Almost every child has participated in some sort of sports in their lifetime. 


Whether it is a friendly game of stickball on the street or an organized hockey league complete with coaches and referees, participation in sports is a key element in the physical and mental growth of a child.  However, underneath the apparent innocence of the “fun and enjoyment” of sports lies a messy conflict that has been on the rise for several years now.  This rising issue is parental violence and abuse at youth sports events.  Loud, rude and even violent parents are becoming the main subjects at youth sports events instead of the youth’s themselves.  Parents have turned the fun activities into a nightmare at some arenas and stadiums and have left a big question mark surrounding youth sports.  “The National Association of Sports Officials said it receives two to three reports a week of violent parents at sporting events”[i].  This unfortunate trend is growing at a rapid pace.  “In 1995 you could expect 5% of a crowd of parents to get out of line at a youth athletic event — i.e., to embarrass their children or be abusive toward the kids, officials and coaches. Only five years later, you can expect 15% of the crowd to cross the line”[ii].  These unpredictable and occasionally dangerous parents are leaving many wondering whether sports are becoming a positive or negative impact in children’s lives these days.   The truth is that all participants suffer from violent and abusive parents at sports events.  This includes the youths, the coaches, the referees, the organizers and even the supportive or calm parents that make sports a positive impact in their children’s lives.


To find a solution to any problem you must first find the cause of the problem itself.  In this case, there is no concrete answer as to why parents are losing control at their kids’ sporting events.  It is a behaviour that stems from different areas for every parent.  “For some parents, their kids are like extensions of themselves”[iii].  It is as though the parents live through the child.  Some parents who never played sports or were not very good when they were younger want the child to do well, which will make them feel as though they are doing well.  The parents place a lot of attention on their child succeeding in their sport.  As well, some parents are aggressive at youth sports events because these parents were not good athletes when they were younger and they want their child to fulfill that dream of being a star athlete.  Children who have parents in this type of situation are pushed by their parents to succeed because the parents feel as though it is them who are on the playing field.  This causes a very unhealthy practice of the parents wanting their children to live out the parent’s dreams and strive for the lives that they were never able to achieve.[iv]  The lesson parents seem to be teaching today is that winning is the goal of every game.  This is very unfortunate because a big part of sports is teaching the participants the importance of fair play, having fun, and respecting the opponents[v].  These are the tools that mould children into great athletes, both mentally and physically.  Violent and abusive parents are eliminating the most important aspect of sports right out of their own children’s hands.


Another reason why parents focus so much on their child’s sports is because they believe that their child can be a superstar and earn a lot of money playing their sport professionally.  Of course there is nothing wrong with believing in your child and showing him or her that you have total faith in them.  But it is one thing supporting your child and it is another expecting unattainable goals from your child and furthermore, embarrassing him/her in front of everyone by yelling at them for a mistake they made while playing.  Unfortunately these types of events occur everyday to these poor kids.  Every parent wants their child to get a full scholarship and make it to the pros but there has to be a line that no parent should cross.  A grotesque example of this was in California where an “irate mother at poolside during a swim meet, slapped her nine-year-old daughter across the face in front of everyone while screaming, “Don’t you ever do that to me again!” The girl had shown up late for her heat and been disqualified”[vi].  The sad part about this situation is that the girl was late because she was comforting her sobbing friend in the locker room.  There are two things wrong with this picture.  The first is that the mother got so upset at her nine year old daughter just for missing a swimming race.  Life will go on.  The mother has to understand that the child is very young and a violent act such as the one mentioned above can scar the child for life, making her drop out of sports altogether.  The second thing that is wrong in this example is that the mother told her child, “Don’t you ever do that to me again”.  The mother is treating this situation as though she is the child and wants the child to succeed for her (the mother) and not for the own sake of her child.  This is wrong.   Parents should be looking out for the best interest of their children, not themselves.  These ridiculous acts of violence by parents towards their children have come to a point where it is very dangerous and life changing, especially when it involves a child at such a young age.


