Childhood sports – When parents cross the line


20070202 - CATANIA - CALCIO: SCONTRI DOPO CATANIA-PALERMO, MORTO POLIZIOTTO - Nel fermo immagine tratto da sky sport un momento degli scontri tra tifosi e forze dell'ordine dopo Catania - Ascoli. ANSA /SKY SPORT / JI
2007 Hooliganism in Italy is nothing new to Europe     PHOTO: SKY SPORT

WESTBOROUGH,MA  January 7, 2016 Is the game time behavior of parents becoming a menace at some youth sports?  According to the Wichita (Kansas) Eagle, “the goal of youth participation in sports is to promote lifelong physical activity and healthy competition, officials said, but too often adults approach their kids’ games with their own goals, such as fame, money, Olympic medals and college scholarships.” This story was published in September 2014 after the wife of a football coach fired her pistol into the air to ward off angry parents who had attacked her husband over the amount of time their children were played in a previous game. According to the Wichita Eagle the coaches wife was not the only gun carrying youth football fan that day. This case was referred to local police to sort out.

Fan violence is a commonplace occurrence at many athletic events at venues around the world.  In arenas everywhere alcohol-fueled rivalries turn into violent mob scenes sometimes resulting in lawlessness and death.  The outrageous behavior of European football and rugby fans is notorious. In February 2007, the Italian professional football league was shut down for 2 weeks because of brutal hooliganism that took place in Catania in Italy leaving a police officer dead. In 2006,  2000 German police officers were needed to quell a disturbance after England’s soccer team was victorious in the World Cup of football.  “The passion of sport sometimes kindles mob-like behavior” according to Allyce Najimy at the center for the study of sports in society at Northeastern University in Boston. This passion may be seen on a daily basis here in the U.S. on the field of dreams at youth sports venues everywhere.  It is here that the parents of youth sports derive their greatest joy and heartfelt exaltation while watching their children play sports.  Passion is exuding from fans at little league baseball games to Pop Warner and American League youth football to U.S. sanctioned youth ice hockey and all those traveling teams.


In recent years, the behavior of parents has taken on a higher level of scrutiny at childhood sports across the country.  Parents are becoming just as fanatical toward players, coaches, and game officials sometimes resulting in physical assault – even homicide. As an ice hockey coach for nearly 10 years I was never surprised to be met at the locker room door by an angry father holding his notes from our last match.  “Mike, why did my son only play 11 minutes last week?” inquired a loving dad who was not interested in what I was selling.  I had parents who came to practice while under the influence of alcohol expecting to play along side the team as an assistant coach.  I have heard foul mouthed ranting from some of the most mild mannered parents all in the heat of battle brought on by the excitement of bantam ice hockey.

Patrick O’Sullivan playing for Edmonton Oilers of the National Hockey League PHOTO NHL

“A parent’s greatest strength – their unwavering emotional support of their child and their willingness to make sacrifices for their child’s athletic advancement – is thus also their greatest weakness.”  This quote is never more true than when you read the story of Patrick O’Sullivan.

As recently as December 2015, retired NHL player Patrick O’Sullivan contributed his heart wrenching story of abuse while a youth ice hockey player growing up in rural Canada (The Players Tribute). “My father used to beat the shit out of me. I don’t say that to be shocking, or to get your attention. I say that because it’s just a simple fact. He would throw punches.” O’Sullivan described physical beatings that left him nearly unconscious from a ritual of choking and punching. After nearly every game, he routinely endured physical and emotional torment while riding home alone with his abusive father. People were witnesses – his father held nothing back often starting the physical harangue in the parking lot. And for what?  Finally at age 16, O’Sullivan had had enough and for once in his life stood up to a true bully – his father.  Ultimately, Patrick was drafted into the NHL and played in over 300 games with several NHL clubs.  In interviews after the publication of his story Patrick shared the desire to end parent abuse by encouraging witnesses to step forward and confront violent parents so that more children might not suffer. The road for him was a rocky one fraught with pain and embarrassment, and his father’s screed.

Mann, F. Plumlee, R. (2014) Passionate parents mean trouble for youth sports. Witchita Eagle, taken January 10, 2016.

Murphy, S. (2008) How to be a successful youth sports parent. Blog post , taken January 11, 2016.

O’Sullivan, P. (2015) Black and Blue. Webb site: The Players Tribute. Taken January 18, 2015.


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