whether specialization is a prerequisite for athletic prowess, Baker (2003) cited the “10-year rule,” which suggests that the ability of an individual to reach his/her full potential could only be achieved through a minimum of 10 years of intense training. The 10-year rule was initially developed by Simon and Chase (1973). Supporters of early sport specialization contend that year-round training is the only manner in which to demonstrate this level of commitment. Ericsson, Krampe, and Tesch-Romer (1993) applied this theory to athletics by proposing that sport success was tied directly to the individual’s amount of deliberate practice. Stewart and Shroyer (2015) noted that specialization can lead to enhanced coaching and skill instruction, improved skill acquisition, development of time management skills, and enjoyment of sport and talent development.

The popularity of youth sport specialization is often connected with the accomplishments of famous athletes. Gould (2010) theorized that media portrayals of Tiger Woods and Michael Phelps, which emphasized their sole dedication to their respective sports at a young age, have encouraged young athletes to follow suit. Kaleth and Mikesky (2010) similarly referenced interviews from Amanda Beard and Venus and Serena Williams, which urged young athletes of the need to specialize in order to be successful. Thus, there is documentation from elite and influential athletes in favor of early specialization.

There is also some evidence that specialization may lead to positive developmental outcomes. Comparisons of the participation patterns of athletes have measured the differences between competitors of varying skill levels. Abernethy, Baker, and Cote (2003) compared training tendencies of Australian expert athletes and non-expert performers. In-depth interviews revealed that experts competed in more intense training than non-expert athletes. Additionally, expert athletes perceived that all aspects of deliberate practice were helpful toward sport performance (Abernethy et al., 2003). Livingston, Schmidt, and Lehman (2016) viewed that parents perceived expedited skill development among those children who had specialized in their respective sport. Russell and Molina (2018) observed virtually identical levels of peer satisfaction between specializers and non-specializers, and slightly higher levels of intrinsic motivation for specializers. These favorable opinions toward sport specialization support the notion of intense, year-round training in a single activity.

Despite the emergence of early specialization, there are many detractors to this practice. Brylinsky (2010) contended that arguments in support of early specialization, in particular the “10-year rule,” were not essential for elite sport participation. Some of the main arguments against youth specialization (and thus in favor of diversification) include athletic success of multi-sport athletes, psychological consequences of specialization, and physical risks of specialization.

The necessity of early sport specialization toward athletic achievement has been countered in literature. Hill (1993) surveyed 152 baseball players in the Northwest Rookie League to identify their previous athletic participation patterns and recommendations for youth. Results reflected that the majority of these professional baseball players were multi-sport athletes through high school. Only 22% of these successful athletes advised youth and high school students to specialize in their chosen sport.

Griffin (2008) concurred with the observations of Hill (1993). The author noted that many elite athletes had participated in various sports during their youth. This study also cited the work of Gould and Carson (2004), which revealed that a sample of Olympic athletes had not focused on skill expertise at the youth level. Rather than categorizing success through winning and losing, these athletes sought happiness, a proper balance of enjoyment, and psychological maturity associated with athletics.

Contrary to the belief of sport specialization proponents, White and Oatman (2009) determined that early commitment to a single sport was not required for skill superiority. Their study of Division I and II National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) football and field hockey players revealed that early specialization was not their chosen path. In fact, 83% of these successful athletes reported that they had participated in three or more different sports prior to high school. These results directly contradicted the opinion of the pro-specialization crowd that success is only achievable through full commitment.

Ultra-endurance athletes have also attributed positive outcomes to the sport diversification model. During interviews with 28 ultra-endurance athletes, Baker, Cote, and Deakin (2005) determined that early sport specialization was not required for success. Athletes were categorized as Experts, “Middle of the pack,” and “Back of the pack” competitors. Prior to mid-adolescence, these triathletes had not specialized in any of the three triathlon events. Their ability to convert early diversification into participation in the grueling activity of Ultra-endurance triathlons negated the importance of specialization.

In terms of psychological outcomes, several crippling implications of early sport specialization have been reported. Malina (2010) classified these as social isolation, overdependence, burnout, manipulation, and compromised growth and maturation. Young athletes with identities tied solely to athletic participation may have limited opportunities to develop relationships with peers (Malina, 2010). The harmful psychological consequence of burnout has occurred more frequently within specialized athletes (Malina, 2010). The atmosphere of adult control in specialized environments has also enhanced manipulation (i.e., age modification, dietary manipulation) (Malina, 2010). Lastly, specialized athletes have demonstrated stunted physical and emotional maturation (Malina, 2010). As these harmful consequences were deemed as unique to sport specialization, they present a compelling argument in favor of diversification.

Along the same lines, Strachan, Cote, and Deakin (2009) conducted a study regarding the psychological profiles of 40 specializers and 34 non-specializers participating in swimming, gymnastics, and diving. They observed that specialized athletes suffered higher levels of emotional exhaustion than their peers who had diversified sport involvement. Russell and Limle (2013) observed that young adults who had specialized in a single sport were less likely to continue sport participation into adulthood.

Lastly, early specialization can manifest in physical risks. Through an odds ratio analysis, Ferguson and Stern (2014) deciphered that youth sport specialization often facilitates fatigue and overuse injuries. Baseball pitchers were especially susceptible to overuse injuries, as likelihood of elbow/shoulder surgery increased according to amount of months, pitches thrown, and pitch velocity (Ferguson & Stern, 2014).


A quantitative survey was designed using Qualtrics software. The survey contained 24 items, 14 of which used a Likert scale (Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, Strongly Disagree), and the remainder sought demographic information about the participants. The survey was divided into three sections. The first area (items # 1-8) addressed the factors that influenced the athlete into either specialization or diversification. Next, items # 9-16 measured physical and psychological outcomes that participants attributed to their participation decision. Lastly, the third section (items # 17-24) investigated athletes’ recommendations toward youth sport specialization. Questions were designed by a panel of experts in addition to items gleaned from reviewing the literature on the subject matter. Participants received an announcement on Blackboard about the study with the link to the study provided. Participation was voluntary and anonymous, as the survey was monitored by Qualtrics.

A purposeful sample was used. Eligible participants were undergraduate students with majors or minors in a Sport Administration program at a private research university in the southeastern United States. The participants were enrolled in either of two undergraduate courses in their sport administration curriculum during two different semesters. The total number of eligible participants was 140 (N=140), and number of respondents was 86, representing a 61.4% response rate.


Participants in the study were 60.4% males and 39.6% females. Seventy-one percent of males had diversified sport participation, and 64.7% of females played multiple sports as youth. Composition of race/ethnicity was White/Caucasian (67.4%), Hispanic (13.9%), Black/African American (10.5%), Asian/Pacific Islander (4.7%), and mixed race (3.5%). The sample included 46.5% seniors, 22.0% juniors, 16.3% sophomores, and 15.1% freshmen. In total, 31.4% had never specialized in sport, 12.8% began specialization between the ages of 6-8, 15.1% between 9-11, 19.8% between 12-14, 18.6% between 15-17, and 2.3% after the age of 18. Among the participants, 81.4% did not currently receive an athletic scholarship. Of the 16 athletes on scholarship, 56.3% had diversified and 43.7% had specialized. Regarding their current rate of sport participation, 48.8% were involved between 1-5 hours per week, 16.3% between 6-10 hours, 11.6% between 11-15 hours, 6.9% between 16-20 hours, and 16.3% played sport 20 or more hours per week.

Research question # 1 sought to identify which factors influenced the athlete toward either specialization or diversification. Overall, 68.6% engaged in diversification, while 31.4% were sport specializers. In terms of parental influence, 67.4% disagreed that parents influenced them toward specialization, while 32.6% agreed. Furthermore, 69.8% of respondents agreed that parents urged them toward diversification, as compared to 30.2% who disagreed. In the current study, 61.6% disagreed and 38.4% agreed that peers influenced them toward specialization. Conversely, 67.4% agreed that peers influenced them to diversify, as opposed to 32.6% who disagreed. Results indicated that coaches were the only ones who pushed these athletes toward specialization. In sum, 51.2% agreed that coaches favored specialization, compared to 48.8% who disagreed. Ultimately, the greatest percentage (59.3%) responded that they made their own choice toward specialization or diversification. Parents (27.9%), coaches (6.9%), and peers (5.8%) were less influential toward the athlete’s decision.

The survey then transitioned to assess a variety of physical and psychological outcomes perceived by participants. A significant majority (79%) disagreed that specialization takes the fun out of sport. An even 50-50% of respondents indicated that they felt it was good to specialize. There was a strong rate of disagreement (60.5%) in the item dealing with specialization and its increased risk of injury. Regarding whether specialization is helpful toward earning a college scholarship, 77.9% agreed. Even 53.5% of participants who had diversified sport participation responded affirmatively to this item. A large percentage of respondents (84.9%) agreed that specialization can lead to burnout. Some who had specialized (77.8%) agreed that their chosen strategy could illicit burnout. Another outcome was that 97.6% of responded that diversification can lead to an athlete becoming more well-rounded. There was more balance as to whether diversification takes pressure off of a young athlete; while 70.9% agreed, 27.9% disagreed. Many who had diversified toward multiple sports responded that their chosen path released pressure.

To measure research question # 3, participants were requested to recommend the ideal age for youth to begin specialization. Results indicated that 10.4% suggested between the ages of 6-8, 19.7% proposed specialization from age 9-11, 37.2% responded an ideal age of 12-14, 26.7% thought it best to begin specialization between the ages of 15-17, and 5.8% advised youth to specialize at age 18 and above. Thus, it appears that the participants in the current study favored specialization around the age of high school, but earlier than college.


A commonly held opinion revolves around the perceived rise of youth sport specialization. Yet, nearly 70% of the participants in the current study (college students studying Sport Administration at a university in the southeastern United States) diversified in multiple sports during their youth. Perhaps either the emphasis toward specialization is overblown, or there has been a shift back to diversification. There is wide agreement that participation in sports offers both short and long-term physical and psychosocial benefits for children and adolescents. Therefore, efforts must be made to ensure that youth athletes receive the best opportunity to participate in multiple sports. Administrators and coaches should limit conflicts between sports and encourage children to pursue multiple activities.

Some sport organizations and associations are taking steps to encourage diversification. The U.S. Tennis Association, NCAA, and NFL, and a number of other sports organizations have teamed together in an advertisement aimed to educate parents and coaches. The ad warns that children who specialize in sports early on may not be on the best path for success, according to writer Jennifer Wallace. Wallace, in an appearance on “CBS This Morning,” goes on to point out “the idea that childhood should be spent working and not experimenting in multiple sports, is not in the best interest of the child.”

Additionally, given the current alarming statistic that approximately 70% of youth athletes are dropping out of sports by age 13 due to lack of fun while participating, it is necessary to be creative and responsive to making sure kids have fun. It could be the sport landscape is changing, and that kids want new opportunities for fun and sport participation. Gadd (2018) noted that while participation is dropping overall, there is growth happening in some areas. Suggestions to re-evaluate and re-conceptualize the concept of “sport” include adding other activities and supporting new and emerging sport, and nontraditional sports, like climbing, which had a 130% increase in participation last year. While the introduction of free play that might be more unstructured, it allows for more “playing” as opposed to competition, so that the fun might return to youth sports. If kids play for fun, their experience needs to provide that, and many agree (including members of the sample in the current study) that specialization takes the fun out. In promoting the specialization approach, kids lose the opportunity to play other sports and engage in other activities, such as music, art, drama, and even reading, the things necessary to become more well-rounded people. If they specialize, they do not have any time for any of those other activities and burnout is possible.

Upon noticing a decline in membership numbers overall and specifically for kids 10 years old and under, USA Swimming also has been proactive in encouraging kids to diversify in an effort to both retain existing members and increase the number of new ones. Research had indicated that parents wanted their kids to participate on swim teams and have a great “fitness activity” but not necessarily be on competitive teams. USA Swimming introduced a new category of membership, “flex membership,” that requires less of a time commitment, fitness and fun, and not so much competition. The sport of swimming has been involved with ProjectPlay from its inception and has been very proactive in developing multisport athletes. Ad campaigns for USA Swimming have also included swimmers performing ballet, kicking soccer balls, painting, playing musical instruments and basically reinforcing the idea that kids can swim as well as participate in other activities. Additionally, the NBA and USA Baseball have developed age specific guidelines for participation for young athletes that are intended to promote a healthy and positive sport experience. The overarching philosophy behind the NBA approach is that youth should be provide opportunities and encouraged to sample different sports and should avoid specializing in basketball prior to the age of 14.

Four national sport organizations in Canada recently joined forces with the Canadian Olympic Committee in a campaign to encourage young people to play various sports in lieu of only one. In the U.S., the OneSport media campaign was designed to help prevent overuse injuries in youth athletes, and backed by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and the American Society for Sports Medicine. Both initiatives support the pushback against the trend of early sport specialization.

Another issue is cost, as well as the potential unintended consequences of expensive sport programs. Youth sport is a $15 billion industry. The rising cost of youth sports and specializing in one sport is very expensive. According to the Aspen Institute (2019), annual spending for one child in one sport is $693. Furthermore, only 22% of youth from families with household income rates of $25,000 participated in sport on a consistent basis. This contrasts with 43% of their peers from households in which incomes exceed $100,000. Overall, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), the total number of youth sport participants in 2018-2019 was 7,937,491. The importance of this figure was that it marked the first time in 30 years that participation figures had dropped from the previous year. Tackle football suffered the largest drop off, losing 30,829 athletes from 2017-2018 (NFHS, 2019). Youth sport not only consumes a large portion of a family’s gross income but can have a demotivating effect on young athletes too. In a 2017 study, Dorsch discovered an inverse relationship between the amount of money families spend on organized youth sports and their kids’ level of enjoyment and commitment to the sport. Speculation into the reason for this finding is related to added pressure kids might feel when parents spend money on their sport participation, which clearly increases as kids specialize to become top tier athletes. On behalf of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM), LaPrade et al. (2016) offered a consensus statement that sport specialization results in unhealthy physical and mental consequences for youth athletes.

