Hot Topic: Parent Sportsmanship Worse Than Ever?

Filed under: Opinions

Is parent sportsmanship at our kids' games in a steep decline?

That's an easy one to answer, since examples of adults behaving badly on youth sports sidelines are about as easy to find as the games themselves.

Today we heard about former Oakland Raiders player Jeremy Brigham, who went to blows with Alameda County supervisor Scott Haggerty. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Brigham accused Haggerty - "whom he had just fired as the assistant coach of his Pleasanton squad of 10- and 11-year-old boys" - of leaking plays to an opposing pee-wee football team. This scuffle is under investigation.

And just last month, a football practice near Boston abruptly turned into a bizarre boxing match between a father of a young player and the team's coach. Pop Warner is the largest national youth football league for kids not yet in high school. The Boston Globe reported that the father suffered serious injuries, the coach was suspended and the small community of Wilmington was thrown off-balance by the incident.
Here are the highlights (or low lights, as it were):

Michael VonKahle was escorting his 12-year-old-son Tyler to football practice. The VonKahles arrived 10 minutes late whereupon the coach, William Reynolds, instructed Tyler to run some laps to make up for missing the start of the workout.

Tyler's father objected, saying that he was responsible for the mistake, not his son, according to an account in the Globe.

The two men moved their argument away from the practice. Then punches flew. According to the police report cited by the Globe, each man accused the other of throwing the first punch. VonKahle's injuries included a broken nose, a concussion and a damaged eye socket. Reynolds has been charged with aggravated assault and battery, The Globe reported.

It isn't the only alleged example of really bad behavior at youth sports events of late. In Monaca, Penn., the father of a high school football player got into an argument with a referee at halftime. Before it was over, police had subdued the football dad, Thomas Phillips, with a Taser, according to Pennsylvania's Beaver County Times.

These incidents contribute to the perception that adults are poor role models for good sportsmanship. In fact, when adults were asked about modern sportsmanship behavior, 80 percent of those older than 60 remember their earlier days as more civil.

Could it be that we simply hear more about rude, overbearing sports parents than we did in years past, thanks to CNN, ESPN and Web sites like this one? Is it possible that though parent behavior at youth sports games can be rude, even loutish, that their parents were just as obnoxious and vulgar back in the day?

Related: More on Sports

ParentDish sports reporter Mark Hyman is the author of Until It Hurts: America's Obsession With Youth Sports and How It Harms Our Kids (Beacon Press) Have a suggestion for an article on youth sports? Contact Mark at

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.