Sports Rage

Rising Sports Rage

Costin's shocking death launched a national debate on the brutal outbursts associated with youth sports. But violence at the games, experts say, goes far beyond beatings and midfield riots among opposing fans. Sideline rage extends to parents who heckle referees, coaches who berate their players, and teams that teach dirty tricks in pursuit of victory.

Such rough handling and verbal abuse in sports are often shrugged off as just part of "toughening up" kids. Among young athletes surveyed by the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission, 45% said they'd been "called names, yelled at, or insulted while participating in sports," and 18% said they'd been hit, kicked, or slapped. Indeed, in the weeks after the city of El Paso started courses in proper sports parenting, three volunteer coaches in the youth-football league were arrested for child abuse after parents reported they were hitting players or dragging them by their face masks.

With the increased emphasis on pro-style toughness come pro values -- the "me first" approach of such bad boys as Roberto Alomar or Latrell Sprewell. But unlike those pros, kids don't play for fame or money. They play for fun -- and there's precious little fun when adults are out of control. So kids are fleeing the games they love. Robert Malina's son, a young soccer player, quit his high school's varsity team as a sophomore and took up skateboarding instead. "When I asked him why," says Malina, former director of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State University in East Lansing, "he said, 'Dad, when I'm out there on the ramp, no one's yelling at me.'"

Malina's son lasted longer than most. According to a Michigan State study, of the youngsters who gambol onto the field as 5- and 6-year-olds, 70% will hang up their cleats and get out of sports by the time they're 13. Many will say that parents' pressure and coaches' negative attitudes have robbed the sports of the fun they were seeking.

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