Another main focus of the current study was to determine how relevant social agents influenced the decisions of youth sport participants. While parents and peers more often pushed toward diversification, coaches were inclined to favor early specialization. This raises the question as to whether there is an ulterior motive for coaches to encourage specialization. If the justification is financial in that private coaches charge exorbitant rates to train specializers, this should be addressed. According to Shell (2017), 63% of parents admitted spending between $100-$499 monthly on private coaches, while an additional 18% allocated $500-$999. Importantly, study participants eschewed their advice and made the specialization vs. diversification decision of their own volition. With the value of autonomy, this is a positive development.

There were mixed results when analyzing the outcomes to be attributed to early specialization. Study participants disagreed that specializing takes the fun out of sport, generally agreed that specialization is helpful to gaining a competitive edge in sport, and opined that specialization is necessary toward earning a college scholarship. In reality, however, the percentage of young athletes receiving these scholarships is only about 2%, which is minimal. Conversely, in addition to some agreement that specialization increases the risk of injury, a significant majority of respondents noted the propensity of specialization to lead to burnout. Previous literature has examined the dangerous consequences of burnout, making this a noteworthy finding. Within sport programs, especially those environments that encourage specialization, mechanisms should be introduced to continuously measure whether athletes are susceptible to burnout. In conjunction with the findings that diversification takes pressure off of a young athlete and leads them to become more well-rounded, it is worthwhile to explore which environment is more suitable for athletic and personal success.

Lastly, when asked to recommend the ideal age for youth to begin specialization, the most popular responses were between 12-14 and 15-17. This indicates that current collegians are wary of specialization occurring at ages 6-8. Despite this observation, respondents suggested that specialization should commence before the age of 18. All of this information should be communicated to families. A response might be similar to the developmental model of sport specialization that has been proposed by various national sport governing bodies. For example, the model developed by the US Tennis Association divides tennis participation into three stages. The first stage, age 12 and under, focuses on the athlete learning basic tennis skills, having fun, and continuing to play other sports. The second stage, for ages 12-18, includes a greater understanding of the sport, training, and progression in competition. And the final, third stage, reached by ages 15-18, is the competitive stage where athletes are dedicated only to sport of tennis and work full time to become an elite player. The developmental model delays sport specialization (and its negative effects of overuse, burnout, and stress) by providing a transition and including an emphasis and framework for social, psychological, and developmental aspects of youth sport participation.


Although the current study was novel in that numerous facets of sport specialization were broached, certain limitations still exist. First, the design of this quantitative survey was cross-sectional. Thus, the researchers did not have the opportunity to track possible changes to attitudes toward specialization. Furthermore, data were collected among college students in one department at one university. It is entirely possible that attitudes within this population were unique and not generalizable to the larger population. On a related note, the study participants of college students were asked to retrospectively respond to questions regarding youth sport specialization. As items on the instrument addressed psychological perspectives toward specialization, it is conceivable that participants could have difficulty in recalling their youth. Lastly, the analysis consisted of review of Likert-style questions. Results did not compare group differences, for example across gender, race/ethnicity, or class standing. Despite the study’s limitations, findings should expand knowledge in the sport industry.

Directions for Future Research

Although the base of literature related to sport specialization has increased, further research is necessary. Gathering opinions from different populations, such as adults, high school students, and even youth themselves would shed light on this important issue. Since much of the literature surrounding sport specialization has focused on the perspective of the athlete, examining the issue through the lens of coaches and/or administrators would be valuable. Comparing group differences among sports or other factors may develop new knowledge about the types of sports that encourage specialization. Lastly, a qualitative or mixed-methods study could further the level of information. For example, participants could be asked how coaches influenced them into specialization, examples of how specialization may lead to burnout, or to explain their justification for selecting the appropriate age to specialize.


Youth sport specialization is a “hot topic” in the sport industry and has substantial implications on athletes and their parents. In this study, results depicted a trend toward diversification of multiple sports. Commonly, youth athletes are making their own decisions as to whether to specialize or diversify. Participants attributed a variety of outcomes to early specialization: while specialization was believed to aid toward achievement of a college scholarship, the practice is related to burnout. Ultimately, college students in the sample suggested involvement in a single sport beginning from ages 12-17. The authors hope that the current study inspires future research into all aspects of sport specialization.


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f. ‘

Putting the Youth Back Into Youth Sports
SusanP.Mullane,Ph.D,AssociateProfessor,Univers#yof Miami-

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irisi:)lct9lat a higher rate than their non-athlete
coupt~i:parts(JosephsonInstitute,2006).In yet an-

. qtlfei}tiidy, 27% of participants admittedacting
like’~~~d sport, 14% said they believed cheatingis
atlac~~ptablebehavior,32% consider arguingwith
o~~~ to be a part of the game, and 13 % admitted
tijilig’.t’r1111rt Bredemeier,;m opponent (Shields,
i~Y?t:&;Power, .2005).

YqWig’athletesare increasingly the subjects of news
s.ts~#jout negative incidentsin sports.’ Recently,a
1~. ear, pld boy was. chargedwith murder for a fatal
a • a baseb~ bat on another boy who

· t .•. about losing a basebali game (“Califor-
n,µi..~-year-oldchargedin a baseball bat kllllng,”
i.QOz)J.,¥thica!,issues involving school settings are
!J,Qf~ted to students,but also involve coachesand
g./ll’e~~fln.arecentstudy of 803 athletes rangingin
(lg~fr~ni9 to 15 years old, 189 parents, and 61
Y.?ii!iP poor behavior parentsOrtcoaches, among
.a,n~c9~cheswas consistently repo1ied.Amongpar­
~~;1_3.%acknowledgedangrily criticizing their

of parents and coaches steppingover the line at
sportingeventsand engaging in aggressive and vio­
lent behavior. Heinzmann(2003), defines sports
rage as “any physical attack upon another person
(withina sport setting) such as striking, wounding,
or otherwise touchingin an offensive manner,
and/or malicious, verbal.abuseor sustained harass­
ment which threatens subsequentviolenceor bod­
ily harm” (p. 1). Examples can be found of a
father shooting a football coach because of the
coach’streatmentof his son, a father being beaten
to death by another parent at a youth hockey game,
4 and 5 year olds watching parents brawling at a
t-ball game, and parents poisoning the members of
an opposing team (Heinzmann, 2003).

Sportsmanship ‘(.ersus
:Understandingthe difference betweensportsman­
ship and its counterpart, gamesmanship,is essen­
tial to a discussion regardingthe problell1s
plaguingsports, and specifically, youth sports.
Sportsmanshiprefers to the virtuous perspectiveor
the way that sport participation ought to be. It in­
cludes winning the right way, being willing to lose
gracefully,having appropriate respect for oppo­
nents and officials, understandingand abiding by
the spirit of the rules, and putting competition into
perspectiveGosephson,2005). Good sportsman­
ship occurs when teanimates, opponents,coaches
and officials treat each other with respect. Itcan
take the form of small gestures or heroic deeds;’ or
somethingas simple as shaking hands after a game
and acknowledging good plays made by others and
acceptingbad calls with grace. It includesaccept­
ing losing and losing gracefully. In addition, sports­
manshipincludesplayingfair,playinghard, and full
commitmentto participation, followingrule{>,re­
i;pectingthe decisions of officials and coaches, and
demonstratingrespect for on-eself, one’s team­
mates, officials, opponents,and coaches on ·both
sides. Good sportsmanship involvesself control,
courage,and persistence, and avoiding displaysof
bad temper. To be a good spo~ one does not have
a “win at all costs” attitude, but rather a love and
appreciationof’the sport and a genuine sense of
enjoymentfrom participation.

<:. •. S,Performance(Shields,et al.) Gamesmanship, aton the other hand, is the winning
all costs mentality, and is the way that sports “is” ?0~~~~ are increasingly reportedas being involved
rather than how it should be. ItincludeslookingforJf.~~gttsmanllke b~haviors, behaviorsthat often
exceptionsto the rules, fake fouls, illegal maneuvers, 3:v~ ~ethical overtones. For example, a 2005 sur-
or strategies such as head starts, taunting to gain an vey reveaJed that 8% of coaches admitted to en­
advantage,intentionallyinjuringanother player, andc~ill:~g their players t~ hurt an opponent, 7%
intimidationor espionage Gosephson,2005). While c91~dpnedcheating,and 33% admitted yellingat
winningis commonly the goal in an athletic conies~pliiy~rsfor making mistakes Shields,et al.).
it is the pervasive notion that it is the most impo1iant

A r.eiativ~ly ne.wphenomenon,sports rage, has de-, aspect of the contest that often causes unethicalbe­
velopedlnrecent years with an increasing number havior and even violencein sports.

‘..28 Th1,: FAHPERDS Tournal

A popular Nike adve1ilsement in the 1996 Olympic
Gamessent the message that “you don’t win the sil­
ver, you lose the gold” and the famous NFL football
coach, Vince Lombardi,is often quoted as saying
“winningisn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” These
examplesperpetuatethe notion that winning is the
·mostimportantgoal in sports, and to be successful,
one must attain that goal in whatever manneravail­
able.Itis also a perspective that is not necessarily
consistentwith what ls considered appropriateethi­
cal behavior.

The Problem
In our current society, youth sports are more or­
ganizedthan ever for a pl~thora of reasons, includ­
ing increasing neighborhoodcrime, !IlOre working
parents, and fewer opportunities for informal par­
ticipation.These reasons, in addition to competi­
tion and pressure for limited spots on high school
teams, have led parents to enroll their children in
organizedsports, and sometiIJ?.es Inevitably,several.
adult volunteers and coaches talce over. Depending
on their values, philosophies, and perspectives on
“winning,”a new set of pressures is introduced,

A i990 survey of 10,000 high school athletes con­
ducted by the Youth Sports Institute at·Michigan
State University, revealedthat the number one rea­
son boys and girlsparticipatein sports is to have
fun. Further, lack of having fun was identified as the
leadtngreason for participants droppingout of
sports. Though winning in itself is funand losing
can be painful, winning is not essential to enjoy­
ment or even a major incentive to participate. In
fac½winningwas ranked 12th by girlsand 8t1 by
boys as a reason for sports participation. Approxi­
mately70-80% of youth athletes drop out of sports
by age 12, and 50% of youth athletes drop out by
age 10. It is estimated that 46 milllon American
childrenparticipatein youth sports; thus 34.5 mil­
lion are expected to drop out by middle school
(OrganizedYouthSports, 1999).

It appears that the focus on winning ls the central
theme for the pressure youth participants feel from
parents, coaches, and themselves. Though only
.02% of high school athletes will makeit to the pro­
fessionalleaguesor even receive a college scholar­
ship (Knox, 2007), the pressure begins early. The
Vice President of Youth Developmentfor the Al­
liance for Youth Sports, Fred Engh,·points out that
competitionis so emphasized that the recreation
has been taken out of recreational sports. He
blames this phenomenon on putting too much
pressureon the kids. He further notes that across
the country, kids are dropping out of sports be­
cause the adults are draining all thefunout of it.
He points to burnout, emphasis on competition,
and lack of enjoyment. He reminds us that for
everykid who quits, there is anotheiless talented

child wanting toplaybutnevergels a chance. Most
importantly,the trend comes at a time when public
schoolsare cutting back on sports programs, and
obesityhas become a national epidemic(Engh,
1999).Indeed, according to Lustberg and Deitch
(2005), the very clear message childrenreceive

ParentalinvolvementJn youth sports has also made
. childhoodgames less about having fun and more
about training and competing for the topspo4

. landinga college ~cholarship or launching a lucra-
five professional career.Whileoften living vicari-

•'” ously through their children, someparents steer .
their children Into specializing Inonesport.
Burnoutis one serious side effect of the pressure
placed on youth participants. mds begin playlng
organizedsports at a very young age, somelimes as
youngas 3 years old. Bythe lime they are 6 or 7,
half their lives have been spent in sports. Given the
availabilityof travel teams, in many cases there ls
no off-season. Safetyis another issue. Weiss (2006)
citesDr.James an orthopedist Anderson, and a
founder of the American SportsMedlclneInstitute,

• who points out that often the bestyoungathletes
are at the greatest rlsk of injury,somelimesbecause
the coach often leaves them in the game the
longest,and during championship eventsmight
[!Venplay them in back to back games.

~ additionto the issues outlined therep.rev.lously,
another serious by-product of the pressures’
ced on young athletes. Heinzmann(2003),
; the winning-at-all-costs can und~ mentality

. e a child’s physical and social development,
ni an educational perspective,this, above all,
implicationsfor teachers, who often take on

g responsibilities, and volunteer coachesln
~th sports.


,otential Solutions

ferms of solutions, shnPJrput, we should reduce
. pi;essureon w.illning and emphasize teaching
·dren the positive aspects of sports participation.
ox (2007) suggests that as adult fans we have to

e that every player on each team goes out and
to do his/her best, and that the everyday emo-

tio.nalstress that teenagers experience can have a
· -effecton their performance in a game, He calls
. biinging back sportsmanship and civility tohigh

, _ool sports. Josephson advocatesa “T.H.A.M.”
trach, enforce, advocate, mod~) strategy for char-
Jer building in -sports. His emphasis lies in the

ortance of the coach to exhibit good, ethical be-
.: v.ior that youth athletes willhopefullyemulate.
, . elds and Bredemeier (1995) offer specific sug-
!!5tlonsfor coaches, Including concentratingon
e integrated development of the child, tailoring
!!irstylestothe appropriate agelevel of the pat’-

.., cipant, mlnlmizing external motivation for particl-
J?.ation,givingparticipantsas much responsibility as

possibletopromotedecisionmaking skilis, and
meetingwith parents to make them aware of their
coachingphilosophy.For example, if a coach wants
to focus on winning rather than equal particlpation,
then that coach needs todeliverthat message to
parents and part!clpants who might then be able to
make an alternate choice.Itisimportantthat par-
enls and coaches do not send outmixed messages.

