Stand Up

Thompson Reuters News Service and Ipsos conducted a poll recently of more than 23,000 adults throughout 22 countries regarding parental behavior during kids’ participation in sports programs.

The poll revealed that respondents from the United States were the most likely to witness poor behavior by parents (60 percent) than those in any other country. Following close behind were India (59 percent), Italy (55 percent), Argentina (54 percent), Canada (53 percent) and Australia (50 percent).

Perhaps most disturbing was that 35 percent of adults worldwide reported witnessing a parent become physically or verbally abusive toward a coach or official. Thirty-five percent.

What’s Your Take?

Do these numbers surprise you at all? I’m guessing that the majority answered “no.” Sadly, I think we’ve reached a point where incidents involving parents occur with such alarming regularity that they no longer grab our full attention.

Just take a look at a small sample of headlines appearing in newspapers recently:

“Parent Pulls Out Gun At Soccer Game”--Grand Rapids Press (Mich.)

“Moron Dad In Touchline Rampage”--Scottish Daily Record & Sunday Mail

“Ontario Hockey Dad In Drunken Brawl Pleads Guilty”--Buffalo News

“Police Probe Brawl At Youth Basketball Game”--The Post Standard (Syracuse, N.Y.)

“Cops: Dad Attacked Wrestling Coach”--The Star-Ledger (Newark, N.J.)

“Basketball Game Fracas Leads To Assault Charges”--Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minn.)

Leading The Way

One of my favorite expressions is, “90 percent of the people are looking for that 10 percent to lead them.” This is especially true in parks and recreation where--sadly--too many departments simply turn away when leagues using their facilities demonstrate poor behavior.

So is it any wonder that perhaps no more than 10 percent of recreation agencies around the country enforce their codes of behavior? Isn’t it ironic that taxpayers’ money helps build these facilities and taxpayers expect these facilities to provide a fun and positive atmosphere for children to play?

It is those 10 percent that have the courage to stand up to the abuses occurring in the stands and put a stop to them before they spiral out of control--and before countless children are traumatized for life.

Until those in the 90-percent group are on board and willing to fight for changes in their programs as well--no matter how daunting the obstacles--we’ll continue to see these headlines.

By the way, the poll found that Hungary, the Czech Republic, Mexico, Japan and France were among the countries least likely to have parents behaving inappropriately during youth-sports events. Apparently, parents in those countries get it.

In the meantime, if you’re on the board of commissioners or director of a recreation agency, I hope you’re in that 10-percent group--for your participants’ sake.

Fred Engh is founder and CEO of the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) in West Palm Beach, Fla., which has been advocating positive and safe sports for children since 1981. He is also the author of Why Johnny Hates Sports, which is available on He can be reached via e-mail at