Parents that look at their child as the next Wayne Gretzky or Michael Jordan do not only act aggressively towards their children.  They do the same to the coaches and the officials (referees, umpires, etc.).  Probably the most famous parental violence case in a youth sport event occurred on July 5, 2000.  “One hockey father, Michael Costin, lay slumped near the vending machines by the rink, his face so disfigured that two of his children would say they barely recognized him. Another hockey father, Thomas Junta, had thrown Costin to the ground and beaten him into a coma from which he would never awaken”[vii].  Michael Costin was on the ice supervising the kids’ ice hockey practice when things got a little too rough.  Thomas Junta, a father of one of the boys practicing got mad that his child may have been a little roughed up on the ice and so he took it out on Costin, the supervisor of the practice.  The consequences were deadly.  Michael Costin died from a severe beating by Thomas Junta, who was later sentenced six to ten years in prison for manslaughter.  Who would have thought that an innocent ice hockey practice for ten year olds would have such fatal repercussions?  This is the unfortunate truth in many youth sports events nowadays.  There are countless of ice hockey games or soccer practices gone wrong.  And as mentioned earlier, everyone suffers.  For example, “After a hockey game for 11- and 12-year-old boys in Staten Island, N.Y., on Jan. 23, a carpenter named Matteo Picca struck his son’s coach, Lou Aiani, in the face with two hockey sticks, according to witnesses, bloodying Aiani’s nose”[viii].  There are even extreme cases where the child athlete is struck by an angered parent other than his own.  “A soccer dad in Eastlake, Ohio, pleaded no contest to a charge of assault last September after he punched a 14-year-old boy who had scuffled for the ball with the man’s 14-year-old son, leading to both boys’ ejections. The punch split the victim’s lip”[ix].  The man was sentenced to some community service and no jail time.  These examples show how out of control parents are frightening everyone at sporting events.  The parents are disturbing what is supposed to be a peaceful, fun and positive growth environment for the children.

With all of these examples of abusive and violent parents at youth sporting events, what then is happening to these sporting events and more specifically how are the children and coaches impacted?

At a young age, playing sports is done for enjoyment. There should not be any pressure on children to be successful in their sport.  Instead, effort should be highly encouraged.  These are the values that parents should be instilling in their children.  Of course, this is not always the case.  Over aggressive parents who yell at their children often believe that their child must perform well on the field or the ice.  If a youngster does not meet the parent’s expectations, many of these parents get frustrated and take out their anger on their children.  The problem here is that kids at any age are very easy to discourage.  The goal of a parent is to provide moral support for their child so that their child can succeed as an athlete in the present as well as the future.  Young athletes that are discouraged because their parents are yelling at them, the coach or even at other parents are strongly affected in a negative way.  Kids that witness violence or abuse by their parents do not want to come back to sports.  They feel as though the fun has been taken away and that there is too much pressure for them to do well.  Youth sports events are becoming like freak shows, with parents and coaches screaming and swearing at the kids all the time.  “According to a survey conducted in the early 1990s by Michigan State University, of the 20 million American kids who participate in organized sports, starting as early as age four, about 14 million will quit before age 13, and they will say they dropped out mostly because adults — particularly their own parents — have turned the playing of games into a joyless, negative experience”[x].  This means that about 70% of young athletes will quit their sport.  These athletes were not dropping out because they were not having fun or did not enjoy the atmosphere.  They were quitting because of the negative experience from their parents.  This stat is unbelievable.  Kids are being deprived of such a valuable growing tool and a fun experience, and all at the fault of their own parents.  No one can blame a parent for wanting their child to succeed, but the abusive and violent parents are going about it in the wrong way.  The main purpose of youth sports is to emphasize skill development, effort and having fun.  Parents are sending the wrong message to their children by focusing too much on the aspect of who is going to win or lose the game.  It is getting out of control to the point where kids are leaving the sport faster than you can say “Goal”.

If it is not bad enough that children are impacted in a very negative way, coaches, the backbone of organized sports, deal just as much with loud and violent parents as anyone else.  Imagine being a coach, loving your job and your team and taking full pride in your abilities.  Now imagine an angry parent who does not agree with your methods and in an out of control manner violently attacks you, sending you to hospital.  No, this is a not a scene from a movie or even a nightmare.  It is what many coaches face every single day at their job.  Screaming and violent parents who think they know best.  Coaches are there for the kids.  The young athletes look up to their coach as a role model and a teacher.  The coach is the person who guides the youths through their sports, teaching them the fundamentals, skills and proper attitudes during and after their sport.  Angry parents are disrupting this whole process.  Because of this, coaches are putting the parents high on their priority list.  Coaches are constantly worrying that if the parents are not pleased, there may be deadly consequences.  This type of behaviour by parents has the coaches teaching in a way that is not in the best interest of the athletes, but instead the parents themselves.  As well, coaches have to work with the kids that are discouraged by their parents.  They have to rebuild confidence in the kids that are too influenced by their parents’ verbal abuse and acts of violence.  This makes a coach’s job that much more difficult.  The unfortunate result is more coaches leaving coaching as a career and less people wanting to be coaches.  Why would any person want to be in danger at their job?  Angry and violent parents at youth sports events have made headlines in the worst possible way.  For coaches it is a frustrating statistic to look at and will undoubtedly change their outlook towards coaching in a negative way.  The result is less and less coaching in the youth sports industry and under trained youth athletes, both physically and mentally, who will not be ready for future and more competitive sporting events.[xi]