Addltionalremedlesmight Include certification
programs,ethics and sportsm3!1shlp andtraining,
clinicsfor both coaches and parent9i and
sportsmanshiprewards for athletes and coaches.
Accordingto Lancaster (2002), there are 7
prlnclplesthat should apply to youth sports
programs:(1) makeitfun, (2) limit standing
around,·(3) everyone plays, (4) teach every
positionto every participant,(5) emphasize
fundamentals,(6) Incorporatea progresslon of
skill development for every participant,and(J) yell
encouragementand whisper constructivecriticism.

The Montana High Association withSchool joined
US Bank in a partnership goodsupporting
sportsmanship.It has a sportsmanship programin
placethat includes the requirement of an on-site
administratorwho has completed coursesand
clinicsin sportsmanship,includingthe dl.fference
betweensportsmanshipand gamesmanship, rules
for coaches, players, students, and fans, and
leadershiptraJnlng/workshops.It also has an
elaboraterecognitionand sportsmanship reward
programfor players, officials, parents, and fans
2008). Additionally, the Josephson Instituteoffersa
detailedsportsmanshipprogram entitled “Pursuing
areembeddedJn many sportsmanship programs
across the country.


In many cases, youth sports and its various con-
st!tuencies,(parents, coaches, and athletes), are out
of control. Basic principles of recreation, sports-
manship,andfunhave been sacrlftced by the need
towlnat all costs. Since there appears to be a natu-
raIprogressionin sports from one level to the next,
<;mecould argue that some of the ethical break-
downsseenln collegeand profession sports had
their genesis ln high school and youth sports. There-
fore, perhaps ifyouthsports could be cleaned up,
thiscould help toeliminateproblemsin the future. ·
The adults, parents and coaches, need to encourage
young athletes to participate in• sports for the right
reasonsand to put winning in its proper perspec-
tive.A renewed empha:;is on sportsmanship and a
de-emphasison gamesmanship at the earliest levels
is necessary tolay a solid foundation for the future.


California13 year-old-chal’ged in a baseball bat
killing,(2005, April). Retrieved February 12,

2008, from http://www.mo.msteam.com/alpha/
news/13Jeacold charged_in _basebaILbat_

Engh, R (1999), WhyJohnny hates sports. New

Helnzniailn,G. (2003, November 25).Parentalvt-
o!encein youth sports: Facts, myths, and video-
tape.RetrievedFebruary5, 2008, from http:// 11
Josephsoninstituteof Ethics. (2004, September).
New survey shows high school sportsfilled with f11
cheatingimpropergamesmanshipand confit· ;a
slonaboutsports.RetrievedDecember12, 2007,
from http://charactercounts.org/ spo~survey/
20041. ;a
JosephsonInstituteof Ethics (2006, October). f11
2OO6/osephson cardontheinstitut6tvJpor~
ethics of American youth: Part one. Retrieved <
January 17, 2008, from http://www.josephson.org/ –
pdf/ReportCardpress-release_20o6-1013.pdf. f11
Josephson,M. (2005).,ATrainingprogramfo1•
coachesonethics, sportsmanship andcharacter
building.Retrieved 18, 2005,.from January http://

Knox,D. (2007), High school and middle school
athletics:now ls the lime? Coach&AthleticDirec-

Lancastei;S. B. (2002).FalrP!ay: organ-Making
ized sports agreatexperienceforyourkids. New

Lustberg,R., &Deitch, C, (2005,January 24),The
hypocrisy of youth sport. RetrievedFebruary
5, 2008, from http://buzzle.com.editorlals/10-l-

MHSAlllS pat’lnershipBank sportsmanship
. (2008). Retrieved October28, 2008, from

Organizedyouth sports today-Troubling signals
from youth sports. (1999). Retrieved February 12,
2008, from www.thecenterforkidsfirst.org/pdf/

Shields,D,L.& Bredemeier, B,L. (1995).Charac-
ter development and physical activity. Cham-
pafgn, IL: Human mnettcs.

Shields,D,L., Bredemeier, B.L.,La.Vol,N.M., &
Power,R C, (2005). The Sport J:iehavior of youth,
parents, and coaches: The Good, the bad, and the
u’l).y.Journalof Research In Character ,:j
Education 3 (1), 43-59,

Weiss,M.J. (2006, April). The Agony of defeat.
RetrievedAugust,2007, from http://www.rd.com/



The FAHPERDS Journal 29



Parents and fans are essential to any successful spo1ts program or franchise. Ethical concerns
abound, however, with abusive parents injuring coaches and children, and out-of-control fans engag­
ing in unethical conduct. 1 Parents are a significant part of any youth sports organization. Many serve
as volunteers and are necessary for the administration and the eventual success of the league. Ethical
parents are supportive of coaches, participants, and other parents. They teach young athletes respect
for coaches, other participants, and sports officials. Parents set the tone for their young athlete by set­
ting an example of a true sportsman. Fans are essential to professional sports; after all, they buy tick­
ets! Ethical fans are not obsessed with their hero as was Wesley Snipes in the movie The Fan with
Robert De Niro. Good fans are polite and not abusive: they are, in essence, good sports.

Negative comments or acts of displeasure from parents or fans toward the coach, visiting team,
or officials undermine the sporting efforts of all involved. Ethical standards attempt to mold good
behavior on the part of parents and fans. These standards usually come into play as punishment for
unacceptable behavior, with the hope that these penalties will act as a deterrent of future acts of bad
behavior or poor sportsmanship by both parents and fans.


The joy of being a parent of a young athlete comes from watching your child compete in athletic
events and, of course, winning. No one likes to lose, but for a young athlete it is inevitable; the ath­
lete must learn to lose and be a good sport in the process. That is a tough task for a 9-year-old but
sometimes an even tougher task for the parents of that child. Young athletes are encouraged and are
excited when they look into the stands and see their parents cheering for them. 2

‘Michael Crowley, “Outrageous! Field of Screams,” Reader’s Digest, October 2007.
2 “Soccer Moms Gone Wild: When Parents Need to Be Refereed at Youth Sports Games,” Wall Street Journal,

April 28, 2009.


172 Chapter 5 Ethical Considerations for Parents and Fans

Amateur spo1ts leagues and associations sometimes have a difficult job ensuring that parents set
good examples for their children, play within the rules, act ethically, and conduct themselves properly
at sporting events. Many parents are enthralled with the idea of their child hitting the winning home run,
scoring the winning touchdown, or making the winning goal. There is certainly nothing wrong with that,
but when a parent loses his or her focus or perspective, then trouble looms on the horizon.3

The Standard of Appropriate Behavior for Parents

The standard of appropriate behavior for parents is the reasonably prudent parent. Ethical par­
ents view the participation of their child in sports as a part of the educational process. Patticipation in
interscholastic or youth sports is a learning experience for students; kids will make mistakes and par­
ents must understand that. Ethical parents praise their children’s attempts to improve as dedicated stu­
dents, athletes, and citizens. Parents must operate as role models for their children in all areas of life,
and that includes sports participation. Parents should encourage good sportsmanship by demonstrat­
ing positive support for all players, coaches, and officials at every game or practice. Parents’ conduct
is considered unethical if they “misbehave.” Pai·ents would do well to follow these suggestions:

1. Stress good sportsmanship. Talk to youth participants about what it means to be a good
sport. Stress that “winning isn’t everything,” especially at the early stages of youth involve­
ment in sport.

2. Watch for “teachable” moments. If a scenario ai·ises where youth sports participants can
learn a lesson, step in and instruct.

3. Teach how to lose gracefully. Shaking hands with the opposing team and teaching youth par­
ticipants how to accept defeat is a giattt step toward good sportsmanship.

4. “Check yourself.” If emotions are getting out of control, step away from the field and perform
a self-evaluation of your own conduct.

Hostile and abusive parents at youth sporting events are a far too common occurrence in recent
years. 4 For whatever reason, Little League baseball and youth sports in general, seem to bring out the

. . . ” ” .


In contrast to Ms. Lisle is Matthew Collins, an out-of-control parent, who assaul
a Little League baseball game. 6 Criminal acts have even occurred at youth sports. U
Little League game in Vallejo, California, a parent was stabbed. 7 With tight family sc
playing 40-plus games in a short season, taking music lessons, playing Wii, and
doing homework, parents, kids, and coaches ai·e under extreme pressure. 8

Former MLBMost Valuable Player Dale Murphy knows a thing or two about
and being a good sport. His “I Won’t Cheat Foundation” is “on a mission to encom

ers to avoid shortcuts”:

It takes courage, and we encourage kids to speak up. One of the more challenging thin
being the guy who does the cheating, but not saying anything about it and going along
especially, they need as many people as possible to say: You don’t want to do that. Yo,
right way to be successful. Kids see the short-term gain, that’s kind of the challenge w
any age-you see the short-term gain, you don’t see the long-term consequences.9

What parents say to their children can have a major affect on their sports expe
olds do not need to be told they are showing “lack of effort,” are “dogging it,” or are 1

percent.” After all, sports are supposed to be fun (at least to a certain point). Littll
would be wise to consider how the sport of baseball is played and the pace of the !
ers waiting in a field to hopefully get a chance to “muff’ a “soft” ball is not exact
average 5-year-old considers enticing. Parents should keep in mind the nature o:
“encouraging” their child to be successful. What about penalizing disruptive pari
them a certain distance from the field? About a hundred yards to be exact! That is
a parent in one Maryland soccer league. The league president said:

The league’s disciplinary board has had better luck barring individual parents from att
the past three years rather than fining them, because the parents would pay the money
bad behavior. We have taken a strong stance. It’s important. This isn’t the World Cup
parents to be sln”ieking on the sidelines and belittling people goes against everything v

Chapter 5 Ethical Comiderations for Parents and Fans 174

h , child in sports. Parents
parents in supporting t eir , .the proper role of

sign this form prior to their children
should read, understand, and

participating in our league.
d ct at any game or practice will be

Any parent guilty of improper con u d d from the following
asked to leave the sports facility and be suspen e , or the

may cause a multiple game suspension,
game. Repeat violations

privilege of attending all games.
season forfeiture of the

, and ethics in sports are

The essential elements of character-building , core principles:
sportsmanship and six

embodied in the concep t Of

• Trustworthiness,

• Respect,

• Responsibility,

• Fairness,

• caring, and
, Good citizenship,

is achieved when competition reflects
The highest potential of sports

these “six pillars of character.”

I therefore agree:

1, I will not force my child to participate in sports. and that the game
d participate to have fun

2. I will remember that chil ren

is for youth, not adults, physical disability or ailment that may
3. I will inform the coach of any

or the safety of others,
affect the safety of my child the policies of the league.

will learn the rules of the game and for my child and4. I , a ositive role model
5. I ( and my guests) will be p d rtesy and by demon-

tsmanship by showing respect an cou , and sporencourage for all players, coaches, officials,
strating positive support t

ractice or other sporting even .
spectators at every game, p , , of unsportsmanlike conduct

t engage in any kind
6, I (and my guests) will no h as booing and taunt-

h player or parent sue
with any official, coac ‘ , , f language or gestures.

k h ds· or using pro ane
ing; refusing to sha e an ‘ t’ es that would endanger

b haviors or prac ic
7. I will not encourage any e

the health and well being of the athletes, to resolve conflicts
, by the rules and18, I will teach my child to p ay

h stility or violence.
without resorting to O coaches officials,

‘ld treat other 1Payers, ,
I will demand that my chi creed, color, sex or

9. t regardless of race,
and spectators with respec

ability, more important than win-
ch <ld that doing one’s best is

I will teach my ~ h tcome of a game10. never feel defeat byte ou
ning, so that my child will

or his/her performance.

11. I will praise my child for competing fairly and tryin,

my child feel like a winner every time.

12. I will never ridicule or yell at my child or other .t:

making a mistake or losing a competition.

13, I will emphasize skill development and practices and h

my child over winning, I will also de-emphasize games

in the lower age groups.

14. I will promote the emotional and physical well-being

ahead of any personal desire I may have for my child t

15. I will respect the officials and their authority during

never question, discuss, or confront coaches at the~

will take time to speak with coaches at an agreed upon

16, I will demand a sports environment for my child thal

drugs, tobacco, and alcohol and I will refrain from tb

sports events.

17.I will refrain from coaching my child or other players di

practices, unless I am one of the official coaches of th

Parent/Guardian Signature

Source: © 2011 Little League Baseball, Incorporated. All Ris

What are your thoughts on the parent code of conduct? Should each parent l:
a pledge that he or she will promote sportsmanship as well as following a code of

Parental Choices

There are many ethical issues in youth sports, and none are more difficult to d
gion and gender. Examine the following two case studies dealing with girl parti<
league and prayer before a youth sports game.

At what levels should girls no longer be allowed to participate in a boys’ league, if evt

girl is capable of playing football, can she participate on the boys’ team? If not, why not

allowed to play youth baseball? The Little League believes so. 13

“For further study, see Lyun Kidman, Alex McKenzie, and Bridig McKenzie, “The Nature and 1
Comments During Youth Sport Competitions:’ Joumal of Sport Behavior 22 (1999); Margaret’
Messner, and Sandra J. Ball-Rokeach, Paradoxes of Youth and Sport (New York: State Universi
Press, 2002).

12 Jessica Rudis and Rich Schapiro, “Queens High Schooler Tackles Her Football Dream,” New Yl
October 4, 2008.

13 Dave Merchant, “Local Woman Changes Face of Little League Baseball,” Heritage Newspaper,
2010; Bruce Weber, “Judge Sylvia J’ressler, Who Opened Little League to Girls, Dies at 75,” Ne
February 17, 2010.

