A playoff atmosphere permeated the ballpark. Fans hung on every pitch, barking disapproval whenever a call tipped the strike count in their team’s disfavor. A close play at first base finally ignited the explosion. Opposing coaches bickered, then launched into an ugly shoving match. Umpires intervened before flying fists could hit their intended targets.
Was it game one of the World Series at Yankee Stadium? Hardly. Try my 8-year-old son’s baseball match in rural California.
A pitiful incident, an alarming national trend. Last summer Michael Costin died after a fight with fellow parent Thomas Junta during a game their sons were playing in Massachusetts. In January, New York father Matt Picca was accused of beating up his son’s hockey coach after a verbal bout. In February, a soccer coach in Florida was charged with battery for head-butting a referee, and a Baptist minister acting as a basketball referee in metropolitan Atlanta stabbed the coach of an 8-year-old’s basketball team after the coach questioned his play calling.
Unfortunately, these events aren’t sensationalized media caricatures. Parental aggression at youth sports is altogether commonplace. Ask anyone who has a child in sports and they’ll quickly tick off their own personal examples.
Youth sports are too often about frustrated parents living out their own long-lost dreams on a school playground. About sons becoming highly recruited pitchers with college scholarships; about daughters being the next Brandi Chastain.
As a result, kids are fleeing sports in droves. The National Alliance for Youth Sports reports that nearly 70 percent of children drop out of organized leagues by the age of 13. The number one reason they gave in a survey was that it ceased to be fun.