The only way to ensure safe arenas and stadiums is by targeting the source.  But it is not as simple as it sounds.  Emotions run high in sports, especially in important games.  Curbing parental abuse and violence at youth sports events is a slow progress with definite positive results for everyone.  After the deadly confrontation between Michael Costin and Thomas Junta, many states and provinces have elected to make sure violence at youth sports does not happen again.  For example, “The Massachusetts legislature is considering a bill that would allow local officials to require players, parent, and coaches to sign pledges of nonviolence before coming to games”[xii].  As well, “One British Columbia sports organization already requires coaches, parents and players to sign behavioral contracts to control violence and prevent confrontations that can lead to screaming matches and fighting”[xiii].  And “In Nova Scotia, the Dartmouth Whalers Minor Hockey Association has a fair play program that educates parents and players on having respect for the rules, their opponents and officials”[xiv].  These few examples will obviously not stop everyone from continuing to be abusive and violent at youth sports events, but it is a big step in making sure that everyone is aware that there is a big problem.  Once everyone is aware of the problem, parents can work together to decrease the abuse and violence in the stands.  If a few parents that are supportive of the new behavioural rules see an abusive or violent parent at a sporting event, they can unite and confront the parent together.  This will result in less danger because if something did get out of hand, there are enough parents there to stop anything from going wrong.  As well, the lone parent may see that they are alone in the situation and they might realize that they are going about their kids’ sports in the wrong way.  This will hopefully constitute a change.  Slowing or stopping abusive or violent parents at youth sports events will not come overnight.  Instead, it will be a gradual process that will require everyone at youth sports events to comply with the new behavioural standards and norms. This will ensure a successful future in youth sports for the parents, coaches, officials and most of all, the next Wayne Gretzky or Michael Jordan, the kids.










[ii]  Sports Illustrated, 7-24-00, Vol.93 Issue 4

[iii] Calhoun, Donald.  Sport, Culture, and Personality. Champaign, Illinois:  Human Kinetics Publishers,       Inc., 1987.

[iv]Currie, Stephen.  Issues in Sports. San Diego, California: Lucent Books, 1998.

[v] 3M National Coaching Certification Program, Coaching Theory Level 1.

[vi] Sports Illustrated, 7-24-00, Vol.93 Issue 4  p.86

[vii] Sports Illustrated, 7-24-00, Vol.93 Issue 4   p.86

[viii] Sports Illustrated, 7-24-00, Vol.93 Issue 4   p.87

[ix] Sports Illustrated, 7-24-00, Vol.93 Issue 4  p.88

[x] Sports Illustrated, 7-24-00, Vol.93 Issue 4  p.88

[xi] Hinkson, J.  The Art of Team Coaching. Toronto: Warwick Publishing, 2001.












































Calhoun, Donald.  Sport, Culture, and Personality. Champaign, Illinois:  Human Kinetics Publishers,        Inc., 1987.



Chambers, D. Coaching; The Art and ScienceToronto: Key Porter Books, 1997



Currie, Stephen.  Issues in Sports. San Diego, California: Lucent Books, 1998



Hinkson, J.  The Art of Team Coaching. Toronto: Warwick Publishing, 2001



Level 1 Theory – National Coaching Certification Program.  Ottawa, Coaching Association of Canada.  1988





**Both websites accessed on Nov. 11, 12, and 15,  2002.**





Sports Illustrated, 7-24-00, Vol.93 Issue 4





Crone, James. (1999). Toward a Theory of Sport.  Journal of Sport Behaviour.  Retrieved November 12, 2002.


Shank, Matthew., Beasley, Fred.  (1998) Fan or Fanatic: Refining a measure of sports involvement. Journal of Sports Behaviour.  Retrieved November 12, 2002.










Is this the question you were looking for? If so, place your order here to get started!