176 Chapter 5 Ethical Considerations for Parents and Fam

Check out one response to 12-year-old Jaime, a girl who was “dominating” a boys’ basketball league:

The~ were great … until she blocked the first shot. Then they were like, “Hey, we don’t want this big kid
commg ou~ and making us look b_ad,” said Michael Abraham, Jaime’s coach. After parents complained, The
Hoop, a pnvate _league that organizes the games, told Jaime she could no longer play with the boys, citing a
rule that bars nuxed-gender teams.14

Consider the following questions regarding Jaime’s participation on the boys’ basketball team.

1. What actions, if any, should be taken?
2. What reasons can you provide that Jaime should not be able to play basketball with the

boys? What reasons can you give in support of her participation?
3. What would you do about the parents who do not want her making their sons look bad on

the court?
4. Is there an age limit at which girls should no longer participate in a boys’ league?

Youth sports can present multiple problems that need to be resolved fairly and ethically. Consider the one
faced by the Medford Little League in Oregon. A parent pulled his son from coach Chris Palmer’s Indians base­
ball team (the name of which presents another ethical issue} because the parent said Palmer “forced” religion on
the kids by leading them in prayer and quoting Bible verses. “All I wanted was for my daughter to sign up and
play baseball this spring. Not to have religion or prayer shoved down her throat. There’s a time and place for
prayer-and baseball isn’t it,” said Mike, a former assistant coach for Palmer. Coach Palmer said, “I just pray
that the Lord will watch over us …. I’ve never had anyone raise a stink about it.” 15

Consider the following questions as they relate to the place of prayer in youth sports.

1. What is wrong with a short solemn prayer for the safety of children nothwithstanding which
higher power you choose to worship? 16

2. Would a prayer at a youth sporting event be more acceptable if it uses neutral language,
specifying no particular religion, during the prayer? 17

3. Should prayer be allowed under any circumstances’? What if a child is severely injured? Is
prayer still prohibited under those circumstances? 18

14 Kari~richer, Lisa Fletcher, Nicole Young, and Stephanie Dahle, “Banned from Playing Basketball with the
Boys, ABC News, May 24, 2008.

:: Associated Pres~, “~~ttle League Calls Coach’s Pre-Game Prayer Fair, Not Foul,” KCBY News, May 3, 2010.
Se~ Denm~ Collms, Nearer ~y God to the Goal Line: • Suppose I Pray to Win, and the Other Guy, He Prays to
Wm, Whats God Gonna Do?’ ‘ Washington Post, November19, 1978.

17 See Charles S. Prebish, ‘”Heavenly Father, Divine Goalie’: Sport and Religion:• The Antioch Review 42, no. 3
(Summer1984): 306–318.

“See Pat 1:IcMan~o~: “Major Gains for Boy 1:1it ~y Ball at Minor Le~gue Game,” Fanhouse.com,July 26, 2010;
Sara Pulham Batley, Where God Talk Gets Stdelmed: Sports Joumahsts Are Reluctant to Tackle Faith on the
Field,”Wall Street Joumal, February4, 2010.

4, What consideration should people of different faiths be given in this :
5. What role should religion play in youth sports, if any? Consider th<

cheerleaders could use Bible verses on the banner a football team ru
enter the playing field. The principal of the school stated:

As a Christian I would not have liked it if they had used verses fn
had known about it, I probably would not have approved of them ,
basis of the court’s ruling … if you allow Christian verses then )
Buddhist, or Jewish and everything else. And to be perfectly hone

would have been a problem here. 20

Parental Rage
People, and especially parents, can become angry, and sometimes at th

issue becomes urgent when parents or fans fail to control their anger, and it
negative consequences. “Rage” has become a term of art.2

t Sports rage has b
the context of an organized athletic activity, any physical attack upon anoth,
ing wounding, or otherwise touching in an offensive manner, and/or any mal

sus~ained harassment which threatens subsequent violence or bodily harm.” :

major ethical dilemmas for youth sports organizations and even present serk
Parental rage has taken youth sports to a new level. Anyone who has

sports team knows it can be tainted by one “raging” parent. It would be naYv
coaches and officials, which consists primarily of volunteers (the key word b
not be subject to criticism; they will. However, violent acts and parental are di
criticism.2 4 Parental abuse or rage can include any of the following:

• Profanity
• Improper touching of a participant, referee, coach, or other parent
• Abusive language (including profanity) that demeans, ridicules, or bel

physical makeup, sex, national origin, gender, religion, skin color, ski!

tion, or parental heritage
• Entering the playing field uninvited
• Making derogatory comments to coaches, parents, officials, league oJ

• Failing to follow the rules and regulations of the league


“See “Kurt Warner: Jesus Brought Me Here,” Chrisfian Post, January 30, 2010; Hannah
Your Short Game?” Wall Street Jo11mal, April 27, 2010.

20 L. z.Granderson, “The Debate at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe;’ ESPN.com,October 6, 2
21 Sophronia Scott Gregory and Adam Cohen, “Black Rage: In Defense of a Mass Murde1

June 6, 1994.
22 Gregg S. Heinzmann, “Parental Violence in Youth Sports: Facts, Myths, and Violence;’
23 See Howard P. Benard, “Little League Fun, Big League Liability,” Marquette Sports Lt;

i< Paulo David, “Young Athletes and Competitive Sports: Exploit and Exploitation,” lnte,

Children’s Rights 1 (1999): 53-81.
25 For further study, see G. S. Heinzmann, “Parental Violence in Youth Sports: Facts, Myt

National Recreation and Parks Association; Joel Fish and Susan Magee, 101 Ways to B
(New York: Fireside, 2003):

178 Chapter 5 Ethical Considerations far Parents and Fans

As an SMP, what should be done to control a “raging” parent? What steps would you recom­
mend?26 In the following case, an out-of-control parent threatened violence against a young player.
When is that ever appropriate? The simple answer: never.

2004 WL 1925551

Jordan Hale was thirteen at the time of the incident. When Jordan was

in the seventh grade, he signed up to play in the Casco Bay hockey

league. On December 10, 2001, Jordan’s team played another team on

which Michael Antoniou was a player. Jordan knew Michael and they were

friends. Jordan also knew Michael’s father, Demetri Antoniou.

Towards the end of the hockey game, Jordan and Michael collided.

Jordan had lowered his shoulder and checked Michael. Michael went down

onto the ice. Michael took a while to get up, and Jordan could tell

Michael had been jarred by the hit. Michael returned to his team

bench, and the game ended about ten seconds later. No penalty was

called against Jordan.

From Demetri’s perspective, it appeared as if Jordan drove his hockey

stick onto Michael’s “right jaw and right neck,” Demetri testified

that he thought his son might have suffered a concussion. In fact,

Michael was injured as a result of the hit.

After the game, the teams went to their respective locker rooms.

Jordan was in the locker room for about five minutes and had already

started getting out of his hockey equipment when he saw Demetri at the

doorway of his team’s locker room .. ,

Scalia [Jordan’s coach] testified that Demetri asked him where Jordan

was, came into the locker room with a “hockey stick under-a bag on his

shoulder, a hockey stick under his arm.•

In his affidavit, Jordan testified that after the incident, when he

tried to stand up, his knees buckled and he had to sit back down.

The court denied Demetri’s motion for summary judgment, because

Jordan’s claims for civil assault and intentional infliction of

emotional distress are allowed to go forward, their punitive damages

claim were not barred by the absence of an underlying tort.

26 For further study on parents and youth sports, see Dianna K. Fiore, “Parental Rage and Violence in Youth Sports:
How Can We Prevent Soccer Moms and Hockey Dads from Interfering in Youth Sports and Causing Games to
End in Fistfights Rather Than Handshakes;’ VillanovaSports and Entertainment Law Journal (2003); Geoffrey
G. Watson, “Games, Socialization and Parental Values: Social Class Differences in Parental Evaluation of Little
League Baseball,” flllemational Review for the Sociology of Sport (1977).


Jordan showed that there is a di’ spute
regarding whether De

alleged actions were motivated by i’ 11
will toward Jordan o

geous that malice towards Jordan as a result of that condu

implied. The court cites Scalia’s testimony that Demetri a
where Jordan was c • t h

, , ame in o t e locker room with a ;1hockey
a bag.on his shoulder, a hockey stick under his arm,”
Hale is an asshole.” and s,

Express malice exists when the defendant’s
tortuous conduc1

vated by ill will toward the plainti’ ff and
that implied maj

wh~n deliberate conduct by the defendant, although motivat,
thing other than ill will toward any

particular party, .is ~
geous that malice t d

owar a person injured as a result of tl:
can be implied.

Source: Reprinted from Westlaw lvith permi’ssi’on
of Thomson ii

Consider the following questions regarding Case 5-1.

1. It is clear this parent was “enr d” Wh ct· . . age . at 1sc1plme measures should t
the parent?

2. Should a police report have been made in this case?
3. Should the parent be made to apologize to all involved?
4. Shhould the parent be forced to take anger management. classes before he

t e league?

The “hockey dad” case study that follows, involves the tragic death of a pare

M . . The most notable ~ccurrence of parental rage resulted in the death of a young hocke)
/. as~achusetts hockey rmk. The encounter between Thomas Junta known as the “H k
Costm occurred on July 5 2000 C . . . • oc eyC . , , , . ostm was superv:ismg a hockey practice for IO-year-old

· th(ee son~ and Junt~ 8 son. Junta was in the stands observing his son in a non-contact scrirr
Dunng the scnrnmage, Junta became upset when he saw players acting rough and e·

thought was unnecessary “body-checking.” Junta then left the ‘” d d • · . . s…,n s an went onto the 1ce ,
t~e ro_ugh pla between the boys. Costin was in his protective hockey gear a~~

him with Junta s necklace and then kicking Junta’s shins and feet with the 3_.
fter the ph · al I • me
. ysic a tercatlon, a rink employee separated Junta and Costin and re

rmk. Junta left the rink 1′.”ith his son and later returned to pick up his son’s two frie
en Junta returned to the nnk, he once again ran into Cos”n A d

ff” ” · secon argument ens

and began pun~hin~ each other, Junta threw Costin to the floor and repeated!}
th e neck. Upon their amval at the rink, paramedics found Costin without a pulse

to a coma and was pla~ed on_ ll_ventilator. A day after the incident, Michael Costin was ~
removed from the ventdator, and died, Junta surrendered to the police and was arrested

180 Chapter 5 Ethical Considerations for Parents and Fam

In January 2002, Junta’s trial began with jury selection, which consisted of asking potemial jurors if they

had children, if their children played on sports teams, and if they ever had witnessed an incident of parental rage
at a youth sports game. Junta was found guilty and sentenced to 6 to JOyears in prison. 27 He was found guilty

of involuntary manslaughter. The jury refused to find him guilty of the more serious charge of manslaughter,
which would have sentenced Junta to 20 years in prison. 28

Parents should be supportive of their student-athlete. Any violence or abusive language is anath­
ema to the desired goal of the ethical parent. When the stakes appear to be higher for the parents than
for the children, parents have an obligation to examine their own behavior and to refrain from uneth­
ical conduct.

2003 WL22533643 (E.D. Louisiana)

Bill Brantley

boys’ basketball

the court and

was injured while

game at Bowling

began assaulting





1 s

a ref







a high s





Ackerman. Apparently, this occurred when Glenn’s minor son was ejected

from the game because of a technical foul. Glenn allegedly was joined

in his assault of Ackerman by Donald McGehee. When Brantley tried to

stop the assault, McGehee allegedly punched, clawed, and battered him.

In the melee that ensued, McGehee was soon joined by two other McGehees,

who allegedly punched, kicked, and beat Brantley until he was uncon­

scious, Brantley alleges that his injuries were caused by the inten­

tional acts of Gle_nn, Bowling Green School, and the three McGehees,

Here, Glenn’s alleged acts occurred at a high school sports event

where Brantley and his fellow referee were charged with officiating

and keeping order.

Source: Reprinced from Westlaw with permission of Thomson Reuters.

Consider the following questions with regard to Case 5-2.

1. Should there be a harsher penalty for the parent who assaults a sports official?
2. Should criminal charges be brought in this case?
3. What ethical and legal decisions would the school’s athletic department be faced with in this


Preventing Parental Rage

What can be done to ensure parents are kept under control? If they are not held in check, it could
lead to dire consequences and possible legal action.

27 “Hockey Dad, Gets 6 to 10 Years for Fatal Beating,” CNN.com, January 25, 2002.
28 Fox Butterfield, “Fatal Fight at Rink Nearly Severed Head, Doctor Testifies,” New York Times, January 15, 2002, A9.


A youth athletic league in Florida is adding a requirement for kids who want to be sp,

parents must learn how to behave on the sidelines as well.
The Jupiter-Tequesta Athletic Association is requiring parents to take an hour-1<

course. Jeff Leslie, the volunteer president of the association and father of four, stated: ”
de-escalate the intensity that’s being shown by the parents at these games.” The progran

Youth Sports (PAYS) of the National Alliance for Youth Sports, costs $5 and will be re
parent or guardian for each family. It states the roles and responsibilities of a parent of a
minute video and a handbook. The first season had many parents enrolled in the class.

