Teaching respect and modeling responsible behavior for athletes starts at the top
By Tom Konecny
Youth sports may seem to showcase athletics in their simplest, most unpretentious form, but those sporting contests can also be filled with childish, immature, self-absorbed behavior – and sometimes, that can even be the actions of the kids.
While our area boasts wonderful opportunities to compete and to have fun for children, adults play a key part in the results. Having a suitable code of conduct that teaches respect and models responsible behavior for athletes is paramount to success.
Parks & rec doing their part
Local parks and recreation departments have been doing their part, employing a code of conduct of their own, or through an outside party. The City of Toledo works through the National Alliance for Youth Sports, located in West Palm Beach, Fla., to offer materials and training. In extreme cases, if a situation is beyond their control, staff and referees are encouraged to call 911, according to Shawn Sobel, coordinator, Toledo Division of Parks, Recreation and Forestry.
Sobel believes a combination of the formal code, in addition to social media, has improved youth sports now and for the long run.
“I don’t know if (the problem is occurring) less but you hear about it less, maybe because of social media,” he said. “(Parents/spectators) are more subdued than they used to be. There’s always a chance they could get caught on a camera of a cell phone.”
In Rossford, the code and how it’s handled is dependent on the sport, according to Toby Ledesma, Recreation Director. All of its younger-aged activities – preschool and earlier – have rec employees present at all practices and events. In other cases where staff is not on hand, Rossford conducts a parents meeting where guardians and players read and sign official documentation regarding behavior. It also offers training for referees on how to handle irate parents and participants.
Coaches can do plenty to help
Although it doesn’t force participants or parents to read and sign anything at the time of registration, the Sylvania Recreation District has worked with the Positive Coaching Alliance for the past three years to provide coaches with workshops and information. Its intent is to nip any potential issues in the bud by creating a positive culture with coaches.
Mike McMahon, Sylvania Rec Operations Manager, finds a more aggressive nature among elite or travel teams – be it parents, grandparents, or coaches – mostly due to the high expectations and extra competitive talent level.
McMahon’s department has already witnessed some heated parent confrontations which became public via local media, and although he believes the problem has worsened, he also feels the topic is more in the forefront.
“It is a hot topic these days,” McMahon said. “Things like that do happen.”
Parents and grandparents as spectators
As with life in general, at sporting events parents and grandparents can serve as the strongest role models – and it involves no training, no formal written code, nor any set of instructions.
“When you boil it down, it’s just common sense,” Sobel said. “We had parents yell at their kids from the stands and practically belittle them, and they cried.”
McMahon contends that the best way to prevent over-the-top behavior and foster respect is through offering the right recreation model.
“The best way to combat (problem behavior) is to provide an atmosphere and program that really doesn’t allow room for that kind of action and behavior,” he said. “At the younger ages we truly do everything to keep it noncompetitive. We keep it fun and put out a program that focuses on keeping kids active.”