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Reforming Youth Sports: Community, Grass-Roots Parent Activism Needed

Restore an appropriate balance between sports and family life.

  • Push for limits at the pre-high school level on the number of hours of practice each week, the number of games per week and per season.
  • Playoffs and championships should not take place before high school.
  • Holidays, both religious and non-religious, school vacations, and Sundays should be off limits for sports.
  • Kids should not be penalized for missing games or practices because of religious or family obligations.
  • The number of tournaments should be sharply curtailed. In the Scarsdale model, sports programs that operate in one more than one season are being asked to limit their activities to a single season through fifth grade. For those programs that decide to still offer multi-season programs, a multi-season commitment is not a condition for participation.

To those who say that such steps won't work, that more training, more tournaments and more travel are necessary to turn out competitive athletes, consider the example of the high school football program in Wyzata, Minnesota, which has sent a team to the state championship game more than a half a dozen times in the past 20 years. Its players honed their skills in a recreation league following the steps just outlined. If a group of parents were to get together and speak with one voice on these issues, you may surprised what can be accomplished.

Push for youth sports safety reforms. In addition to the things you can do as a parent to make the sports experience safer for your child, there are a number of other steps you can take, along with other like-minded parents, to make the experience safer for all children in your community:

First, push your school and community-based programs to adopt comprehensive risk management programs. If concern is expressed that implementing such a program could end up increasing the exposure to lawsuits because any deficiency or oversight in meeting self-imposed safety requirements could provide the basis for a negligence lawsuit, help the club or school board understand that such fear shouldn't be an impediment to implementation. The alternative is worse: without such safety programs, more kids are likely to get hurt.

Second, call for community-, private- and school-based sports organizations to view youth sports safety from a child's rights perspective, recognize that children playing sports are owed a duty of care, identify "best practices" and implement child protection programs to combat physical, emotional and sexual abuse in youth sports as has been done in the United Kingdom. Because such programs implement standards that apply to everyone, not just parents, but coaches, players, officials, and other adults who work with children in sports, they won't just reduce the number of out-of-control parents, but the number of out-of-control, abusive coaches, team bullies, spectators, and volunteers as well.

Third, take a public stand against hazing and push for adoption by your child's school of a strict anti-hazing policy; a policy emphasized in pre-season meetings and written materials distributed to every student/team member, and, above all, enforced.

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