Editorial — Sportsmanship in youth sports

Glenn Rutherford

There are few joys in parenthood that can top watching your son or daughter lace a baseball or softball into a gap in the outfield.

Or seeing them make a great pass on the soccer pitch, hit a clutch free throw in the gym or make a great dig on the volleyball court.

Watching the children play sports is such a remarkable moment; one of life’s pleasures. So why is it, then, that a certain number of parents or grandparents make such fools of themselves at youth athletic contests?

We’ve all seen it at one time or another.

An umpire calls a strike that junior and his dad think was off the plate, and dad goes bonkers.

Or mom and dad dispute a foul call on the basketball court and in an instant seem to lose all perspective on the nature of youth sports, cooperation, competition and not to mention sportsmanship.

It’s been happening since the dawn of Little League, youth football and the creation of the Catholic Schools Athletic Association.

And it’s a shame.

Rick Arnold, who leads the CSAA in the Archdiocese of Louisville, is also head baseball coach at Trinity High School. He also spent more than two decades as a police officer, so, yes, he has plenty of stories to tell. He’s seen enough bad behavior to last several lifetimes, both as a cop and a coach.

And unfortunately, the problem of bad behavior by parents at youth athletic contests persists.

“Oh, it’s absolutely as bad now as it’s ever been,” he said last week. “To tell the truth, I think it’s become worse since COVID.”

Social media hasn’t helped, either.

“A lot of people who wouldn’t say anything face to face are courageous when they’re anonymous at a keyboard,” Arnold noted. “I’ve seen people make fools of themselves at all levels, from college down to the CSAA instructional level.”

Why does it happen? Are people so overwhelmed by the spirit of competition that they lose all perspective?

Some are. Others, who perhaps never knew any success as an athlete in their youth, are too deeply involved, vicariously, in the contests their children play.

Parents should know better, said Arnold. 

“When they sign their kids up to play CSAA sports, they agree to everything that’s in our handbook, including the section on parent behavior.”

Apparently, some parents refuse to recall that section, or perhaps never read it in the first place.

There are about 13,000 young people playing 15 sports in the CSAA. It’s a minority of parents — and perhaps a few coaches — who cause the problems. But like loud talkers in a theater, that minority can ruin what ought to be an overall positive experience.

Even Pope Francis has spoken about the benefits of athletic competition, saying that healthy athleticism is an activity “that can contribute to the maturation of the spirit.”

“Sport is a metaphor for life,” the pope said.

Parents and grandparents should remember that. And the next time they feel the urge to complain or argue at a youth athletic contest, they should remember something else.

The children are watching.

Record Editor Emeritus

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