It is always good to ask an expert. Joey Scherperborg, an 8-year-old who plays in ti
puts it succinctly when discussing parental misconduct: “It makes it not as fun …. I wis


Youth baseball coach, Mark R. Downs Jr. was charged witli offering one of his pla:r
the head with a baseball. The boy was hit in the head and in the groin with a baseball just I

not able to play in the game. The boy who was hit with the ball was an 8-year-old teamn
ability. Witnesses told police that Downs, who was a t-ball coach, did not want the be

because of his disability.
In a previous game, another coach said that Downs had been cautioned by an umpir

the field and had remarked to the entire team in jest, “Anybody who can line drive the r,

you $25.” The boy’s mother called state police after the boy was struck. She said sh,
wanted to keep the boy off the field, despite a league rule that required every player to part
a game. Downs was arrested and arraigned on charges of criminal solicitation to commit a
ruption of minors, criminal conspiracy to commit simple assault, and recklessly endang,
He was convicted on corruption charges of a minor and criminal solicitation to commit :

How Can We Prevent “Soccer Moms” and “Hockey Dads” from :C::

in Youth Sports and causing Games to End in Fistfights Ra’


By: Dianna K. Fiore

Villanova Sports and Entertainment Law Journal, 2003

29 Richelle Thompson, “Youth Leagues Make Parents Play by the Rules,” Cincinnati Enquire
30 “Coach Denies Targeting Child;’ CBSNews.com,July 18, 2005.

182 Chapter 5 Ethical Considerations for Parents and Fans

Excitement suddenly turned to fear for the 49ers youth football team

f ield holding their stomachs and began vom-
as p 1ayers ran Off the . h

i.ti.ng v:i.olentJ.y on the si.de.13.ne. Parents and coaches helped the eig t
boys, ages l2 to 14, into cars and headed to the hospital1 ending the

practice for a championship game a few days later. No one knew it at

the time, but the sick 49ers had been poisoned, casualties in an epi­

demic of parental rage sweeping through youth sports.

Youth sports have been a part of American culture for a long time. For

many years, sports have provided positive experiences for children.

When children play sports, they may experience the joy of learning a

new athletic skill or even scoring the winning point in a game, Play­

ing sports should not only be a positive experience for children, but

should also be an enjoyable experience for parents who proudly watch

their children play from the sidelines or the stands.

Occasionally, parents are not involved in their children 1 s sporting

interests. Before being introduced to the world of organized youth

sports, children often gather in streets to play stickball, shoot

hoops, or play touch football with family and friends in a backyard.

Overall, children participate in sports for exercise, fun, and


Today, the games that carefree children played in the backyard with

friends are replaced by more structured activities such as organized

youth sports programs. Sadly, parents and other adults have become too

involved in youth sports, making them more structured, competitive,

and violent, rather than carefree, recreational, and fun. As a result

of this invasiveness, tragedies have occurred~ .. this rage is
taking the fun out of sports and creating a negative learning environ­

ment for children.

With an estimated thirty to thirty-five million children between ages

five and eighteen participating in youth sports, it is clear that

youth sports are integrated significantly in modern American culture.

Children play to have fun with their friends and to practice and

improve their athletic skills. Moreover, parents want their children

to be involved in sports to build character and to manage the chil­

dren1s free time with a healthy, positive activity. Participating in

youth sports programs . . can fulfill the needs and desires of both

children and their parents.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, organized youth sports emerged in

urban America because parents sought to occupy their children’s free

time while they worked in factories and mills. Parents organized

sports activities for their children to compensate for a,non-rural


fi ‘ll the void caused by parents’ working
upbringing and to

long hours.

‘nterest in engaging their children in sp,

with this increased
parents had to organize and implemen·

activities with friends,
for their children. · · Litt

structured sporting experience
, • rograms within loc

Baseball is highly structured, organizing P
ld Little League has brought youn

nities around the wor • · · · t
and b~ys together on ball fields around the world a~d. curren ,

00 000 baseball and softball participants”
to have a 1mos t 3 0f ,

Soccer Organization ( ”AYSO”) offers chi1
. American Youth .. te in an ore

f’ve to nineteen an opportunity to participa . –
ages i , h t by implementing,

ue AYSO modernized yout spor s
soccer 1eag · n h · h ha•

Plays” and ‘Balanced Team, w ic
phies such as “Everyone cer and AYSO’s id<

t f AYSO’s trademark. Parents found soc
par o . d· u~ as football and
appealing because soccer is not as angero ~
place the same kind of focalized pressure on children as bas

when a child is alone at bat.

t d with the best int
sports leagues were crea e ” . , n

were motivated by the ideal of winning.

time these youth sports leagues progressed into intensely c
, competitive athletic environment for ye

dren and shaping today’s youth sports model. Now more ~h~ntE
to represent “minia l

adults structure youth sports programs

versions of professional sports.

structured organization of youth sports pl

have been modeled after professional spo:
h ts programs ·we.re never

leagues. In fact, however, yout spor . l
Sp orts leagues. Carl Stotz, Bil1

the founders of the oldest youth sports
to replicate professiona

Glen ”Popu warner, , d
to be fun, recreational, an sSpor ts

tions, intended youth
Despite their intentions, youth sports eventually became so

emulate their professional counterparts.

, lved in making youth sports just as
parents became more invo , the cornbinat

competitive as professional sports. Due to r
over-structuring of youth sports programs and pare_

their children’s sports, youth sports compr:

characteristics as professional sports. Fr,

and games, leagues, officials, umpiresr referees
t names r trophies, ti

onships, tournaments, professiona 1 eam
hi children experiencand even corporate sponsors p,

like to be a professional athlete.

184 Chapter 5 Ethical Considerations far Parents and Fans

Unfortunately, some adults overlook the reality that exposure to the

rigorous schedules and fierce competition that professional athletes

face may be overwhelming for children who simply want to play sports

to have fun with friends. Parents often neglect that the primary goal

of youth sports is for children to have fun. Therefore, if the players

are not enjoying themselves, the whole purpose of participation in

youth sports is averted.

Although most violence in sports occurs at the professional level,

particularly in football and hockey, there is an inherent degree of

violence at all levels. As a result, sports involve a serious risk of

physical injury.

Unnecessary violence now plagues youth sports across the country and

has escalated to the point 1;,1here parents, coaches, umpires, and refer­

ees are fighting and beating each other to death. The labels “sports

rage” and “parental rage 11 refer specifically to parents who lose con­

trol and take their “rage” out on other adults. Sports rage and

parental rage are not new developments. Yet, the number of violent

incidents in youth sports has increased at an alarming rate in the

past five years. “From Little League to the big leagues, violence at

sporting events is no longer startling.” Organized youth sports pro­

grams are earning a reputation for producing a generation of unhappy

child athletes. Children either must drop out of youth

because they are too competitive and no longer fun, or be exposed to

the violence that increasingly erupts.

In addition, the trend of violence in youth sports is exposing young

athletes to the judicial system. . Given the extreme nature of

this growing problem

parents, children, coaches, and youth sports

organizations have sounded the alarm for youth sports league adminis­

trators and legislators to take action: first, to find out what is

causing the unfortunate trend of parental rage and unnecessary vio­

lence in youth sports; and then to find a way to address the problem

before it is exacerbated.

There are several factors that contribute to the alarming increase in

unnecessary violence in today’s youth sports. The •win-at-all-cost

coaches, violent parents and poor role models in professional sportsu

are primary causes …. This mentality in professional sports has

integrated in youth sports. The ideal of winning in youth sports has

become much more important than mere participation as a team player.

Because there is so much emphasis on winning, the physical and emotion,~_

nature of youth sporting events continues to change for the worse,

Unfortunately, the intense competition in youth sports

young athletes to play more aggressively on the field and has led


more violent outbursts by parents on the sidelines. Everyone

i..n·_youth sports, including the athletes, coaches, referees, ut

.S,i;:>ectators, and parents, are at unnecessary risk of injury dui

.,.in,,at-all-costs mentality.

An early 1990s survey revealed that out of the 20,000,000 Ame,

‘ children who participate in youth sports programs, approximat,

<14,000,000 will quit before they reach the age of thirteen. A<

,;,~o the survey, these children drop out “mostly because adults­

;particularly their own parents-have turned playing sports intc

“‘:.’_:j/,Yless,negative experience.”

)•,at·ents have contributed largely to the “winning is the only t

iittitud0 in youth sports. Child athletes now struggle to succE

pleaee their parents, not to achieve personal goals. This stru

anxiety among young athletes and their~

attend their children’s sporting events

ing an opportunity to interact with their children. Today,

; parents are more involved in structuring their children

sur0 that their children become successful athletes. Thus

:tng pressure on a child to make a high school varsity team

his or her chance of procuring a college athletic sch

become the new motivation for parents. Consequently, becau

they have invested in their children’s success, parents be

parents to participate excessively in spar

own children are the players. The parental

their children when hurt during a game com·

to lose control of their emotions and temper.

s youth sports coaches should. act as role models t•

:i,ve influences for children. In youth sports, the most su,

are concerned more about treating each child as an ind,

~-fJ_P_laying concern, respect, understanding, and patience v1:

as.he or she develops skills. Unfortunately, some youth,

f!B_._have become fanatical about winning and have resorted (

cting young players to play violently, or to coaching

professional athletes and struggle

i’:~”tin their sports. To be recognized by scouts as especi,

agd to succeed in competition, young athletes p11sh them,

J.imits of talent and skill. When these athletes can nc

their talents and skills, they panic over the possibilj

~ and consequently resort to aggressive, intimidating, ar

rt:slllanlike• conduct on and off the field.


186 Chapter 5 Ethical Considerations for Parents and Fam

violence in youth leagues contributes to
Each instance of unnecessary .

1 d from participation in
the erosion of constructive values g eha~e h’ldren from becoming vio­

t h seek to prevent t eir c i
sports. Faren s w O

• d set an appropriate
lent and overly aggressive should be proacti~e.an t who aim to

th sports league adm1nistra ors
example. Coaches and you should commu-

t 1 rage at youth sports games
prevent incidents of paren a f ptable and unacceptable
nicate with parents and set guid~lines or ::c:n outh sports, par-
b h . r With so many notable violent even y

e avio . administrators, and even lawmakers are
en ts, coaches; youth sports bl

exists and are making reasona e
acknowledging finally that a problem . 1

re incidents of unnecessary v10 ence,futuefforts to prevent
elf-regulation have emerged as effective ways

League self-control and S . h’ r
th s arts leagues are establis ing mo e

to curb violence in sports. You p , ‘ng youth sports programs.
training programs for administrators in managi

ho ~.~ever, more youth sports supervisors are
To be fully effective, ” t

sports administrators, and paren s.
needed to train volunteer coaches,

that coaches undergo criminal back-
some youth sports leagues require k

. ‘t’ n The background chec s are
ground checks to obtain a coaching posi io . . ders …

children’s exposure to violent offen .
intended to minimize

t d that “[n]o organization that runs
NAYS president Fred Engh commen e . ter their child with-

. h ld allow parents to regis
sports for children sou . t tion and training program on
out the parent going through an orien a

ethics and sportsmanship.”

It is imperative that adults and children involved in youth.
. . . . rage has no place in

their violent behaviors because
sports control ‘ld Unfortunately, parents

, ctivities for ch1 ren,
recreational spo.rt1ng a . l t acts with little

itted senseless vio en
and other adults have comm ‘tt’ g an example to children
no consequence, inadvertently transmi in ted a cycle of

. , Their inappropriate actions have crsa
violence wins. ff th field Lawmakers, youth
uncontrollable behavior both on and: chil:ren na~ionwide should
sports leagues, coaches, parents, an

rage and put the fun back into sports.
find a way to stop sports

tandard for behavior at youth sport’s games
Implementing a national S l ce

• incidents resulting from via en
will reduce the number of tragic • . , t players to play the

s orts. . . . “‘The bottom line is we ;ran
youth p d the parents to be able to
game, the coaches to coach the game an

enjoy watching their children play the game.”
. , of Thomson Reuters.

Source: Reprinted from Westlaw tifi th permission

th p· article on parental behavi.or
Consider the following questions as they relate to e iore .ii

ing events.


1. Are there portions of the Fiore article you disagree with?
2. Do you think a national standard of behavior for youth sports is feasible?
3. Should youth sports leagues be less organized with less parental involvemen

allowing the youth participants to pick their own team captains and their owr
an original idea!

4. Are umpires essential for every youth sporting event? Should the kids just be
their own disputes?

Fans can be adamant about supporting a team. They like to go to the stadium or
;11good time; however, sometimes a “good time” can get out of hand. Just as any other

sporting contest, fans must regulate their conduct to conform to societal expectations.
uld have a good time at the ballpark, there is a line that cannot be crossed. Getting
ore together in a large stadium with alcohol present and enthusiasmrnnning high c
xcitement. Teams and stadium owners have both a legal and an ethical duty tc
urethat spectators conduct themselves in a proper manner so as not to offend othe:

inappropriate in a restaurant may be pe1fectly aeceptable at an outdoor sporting e
owing when a spectator has crossed the line into inappropriate or unethical c,

happen if a fan crosses the line? Should stadium officials taser them ?31 How ab,
, intoxicated heckler at a golf match? Is a taser appropriate under these circ
there be an age limit defining which fans are subject to taser or assault?
s can become overly boisterous and rowdy, even violent. 33 Fans have a respon
ance with the rnles and to control their behavior at sporting events. 34 Unneces
is-anathema to the proper conduct that ethical fans should follow. Fans, like
e ethical decisions. They can choose the ethical course or allow themselve,

ctive by abusive heckling or even violently interacting with participants,
other sports officials.

usiastic hockey fans banging on the glass during a game is generally consider,
natured “ragging” of a player by a fan is generally accepted, but cursin:

guage is not. Stadium owners want fans to come back to the ballpark. 1
‘nensuring fans behave themselves. The fan has a responsibility for beha,

sporting contest. Spectators at sporting events are encouraged to (in a reasorn

“Would Taser Boy Electrify Broadway?” Wall Street Jounu,/, May 5, 2010.
‘th, “Drunk Golf Fan Tasered for Heckling Tiger Woods at The Players Champi

ay 8, 2010.
see Bill Simmons’s list of “20 Most Annoying Fans at a Baseball Game.” Bill S

allpnrk,” ESPN.com, August 8, 2001.
“~’s Best Faus? We Gotta Hand It to Steelers (Barely),” ESPN.com, August 29, 20(

LSS Chapter 5 Ethical Considerations for Parents and Fans

yell, scream, and cheer in an effort to provide support to their team and express their opinion to sports
officials. (Again, only if done reasonably.) This behavior is done to encourage and motivate the players.

