Sports Civility Movement: Sportsmanship Course for Parents
By Meghan Fay, Assistant Editor

Parents would never think to yell “how can you be so stupid” from the crowd at a school spelling bee after their child misspells “Mississippi”, however, this and worse can be heard at youth sporting events across the county. The loss of perspective by parents on the sidelines has prompted the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS), a leading advocate for safe and fun youth sports, to develop a program to show parents how to provide positive support for their child. PAYS (Parents Association for Youth Sports) helps parents serve as a role model to other parents who contribute to negative youth sports experiences for kids.

“Parents are so knowledgeable about so many things today that their children have to be the best. We don’t allow children to be children,” said Fred Engh, President of NAYS and author of Why Johnny Hates Sports: Why Organized Sports are Failing Our Children and What We Can Do About It. “The parental behavior can have lifetime effects on children.” 

Many will agree that the ball fields of America are where many kids learn life lessons. Sports are not only fun, but can be an environment for kids to learn healthy competition, social skills and enjoy their friends. But in recent years, events such as parents throwing punches at ballfields over bad calls and demeaning comments have increased, which can destroy self-confidence. According to Engh, by the age of 13, 70 percent of youth will quit sports because it stopped being fun. 

“I see so many parents and coaches getting too serious and too boisterous on the sidelines,” said Joe Higgins, Recreation Director for the town of Billerica, Mass., which is a NAYS chapter. “That’s the whole reason why we adopted the program because I see it in the kids’ faces. They are not enjoying youth sports because of what they’re hearing on the sidelines.” 

Directors of youth sports for the 2,600 NAYS chapters nationwide are also adding the PAYS program to the other NAYS courses they offer for youth sports volunteers. The PAYS program offers a 19-minute video addressing the roles and responsibilities of a parent of a young athlete. After the video the parents sign an 11-point parents’ code of ethics pledging to be on their best behavior at youth sporting events. The following is the NAYS Parents’ Code of Ethics:

I hereby pledge to provide positive support, care and encouragement for my child participating in youth sports by following this Parents’ Code of Ethics:

I will encourage good sportsmanship by demonstrating positive support for all players, coaches and officials at every game, practice or other youth sports events.
I will place the emotional and physical well being of my child ahead of my personal desire to win.
I will insist that my child play in a safe and healthy environment.
I will require that my child’s coach be trained in the responsibilities of being a youth sports coach and that the coach upholds the Coaches’ Code of Ethics.
I will support coaches and officials working with my child, in order to encourage a positive and enjoyable experience for all.
I will demand a sports environment for my child that is free from drugs, tobacco and alcohol and will refrain from their use at all youth sports events.
I will remember that the game is for youth – not adults.
I will do my very best to make youth sports fun for my child.
I will ask my child to treat other players, coaches, fans and officials with respect regardless of race, sex, creed or ability.

Higgins believes that the Parents’ Code of Ethics is a good step because adults need to change their perspective on youth sports. “You would think it’s common sense enough to act nicely when you’re coaching or just watching on the sidelines, but it’s not, so [we] have to run these programs,” he said.

Although, Billerica offers the PAYS program to the parents, it is not mandatory. However, the Jupiter Tequesta Athletic Association (JTAA) in Jupiter, Fla., which has approximately 6,000 children participate in sports, mandates a parents sportsmanship course. It is the first youth sports organization to do so. If the parents choose not to participate in PAYS, their child may not participate in JTAA athletics. 

“While we have been fortunate not to have any situation in which an adult has physically confronted or attacked another adult, we have been close to that situation occurring and we have also experienced extreme negative parent pressure on children,” said Jeff Leslie, JTAA President, in a written release. “With all the parents going through the PAYS program we feel that positive peer pressure will take over in the stands and they will help each other keep it in perspective and remind each other that this is only kids playing games and it is meant to be fun. We also knew that if attendance was voluntary, the supportive parents that are always there for us would probably attend and we would be ‘preaching to the choir.’ This way we can get our message to every parent and not single anyone out.”

The trend of negative behavior at youth sporting events is not isolated to specific areas of the country. A recent study by the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission (MASC) confirms that abuse is occurring and increasing in sports nationwide. The study found that when children were participating in sports:

  • 45.3 percent of youth surveyed said they has been called names, yelled at or insulted;
  • 21 percent said they had been pressured to play with an injury;
  • 17.5 percent said they had been hit, kicked or slapped;
  • 8.2 percent said they had been pressured to intentionally harm others;
  • 8 percent said they has been called names with sexual connotations;
  • 3.4 percent said they had been pressured into sex or sexual touching.
“You can’t change a person’s personality, but you can expect them to behave themselves and be held accountable for their behavior if they don’t,” said Leslie.

Joe Higgins, Recreation Director for the town of Billerica, Mass.
Fred Engh, President of NAYS and author of Why Johnny Hates Sports: Why Organized Sports are Failing Our Children and What We Can Do About It
159 Burgin Parkway | Quincy, MA 02169
617-471-4445 | Fax 617-770-3339