Saturday, July 16, 2005

What's Happening to Youth Sports?

Youth sports have been turning nasty for some time now. Probably one of the most horrific cases of violence in youth sports occurred in my home state of Massachusetts when a youth hockey ref/parent was killed by another parent. Until now though it seems like most of the incidents have involved confrontations among parents, coaches, and officials. This new case left me stunned however. A T-ball coach (also the parent of 2 girls on the team) allegedly paid another child to injure a mentally disabled player so the coach would not have to play him the requisite three innings. The news accounts have people referring to the coach as "very competitive" and "wanting to win at all costs." Well I hope this one costs him a lot. But I am a little doubtful. While Coach Downs has been charged, the league penalty (if they discover any wrong-doing--which they have not yet) is barring him from coaching next year. How about barring him for life? How about barring him from games even as a spectator? How did this guy get into coaching in the first place?
This is T-ball! It's not even Little League yet--not that such behavior should be acceptable at any level. But T-ball is supposed to be a little more equal opportunity in this era of ever-increasingly competitive youth sports (for examples just watch an episode of Bravo's reality show, Sports Kids Moms and Dads).
I try to avoid making essentialist claims based on gender, but I have yet to hear of any female coach engaging in such egregious behavior, and certainly not at the youth level. This winning-at-all-costs mentality is becoming increasingly problematic. Anecdotal evidence I gained while working on a project for the Women's Sports Foundation suggests that this mentality is seen much more frequently in boys' youth sports. I worry though about a catch-22 in girls' sports. With increasing opportunities, with there be increasingly bad behavior stemming from intense competition to "make it"? Hopefully incidents like the above will result in harsh punishments both legally and in the court of public opinion.

1 comment:

EBuz said...

Not a coach, and not a youth, but...Tonya Harding is a pretty egregious example of a woman athlete with a win-at-all-costs mentality.

This coach was 27 years old. Our age. He's just as likely to have influenced by that particular episode as by any example of egregious men's behavior.