The spectator and fan should be enthusiastic, but fair, and adhere to the tenets of good sportsman­
ship. Committing a violent, drunken, or criminal act will not be tolerated and is considered inappro­
priate fan conduct. This behavior can be punished by expulsion from the stadium as well as the fan
suffering the legal consequences of his or her actions. Owners want fans excited about their team, but
only if fans do so ethically and follow the conduct rules set down by the owner and society in general.
Professional leagues and teams have recently begun to publish codes of conduct for fans. The follow-

ing is a model code of fan conduct:

Fan Code of Conduct

The club expects all who enter the stadium and surrounding parking lots to adhere to the fan code
of conduct. Failure to follow this Code will result in possible ejection from the stadium, revocation
of ticket privileges, and arrest. Although Season Ticket Holders may give their tickets to others, the

account holder is responsible for the actions of those using their tickets.
The following actions are prohibited at the stadium and in surrounding parking lots:

• Fighting, taunting, or engaging in any action that may harm, threaten, or bring discomfort to

anyone in the stadium
• Sitting in a seat other than one’s ticketed seat location or refusing to produce one’s game

ticket upon request by stadium personnel
• Possession or use of any illegal drugs or irresponsible use of alcohol

• Loitering in concourses, aisles, tunnels or stairs

• Smoking in the stadium
• Use of foul, abusive, or obscene language or gestures
• Damage, destruction, vandalism, or theft of any property of other fans or the club
• Failure to follow the directions of law enforcement, security, ushers, ticket takers, or any

other stadium personnel
• Unauthorized use of any seating designed for persons with a disability
• Engaging in any action that causes a disruption, creates an unsafe environment, interferes

with the game, or hinders the enjoyment of the game for other fans
• Mistreatment of visiting team fans, including verbal abuse, harassment, profanity, con-

frontations, intimidation, or threatening behavior
• Refusal to remove or turn inside-out clothing deemed offensive or obscene upon requ

by stadium personnel

Consider the following with regard to the model code of fan conduct:

1. Is the code of conduct complete? If not, what would you add?
2. Under what circumstances should club officials remove a fan?
3. How do you define “irresponsible use of alcohol”?

The NFL’s code of conduct prohibits the following:

• Behavior that is unruly, disruptive, or illegal in nature
• Intoxication or other signs of alcohol impairment that result in irresponsible behavior


• Foul or abusive language or obscene gestures
• Interference with the progress of the ame C . . .

Failing to follow instructions of t d’g mcludmg throwmg ob3ects onto tl
Verbal o . s a mm personnel

r physical harassment of opposing team fans35

Fan Heckling

“Heckling” is very common in ba b 11 .
out of hand, it is considered acceptablseb ah , ~nd Im ?ther sports as well. As long as

h h e e av10r s 1t a “fair co t” h
w en t e playeris not playing well? Sh Id thl . . mmen w en fans h
James was heckled at a wedding rece ~:n : /t~ be sub3ectto heckling in a public l
dently an art form to heckling 37 The p u . n _a so heckled at an amusement park.3
stated it well: · q eStlOn is, when does a heckler go too far? c

Heckling players is not an act of sportsmanshi and h .
most verbal heckling it is a little more d’ffi Ip s _ould be av01ded. While many play

. ‘ 1 cu t to avoid items that are b · h .
at certam spectator events and taboo at Others. D 1· hallemg t rown. Nmea mg with noise is

t ough at times it may be dist t’ . . a c enge for mamAl h rac mg, noise ts considered ab’ d ·
and coaches. At spectator events such tg a vantage by a home te
to yell and cheer for your team It . ats foot~dall, baseball, and basketball, it is considere

• IS no cons1 ered appro · t tO 11
family, race, or any other disparaging re ·k th pria e ye comments about a1golfer, following a noisy tournam t mai . n e game of golf, however, noise is disn

en, commented· ”I’ t · 1 .
ness person in their business life and th h Id. ‘ 1:1cer am y not gomg to go out and

. ‘ ey s ou n t disrupt our game”
Another mappropriate behavior b s ec · . , ·

win. While this was previously done y Ip ~ators is runnmg out on fields and floors afte1

happens for no apparent reason. Fans os: y ‘1:en a ‘tdeam w~s ran~ed_ and played a ranked t
, d ou cons1 er taking this bit of d · “T •

you ve one it before” (Hummer, 2004, p. C2).” a vice: ry wmr

How a player reacts to a heckler may dictate wh th .
• Charles Albert “Chi’ef’ B d e er a heckler will continue his

enerwasagreatNt’ A·
decades of the 20th century d . . B a Ive mencan baseball pla) . an ls m aseball’s Hall ofF A h .

encan players were prohibited from . ame. t t . e time heArnhe played the game. He was kno p!aymg._ Bender was sub3ect to ra,
r~cial taunts gracefully and wi ~ans heckled him or greeted him ::hf~:11:~~~ng

s own style yelling back “F . F . ops when he came onto the field,
ore1gners, oreigners.”39, ,

McCarthy, “NFL Unveils New Code of Cond ~ ”
“dan, “LeBron James Heckled at Carmelo’ ~ d: Its ;ans, _USA Today, August 6, 200l
“LeBron James Heckled at Amusement p sk ; mg ece~twn,”‘:SPN.com, July 12, 2·

JO, 2010. ar ‘ eaten by This Guy m 3-Point Shootout”

tinespring, “The Art of Sports Hecklin ” Tl I ‘ S. Martin and Lillian H Chaney “S gt, E ‘.e C wrleSlon Gazette, Jnne 11, 2010
· , · , por s tlquette” p d’ -~ ·
atwn Annual Convention Citat1’011 . d ‘ rocee mgs o, the 2007 Association

H . · s are 01111tte on quote ,
•, ox1e,Encyclopedia of North America, 1 d’ .
see Tom Swift, Chief Bender’s Burden. “s’.~ns (SBoston,MA: Houghton Mifflin Har J,

10). ,~ _ · ie I ent trugg/e of a Baseball Star (Lincoln

190 Chapter 5 Ethical Considerations for Parents and Fans

Are certain subjects off-limits for fans and hecklers? How much should a fan be able to say about
an athlete’s personal life? There was much debate about this issue when Tiger Woods returned to the
golf course in 2010. Some fans made comments about Woods’s off-course activities.40 There are eth­
ical guidelines for hecklers. 4 t Legal constraints impose obligations on fans that mandate appropriate.
behavior and fans can also be ejected for poor sportsmanship and conduct.

Michael Katz, a spectator who heckled coach Isiah Thomas of the New York Knicks, received a warning

card from a security guard to stop what he was doing or he would be ejected from Madison Square Garden;

Katz, an accountant, said he was not cursing or swearing but merely yelling critical remarks at Thomas. Katz
said his comments were within the boundaries of “fair comment.” Representatives of the Knicks and the NBA
said the warning was “routine” and part of a leaguewide effort to control fan behavior that was instituted after,

a brawl in 2004 involving the Detroit Pistons, the Indiana Pacers, and some spectators. Verbal criticism of

Thomas had been common in 2004, with some Knicks fans sometimes chanting “Fire Isiahi”

The card given to Katz featured blue letters on a white background and read: ”You are being issued a warn­
ing that the comments, gestures and/or behaviors that you have directed at players, coaches, game officials,

and/or other spectators constitute excessive verbal abuse and are in violation of the NBA Fan Code of Conduct.

This is the first and only warning that you will receive. If, after receiving this warning, you verbally abuse any

player, coach, game official or spectator, you will be immediately ejected from the arena without refund.” 42

After receiving the warning, Katz said he moved to a different seat and was not ejected from the Garden,

Consider the following questions related to Katz’s behavior.

1. Is giving a fan a warning card if they engage in improper conduct a good idea?
2. Should there be different levels of warning to fans before they are ejected?
3. What conduct should a fan be ejected for?
4. Would a fan commenting on the sexual harassment lawsuit against Isiah Thomas while he

was the general manager of the New York Knicks be considered “fair comment'”! It is, after
all, a public record.

The national pastime can sometimes bring out the worst in baseball fans.43 Baseball fans can be
very loyal to their team and hostile to visitors. According to an algorithm designed by Nielsen, the
most hated team in Major League Baseball is actually the Cleveland Indians, not the New York
Yankees, who finished a distant fifth.44 Consider the following case in which a heckler provoked
a player.

40 Larry Dorman, “Woods ls Getting Ready; So Are the Hecklers,” New York Times, March 24, 2010.
41 Robin Ficker, “The Heckler’s Code,” New York Times, November 22, 2004.
42 Joe Lapointe, “NBA Gives Etiquette Warning to Fans,” l11temat/011alHerald Tribune, December 14, 2007.
43 Ashby Jones, “The Happy Heckler Can’t Be Heard Now in the Din at Tropicana Field,” Wall Street Journal,

October 25, 2008.
44 David Biderman, “Are the Yankees Truly the Most-Despised Ballclub?” Wall Street Journal, April 28, 2010.


cir. 1981)

1975, David Manning, Jr,, was a spectator at

Park in Boston for a baseball game between the Baltimore.Orio:

the Boston Red Sox. Ross Grimsley was a pitcher for Balti~ore

the first three innings, Grimsley was warming up by throwing’

from a pitcher’s· mound to a plate in the bullpen located ne~r

right field bleachers, The spectators in the bleachers co~tin,

heckled Grimsley, On several occasions immediately f~llow~ng t

ling, Grimsley looked directly at the hecklers, not _Just ~nto.
d At the end of the third inning, Grimsley, after his c,ts an s . t th be1
left his catching position and was walking over o e ·1

faced the bleachers and wound up or stretched as though to pi

the direction of the plate. Instead, the ball traveled from GJ

hand at more than 80 miles per hour at an angle of 90 degrees

path from the pitcher’s mound to the plate and directly ~owan

hecklers in the bleachers, The ball passed through the wire m,

in front of the bleachers and struck Manning.

ReprJ. ·nted from westlat’l w-it:h permission of Thomson Reu;source:

It might be illegal for hecklers to heckle temperamental relievers; however, it was
for Grimsley to intentionally throw a “pitch” into the grandstands where the hecklei

What ethical and legal duties does this case present? .
In the following case a minor league baseball player decided to take matters mt

with a heckler. Not only ~as he sued for his actions in civil court, he was also charg<

712 F. Supp 79 (W.D, Va. 1989)

d the Fourth of July, 198·dSimmons along with a friend, atten e
between’ the Martinsville Phillies and the Bluefield Orioles, a I

Virginia. Bluefield was not having a g,farm team, at Bluefield’
and whether for this or some other reason Simmons moved down i

third baseline along about the eighth inning, and started to l

~he Oriole players sitting in the bullpen. Champ [Orioles pla,

stated in his deposition that Simmons was accusing the ballpli

stealing the local women, and that he {Simmons) would show th~

what West Virginia manhood was like by blowing the players’ ,hec
· h ·t h’ng coach [of the Oriol,whatever was precisely said, t epic 1.

asked Simmons to leav’e. After the game (Bluefield lost, 9-8, ‘

192 Chapter 5 Ethical Considerations for Parents and Fans

three runners in the bottom of the ninth), Champ encountered Simmons in

the parking lot. Si111111ons … offers no details of what ensued other

than that he was punched and kicked by Champ and then hit in the jaw

by a baseball bat wielded by Hicks [Orioles player], causing his jaw to

be broken in two places. Champ’s version was that Si111111ons saw him car­

rying a bat, made a gesture as if he were shooting Champ with his

finger, and said 1’0ht so you need a bat, huh? 1 Champ said 1’No, I1

don’t,” and throw his bat down. Si111111ons gestured toward his car and

said, 1Let’ s go over to my car, and I’ 11 blow your head off. 11 Another

player tried to intervene, and Champ said, ‘1 Just get out of here.”

Simmons then advanced threateningly upon him, and Champ hit Simmons in

the face. Si111111ons was unfazed, and Champ kicked him in the chest,

causing Simmons to stagger back. According to Champ he then smiled and

said “I’m drunk. I didn’t feel that.• Champ turned to walk away, and

at that point … Hicks hit Simmons. Simmons says Hicks hit him with

a bat, but Hicks says that he used only his fist. Hicks had not been

near any of the heckling and says he intervened because he was afraid

Simmons was about to pull a gun on Champ.

Source; Reprinted from Westlaw with permission of Thomson Reuters.

1. What actions should be taken against players who enter the stands and assault hecklers?
2. If a fan merely has a license to be on the premises, under what circumstances could the

license be revoked?

Fan Rage

Fan rage is much like parental rage; it should never be tolerated and stadium personnel should
take immediate action to remove abusive fans from the premises. In the fourth quarter of a 1995
game between the Giants and the Chargers, fans began throwing snowballs from their seats and one
struck Chargers equipment manager Sid Brooks in the face, rendering him unconscious for 30 seconds.·.
A mclee ensued with fourteen fans being arrested, 175 ejections, and 15 injuries. It was rec,orted.
“Early in the fourth quarter, an ice ball sent in the direction of the San Diego bench hit Brooks in
left eye. ‘He went down like a ton of bricks,’ said the Chargers’ doctor, Paul Black, rendering him
unconscious. As the teams were called off the field and the crowd was warned a cancellation
imminent, ugly got uglier: more snowballs were hurled at the circle of trainers and players
rounding Brooks, out for thirty frightening seconds, down for two frightening minutes.” 45

A Bowie hunting knife with a 5-inch blade was thrown at California Angels rookie Wally Joy
after his team’s 2-0 defeat of the Yankees. “Joyner was grazed on the left arm by the butt end of
weapon, escaping injury. Said Joyner, “I picked it up and gave it to (Angels’ manager] Gene Mauch’.

A local disc jockey set up an anti-disco promotion to be held between games of a Wh
Sox/Tigers doubleheader. Fans bringing a disco record were charged only 98 cents for admissi

45 Ian O’Connor, “Giants Get Snowballed: Fans Show Disgusting Lack of Class,” New York Daily News,
December 24, 1995.

46 “Previous Examples of Fan Violence,” SI.com, September 19, 2002.

The thousands of records were then jammed into a large wooden box in center
pieces. A riot ensued on the field as about 7000 fans brawled and set off bonfires w
ing the postponement of the second game. Fonner major league player Rusty Staub
slice around you and stick in the ground. It wasn’t just one, it was many. Oh, God a
seen anything so dangerous in my life. I begged the guys to put on their batting Ju

Even coaches are not immune to fan violence. The attack against Kansas Cil
coach Tom Gamboa was unprecedented. The “fan,” William Ligue, Jr. and his l
onto the field and attacked Gamboa from behind. Ligue had telephoned his sistE
night’s attack and told her to watch the White Sox game. Ligue was charge,
battery-he told the police that he charged the field because he was angry that ti
losing. However, the evidence strongly supports the fact that the attack was prer
before he ran onto the field, he handed his keys, cell phone, and jewelry to another
wearing a pocketknife on his waistband when he ran on the field. His 15-year-ol
with two juvenile counts of aggravated battery; one for attacking Gamboa and th<
White Sox security guard, who was an off-duty police officer. Gamboa was pum1
several cuts and a large bruise on his forehead. 48 These episodes are emblematic u
by fans.

Stalking is a serious societal crime and should be treated as such. Unfortun2
have been the victims of stalking, including entertainers and sports stars. 49

A man was found to be stalking Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson. 5°F
has become a major problem in sports. 51 The New York Times reported:

Whether they are obsessed fans fixating on celebrities or former romantic partners, 1

invoke spurned Jove-real or imagined-to defend their actions. But stalkers seldon

their behavior in the legal system because only one in three cases is ever reported to

In Case 5-5, Bob Uecker, “Mr. Baseball,” had been stalked and procured
his stalker.53 She subsequently sued her for defamation.

e LaPointe, “The Night Disco Went Up in Smoke,” New York Times, July 5, 2009.
gers, “Two Fans Attack Coach During White Sox Grune,” Chicago Tribu11e, Septemt

son, “Though Many Are Stalked, Few Report It,” New York Times, February 15,
ny McCartney, “Trial Begins for Accused Shawn Johnson Stalker,” USA Today, June f
Scheck, “Stalkers Exploit Cellphone OPS,” Wall Street Journal, August 3, 2010; Subr
“Regulating Cyberstalking,” Journal of l11formatio11, Law,and Technology (February

. Schimmel, C. Lee Harrington, and Denise D. Bielby, “Keep Your Fans to Youn
.n Sport Studies’ and Pop Culture Studies’ Perspectives on Fandom,” Sport in Society
580-600; J. Reid Meloy, Lon-aine Sheridan, and Jens Hoffmann, Stalking, Threaten/1
Figures: A Psychological and Behavioral Analysis (New York: Oxford University Pn

e Lollis, “ESPN’s Erin Andrews to Fight for Stronger Federal Anti-Stalking Laws

Bob Uecker Stalker G2′.ts Restraining Order,” CBS Sports, September 7, 2006.

194 Chapter 5 Ethical Considerations for Parents and Fans

780 N.W.2d 216 (2010)

Uecker is the radio broadcaster for the Brewers. In June 2006, Uecker

petitioned the Milwaukee County Circuit Court for an injunction

against Ladd, alleging a six- or seven-year pattern of harassment.

Around the same time, Ladd, a self-described “devoted fan,” was

charged with felony stalking. The injunction petition hearing was held

on July 3 and September 7, 2006. The court commissioner found probable

cause and issued an injunction charge,

On September 8, 2008, Ladd filed a sprawling prose complaint alleging

that between June 1 and September 7, 2006, Uecker defamed her in the

affidavit supporting the injunction petition; he and/or the Brewers

published the allegedly defamatory affidavit to a website called

thesmokinggun.com; the Brewers posted on their website a defamatory

article regarding her removal from a spring training game in Maryvale,

Arizona; and a claim for ½false light invasion of privacyn for, among

other things, making and republishing false, defamatory statements and

photographing her in the stands at various baseball stadiums.

Ladd’s September 8, 2008, complaint alleges that Uecker defamed her:

(1) in the affidavit in support of his petition for the harassment

injunction; (2) by publishing the affidavit to thesmokinggun.com;

{3) during the two-day injunction hearing; and (4) in a media interview

after the first day of the hearing. Distilled to its essence, Ladd’s

claim is that the false depiction of her as a stalker has damaged her

personal and professional reputations. Except for the continued injunc­

tion hearing on September 7, 2006, however, all of these incidents

occurred more than two years before Ladd filed her complaint.

Ladd also argues that, although Uecker and/or the Brewers allegedly

posted his affidavit to thesmokinggun,com on June 2, 2006, the pur­

portedly defamatory statements still can be accessed on the Internet

today. She contends that the information therefore is republished each

time someone visits that website or others to which the material has

found its way, thus renewing her cause of action,

Ladd asserts, however, that Decker’s statements lost their absolute

privilege through ”excessive publicationn on the Internet, because the

“stalker label” “defame[ed] [her] as a criminal” and because Uecker

defamed her to law enforcement officials.

Ladd’s complaints that the Brewers defamed her likewise fail. The Brewers

advised Ladd in December 2006 that, in light of the harassment injunc­

tion, they would deny her entrance to the spring training facility in

March 2007 should she purchase a ticket. Upon finding her int

they were entitled to have her removed. As Ladd’s ticket indic

ticket of admission to a place of amusement is simply a licen,

a performance that the owner or proprietor may revoke at will

Ladd included a photocopy of her ticket as an exhibit, evide

show she had a right to be at the game. The ticket reads: “fJ

granted by this ticket to enter the Club baseball game is rE

Ladd then directs us to an allegedly defamatory March 20, 2(

cle in the Brewers’ online news archive about the Maryvale l

Assuming, as Ladd contends, that the Brewers posted the sto,

and accepting simply for argument’s sake that the article ii

tory, this claim also fails. Before filing suit, Ladd did nc

written not.ice to the Brewers providing them “a reasonable c

to correct the libelous matter.#

Ladd alleges that the Brewers took photographs of her in th 1

baseball parks and disseminated her “mug shot” and informat.

the injunction and the spring training incident. None of th,

involved private places, using her likeness for advertising

or depictions of nudity. Further, they are matters of publi

source: Repr.inted from Westlaw with permissior1 of Thomson R

Ladd had heen hounding Uecker for six or seven years, sending him unusu:
autograph, and appearing at ball parks and hotels where he was staying.

Consider the following questions in light of the Uecker case.

1. What can be done to prevent crazy fans from stalking players?
2. What actions should stadium officials take to prevent such conduct? Hov

owners keep stalkers from entering the ball park?
3. Where is the ethical line drawn between an enthusiastic fan and a stalke
4. The fan was banned from Brewers’ home and road games. How can tha

Going onto a playing field without permission con~titu:es criminal tr~spas:
ested. However, that does not stop many fans from domgJust that. Runnmg 01

ission is a crime and also creates multiple safety issues for fans, securit)
. Erica Eneman and Amy Nadler alleged to have suffered personal inju
y persons attempting to come onto the playing field at Camp Randall St

nsin/Michigan football game. They assert their injuries would not have occ
t been closed by security personnel at the conclusion of the game. Consid

5-6 when fans ran onto the field at the University of Wisconsin.

AndrewGreiner, “Bob Decker’s Stalker Banned from Road Games;’ NBC Chicago, D,

196 Chapter 5 Ethical Considerations for Parents and Fans

577 N.W.2d 386 (1998)

Camp Randall Stadium is the site used for football games and other

outdoor events at the university of Wisconsin at Madison. The football

field is encircled by a chain-link fence with a walkway between the

fence and the bottom row of bleachers. Ingress and egress of the

bleachers varies, depending on the section of the stadium. Sections 0

and P were at issue in this lawsuit. The lower rows of sections O and

P exit to the walkway and then through the home team tunnel. It was

also possible for those rows to exit to the field itself, even though

security personnel directed spectators not to do so.

Prior to the 1993 football season, access to the field was limited by

handheld ropes, which provided no real barrier to a spectator deter­

mined to enter the field. In anticipation of the 1993 football season,

the University installed metal gates that could be positioned to close

off the walkway at the bottom of the bleachers in order to permit the

team to exit the field into the tunnel without interference from the

spectators. When the walkway was closed off by the gates, sections 0

and P spectators’ means of egress was restricted, until tbe team had

made its way through the tunnel and the gates were opened again.

On October 30, 1993, after the University of Wisconsin’s football team

defeated the University of Michigan’s team at Camp Randall, many of

the students in sections O and P attempted to come onto the playing

field. However, a few minutes before the game’s end, the gates had

been closed and latched by security personnel. This provided a signif­

icant barrier to the spectators’ egress onto the field, and it also

created a dead end for tunnel egress from sections O and P, at a time

when spectators were moving down the bleachers to exit the stadium or

to push onto the field. The plaintiffs were crushed against a metal

railing and the gates when security personnel were unable to quickly

unlatch the gates to open them.

Ward and Richter had no personal responsibility to manage the crowd at

the Camp Randall games. On the other hand, Riseling’s, Green’s and

Williams’s activities at Camp Randall were arguably within the scope of

the Standard Operating Procedures for Camp Randall relating to crowd

control. Additionally, prior to the Michigan game, and subsequent to

the installation of the gates, Riseling knew that it was possible that

the students might try to rush onto the field at the game’s end. In

response to this potential for congestion in the student sections, she

formulated and issued a directive entitled, “Post Game Crowd Tacticsr u

whose goal was uto prevent injury to people-officersr band members

and fans.” The plan outlined a general strategy to follow w
her judgment, would have prevented injury. Although her pla

implemented by security personnel, it was not successful.

Riseling, as Chief of Police and Security did not ignore tb

danger. She, with the assistance of others, formulated a pl

“POST GAME CROWD TACTICS,” the goal of which was “to preven

people-officers, band and fans.”

The plan established no specific tasks that were to be perf

certain time; rather, it made general statements and set ge

guidelines such as 1

We expect that if Wisconsin wins today, especially if i

close game, there will be an attempt by fans to come or


If there is a crowd surge, officers at that point w

the initial decision to move aside and begin pulling ba

goalpost assignment. Lt, Johnson will be observing from

box and will make decisions on giving the command for a

cers to pull back.

There may be times during and after the game when p,

the fence and put pressure against it. Actively encoura

move back. If it seems there is danger of the fence bre

has in the past) move back to a safe position.

Here, the formation of the post-game crowd control plan rep1

Riseling’s judgment about how best to reduce the potential l

to persons at the game, Additionally, the implementation of

required Riseling, Green and Williams to respond to their a,

of what the crowd’s actions required. By its very nature, tl

plan was effected had to change from moment to moment becau,

was responsive to the crowd. Reacting to the crowd also corn

the exercise of discretion. Furthermore, neither the documer

testimony contained in any of the portions of the depositior

ted in opposition to respondents’ motion for summary judgmer

lished a factual dispute about whether any specific acts wei

of any of the respondents.

Here, documents provided establish no inconsistency between

actions of those respondents whose job duties took them pere

into crowd control management activities, and the Universit:,

of safe management of the crowd at football games. Rather, t

in accord with the General Operating Procedures for Camp Rar.

198 Chapter 5 Ethical Considerations for Parents and Fans

Stadium. Neither the formulation of the plan nor the implementation

of it required highly technical, professional skills, such as a


Source: Reprinted from Westlaw with permission of Thomson Reuters.

Consider the following questions as they apply to the Camp Randall incident.

1. What ethical duties do stadium owners owe to fans? Were the fans at Camp Randall engaging
in poor sportsmanship, criminal activity, or unethical conduct?

2. Did the university violate any ethical duty they had to the fans?
3. How could stadium owners prevent these tragic events in the future?


Parental Ethics

1. A Sport Parent Code of Conduct consists of trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fair­
ness, caring, and good citizenship. Should there be penalties, either civilly or criminally,
for those parents who fail to act properly?

2. Should states enact laws specifically to police the behavior of parents at sporting events?
3. Youth sports are for children; therefore, by definition, they should be fun. It has been stated,

“but maybe it’s inevitable that kids’ priorities change as they mature. They have more
homework, new social lives and don’t always love baseball enough to put in long hours of
practice and play. If they also play basketball, soccer or football, they often start specializ­
ing in one sport by middle school, rather than alternating with the seasons.”55 Do you agree
with this statement?

4. Some sports organizations insist that parents sign a pledge before enlisting their child in
sports program. A sample pledge consists of the following: “I hereby pledge to provide
positive support, care, and encouragement for my child participating in youth sports. I will
encourage good sportsmanship by demonstrating positive support for all players, coaches,
and officials at every game, practice, or other youth sports event.” Do you consider this
pledge an effective tool to curb potential parental rage?

S. One sportsmanship parents’ guide included tips for parents such as “be supportive of
coaches,” “teach respect for auth01ity,” “focus on your child as an individual,” and “be
mindful of your role as a role model.” Which of these tips is the most important? Is it the
role of youth sports to teach respect for auth01ity or is it the job of teachers and parents?56

6. Leonard Zaichowsky, a professor of sports psychology at Boston University, grew up play­
ing hockey in Alberta, Canada, and notes that one important development in youth sports
has been the sheer increase of parental involvement in sports. “When I was growing up,
parents were minimally involved,” he said. “Kids rode their bikes or walked to games, and

55 Associated Press, “Youth Baseball Loses Kids When Playing the Game Isn’t Fun Anymore,” Texarkana Gazette,
April 9, 2009.

56 See “Must Parents Attend All Sports Events,” Wall Street Journal, April 19, 2007.

Notes and Discussio

they settled things themselves. Now parents drive the kids to practice:
things have gotten more organized, the stakes are higher.”57

7. What factors cause parents to get out of control at sporting events?
8. Is a mandatory ethics course for parents who want to participate in s1

What would be on the test? Could a league ever revoke a parent’s licern
9. How should a youth sports league penalize parents who exhibit unethic

about fines, or an expulsion or banishment from the league?
10. Should parents be required to recite the parent code of conduct before th

Is it a good idea to require a criminal background check for participati
to a service provided by Protect Youth Sports (protectyouthsports.com)’

Fan Ethics

11. What conduct do you consider “crossing the line” for a fan?
12. What are your thoughts on the Philadelphia Phillies fan described bel

banned for life from all future Philadelphia sporting events?

Matthew Clemmens, of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, pleaded guilty in Mi
assault, harassment, and disorderly conduct. Clemmens admitted he s1
down his throat and vomited on Michael Vangelo, an off-duty Easton,
police captain, and Vangelo’s daughter, after they began arguing at the P
National game on April 14 at Citizens Bank Park.58

13. Should youth sport leagues ban “negative cheering,” as some have alrei
parents and fans be allowed to cheer “against” an eight-year-old ball I
when he makes an error? At what age do opponents become “fair game”
mentary” from opposing players?

14. The NBA gives written warnings to fans who heckle participants and c
tice was intended to control unruly behavior. The heckler in one case st
Isiah!” Is this “over-the-top”? Should warning systems for abusive faJ
sports similar to that of the NBA? In youth sports, what should the war

15. Heckling and violent behavior is a serious problem in sports.60

16. Stalking is an issue as well unless, of course, you man-y your stalker!61

17. Should there be a higher standard to protect coaches? Participants? Ref
18. What part does the media play in creating or encouraging fan rage? He1

should never be posed!62 “Are New York Fans Getting Too Tame?”

57 Fox Butterfield, “A Fatality, Parental Violence and Youth Sports,” New York Times, July 11, :
58 Barry Leibowitz, “Matthew Clemmens, Vomiting Phillies Fan, Will Do Time for Nauseating

July 30, 2010.
59 Kelley Tiffany, “Cheering Speech at State University Athletic Events: How Do You Regulat,

manship?” Sports Law Journal (2007).
60 See Jonathan Singer, “Keep It Clean: How Public Universities May Constitutionally Enforce

Student Speech at College Basketball Games,” University of Baltimore Law Review (Winter 2
Press, “Player Who Shot Heckler Is Back on the Field,” New York Times, January 21, 2010.

61 See “Chris Chambers Gets Married to His Stalker,” The National Football Post, August 11, ‘.
62 Jason Gay, “Are New York Fans~Getting Too Tame?” Wall Street Joumal, June 9, 2010.

”Hey, data data — sWing!”

The hidden demographics of youth sports

Originally Published: July 11, 2013
By Bruce Kelley and Carl Carchia IESPN The Magazine

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· http://espn.go.com/ espn/story/ ___jid/9469252/hidden-demographics-youth-sports-espn-magazine 3/20/2014

Hidden demographics of youth sports – ESPN The Magazine – ESPN Page 2 of 21

COMPETITIVE YOUTH SPORTS may be as American as apple pie, but we
know a lot less about youth sports than we do about apple pie.

The problem is that while the FDA takes responsibility for knowing everything
about our food (as the EPA does with the environment and a group called ARDA
does with religious life), no one agency or organization monitors youth sports either
as a central part of American childhood or as an industry. (And it is an industry. The
Columbus Dispatch .:….:::::….~~=-==c..::….:..==in 2009 and found that nonprofit sports
groups alone, from the AAU to the thousands of cash-strapped parent-run
community leagues, have $5 billion a year pass through their coffers.) So we are left
with a Wild West of local and regional organizations in dozens of sports and no
better odds of getting pinpoint data than of counting all the tumbleweeds blowing
across the land.

Yet research has been done; there are smart academics and organizations in search
of answers. As part of ESPN’s summer 2013 Kids in Sports focus, we mined the
often hidden-away data to paint as comprehensible a portrait of the nation’s
cmnpetitive youth sports landscape as we could.

1. Youth sports is so big that no one knows quite how big it is.

How many American kids play competitively on teams or clubs? No one has ever
conducted a census. Still, it’s worth looking at the various counts, even if they all are

For starters, the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), which employs
tens of thousands of online interviews, tallies how many kids between 6 and 17 are
regular/frequent ( or what it calls “core”) players of different sports. These “core”
numbers make a decent stand-in for kids who play on organized teams, even though
that’s not the question asked; what’s asked is whether a kid played that sport a
minimum of 13 times a year in a sport like ice hockey or 26 times a year in a sport
like soccer. SFIA gave ESPN The Mag custom data totaling up its 2011

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That adds up to 21.4 7 million kids between 6 and 1 7, or more than the population of
Texas in 2000. That’s big.

Competitive sports look bigger in a survey of students done by Don Sabo, a
longtime youth-sports researcher and a professor at D’Y ouville College in Buffalo.
He queried a research sample of 2,185 students in 2007 for the Women’s Sports
Foundation and found that 75 percent of boys and 69 percent of girls from 8 to 17
took part in organized sports during the previous year — playing on at least one team
or in one club. Do the math on the 39.82 million U.S. students ages 8 to 17 in 2011
and that would be 28. 7 million of them playing organized sports, more than the
population of Texas today plus most of Oklahoma. This chart shows the
participation rate of Sabo’s sample.

Whichever estimate you have faith in, it’s far below the actual total, because it
doesn’t count the millions of kids who start before age 6 or 8.

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2. Kids start by kindergarten, unless …

No research tries to count the 2-year-olds everywhere being taught by their dads to
shoot like Trick Shot Titus of Jimmy Kimmel fame or the 4-year-olds playing in Itty
-Bitty and Munchkins leagues that let parents stand by their kids during the games.
But Don Saba’s research for the Women’s Sports Foundation does try to catch early
starters, and it confirms what you already sense, either because you’re a parent or
you drive by fields filled with them: Lots of kids start playing on teams before they
start attending school.

But which kids? Saba’s analysis distinguishing the early starters from the students
who don’t begin until third or fourth grade speaks to several unsurprising truths
about youth sports. Girls start an average of half a year later than boys, and kids
who don’t exercise start later than those who do. But we also see starkly what drives
the very earliest action: money. The biggest indicator of whether kids start young,
Sabo found, is whether their parents have a household income of $100,000 or more.

And you know where most of those families live, right?

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3. The suburban soccer mom (and dad) is based in fact.

Indeed, Saba’s WSF data paints a distinct picture of suburbs where swaths of kids in
elementary and middle school, especially boys, play on three, four or five teams,
and the culture revolves around their practices, tourneys and getting to their games.
In contrast, childhood in cities and rural areas isn’t as intensely sports-focused.

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The suburbs clearly aren’t alone in their obsession: Kids all over America play
sports, which means a large portion of families focus on youth sports. Ninety
percent of parents with children on a team attend at least one of their kid’s games a
week. And with youth players mostly at the age when they’ll still talk to parents, you
can guess what the subject of conversation often is: 68 percent say they talk at least
every other day about games and practices.

As involved as they are, though, parents aren’t necessarily driving the sports ship.
Sabo asked kids whether sports are “a big part of who they are,” and the results
reinforce just how deeply most American kids care about sports.

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Hidden demographics of youth sports – ESPN The Magazine – ESPN Page 7 of 21



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4. Hoops is the king because it’s for girls too.

Baseball and soccer start off fast, but by the time kids reach age 9, basketball
becomes the most popular competitive sport, according to the SFIA’s
regular/frequent count. Meanwhile, two sports played largely by one gender -­
football for boys and volleyball for girls — grow fast from ages 11 through 14 but
never come close to catching up.

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Even through age 1 7, basketball remains dominant because both genders continue to
play organized ball. In a study done for the United States Tennis Association

looked at data from 2006 to 2010 via an annual survey of about 50,000
students a year and found that 40 percent of adolescent boys and 25 percent of girls
play competitive hoops. Soccer and track are the next most popular with both boys
and girls, followed by swimming.

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5. Dropping out is both the norm and often temporary.

Nervous types appalled by the incessant yelling by adults from the sidelines can be
excused for believing that all the competition turns off as many kids as it turns on.
Sabo found that 45 percent of the students in his survey who started a sport had quit
it. Yet as you can see, the reasons for quitting aren’t that youth sports are necessarily

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Indeed, most of their reasons relate more to temporary concerns: The kids weren’t
having fun playing, were hurt, didn’t get along with the team or wanted to focus on
their studies. That sheds light on the report’s next finding: 33 percent of kids had
restarted a sport they’d quit. Kids remain drawn to sports.



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It helps that the trend has been toward offering more sports; using 2005-06 data, the
WSF found that high schools had more teams for both girls and boys than they did
in 2000. To wit, Sabo and his colleague Philip Veliz counted 2.3 million girls and
2.9 million boys playing on high school teams (public and private) in 2011-12 — 30
percent of high school girls and 37 percent of high school boys.

But there’s another trend as well: Millions of high school kids phase out organized
sports, with the biggest drop-off coming early — during and after freslunan year.
High school sports can be competitive and involve roster cuts and commitments
some teenagers can’t make. Kids quit for all the reasons above. Whatever the
explanation, the numbers are sizable: SFIA reports that between ages 14 and 15
there’s a 26 percent drop in the number of kids who play at least one sport even

6. In fact, the closer you look, the more you see the kids left behind.


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Girls continue to simply have less access. Whereas high schools in 31 states had
enough roster slots for at least 50 percent of the boys enrolled, high schools in only
18 states had that many roster slots for girls.

And then there are the kids who live in the wrong places. In New York, a state with
well-funded schools, high school teams could accommodate 75 percent of boys and
62 percent of girls. But high schools in budget-deprived California and Florida, two
other major states, had spots on teams for only 29 percent and 23 percent of girls,
and 39 percent and 30 percent of boys, respectively.

Meanwhile, opportunities for city kids are far fewer. In Washington D.C., the WSF
found, high schools had positions on teams for only 22 percent of girls and 33

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Hidden demographics of youth sports – ESPN The Magazine – ESPN Page 12 of 21

percent of boys. That’s about one-third the opportunity of girls in New York state
and boys in North Dakota.



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Living in poor comers of cities culls even more kids from sports. Nationwide,
according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, only a quarter of eighth- to 12th
-graders enrolled in the poorest schools played school sports. (Those are schools
with the highest rate of free-lunch eligibility, which are also among the schools with

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the highest dropout rates, meaning that even lower percentages of the kids in those
communities are playing.) This situation won’t be helped as schools continue to cut
back funds for teams. The percentage of high schools with no sports has already
jumped from 8.2 percent during the 1999-2000 school year to 15.1 percent in 2009-

7. Finally, about our kids’ health …

The No. 1 fear of sports parents is seeing their child injured on the field. And due to
the United States’ growing population and sports participation, that’s now more
common. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 2.7
million kids under 20 were treated for “sports and recreation” injuries from 2001 to

Reports of head injuries are especially on the rise. From 2001 to 2009, emergency
room visits for traumatic brain injuries (TB Is) among children under 19 rose 62
percent. And football concussions reported among 10- to 14-year-olds more than
doubled from 4,138 in 2000 to 10,759 in 2010, according to the CDC.

Yet looking closely at the CDC’s traumatic brain injury data, which includes
concussions, puts football in context. More kids go to emergency rooms with TBis
from biking accidents than from football hits, and the percentage of ER visits for
TBis in football (7.2 percent) was lower than in a bunch of sports, including soccer,
baseball, hockey of all types, ice skating, ATV and dirt-bike riding and, most
dangerous, horseback riding, where an ER visit is twice as likely to involve a brain
injury than in football.

Long-term, the nation’s biggest health concern remains obesity. And despite all the
youth leagues, the waistlines of America’s children are growing. According to the
latest CDC numbers, 16.9 percent of kids were obese in 2009-10, almost triple the
rate of 1980. According to the CDC, overweight children have a 70 percent chance
of becoming overweight adults. By 2030, the CDC predicts that 42 percent of all
American adults will be obese.

Clearly, all the time that kids spend competing — and that their parents spend urging
them on — hasn’t forestalled the epidemic. It can’t help that for every extra hour kids
who love to compete spend in uniform, they spend many more hours staring at a
screen. In 2009, children spent more than 7 1/2 hours in front of some sort of media,
from handheld devices to iPods to computers or TVs, according to the Kaiser

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For that and many other reasons, the transition from adolescence to early adulthood
— from the time when the bulk of kids compete in sports to the time when most
don’t — takes a measurable toll. Every year closer to age 18 our kids get, fewer of
them are as physically active as they should be.


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AGES2-5 6-11 12..19

The ubiquity of competitive sports is clearly not a panacea, nor does it last. By 18,
the youth-sports pipeline has reached a destination or sorts — by then Serena
Williams had won her first major, Bryce Harper and Kobe Bryant had been drafted
and Tiger Woods had teed it up for his first PGA tourney. The players largely have
been sorted into their categories: future pros; college athletes; club and rec
competitors; and those who give up.

Yet after all is said and done, one fact sticks out: Of all the kids in America, very
few have not played sports. In the survey done by Sabo for the WSF, only 13
percent of boys and 18 percent of girls between 8 and 17 had never joined a team or
club, had never shared the experience of getting a uniform, practicing with
teammates and running onto the field or court to compete.

That’s American childhood for you.

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