A growing number of sports leagues across the country are trying to rein in this kind of pressure. The Lakeside (CA) Region of the American Youth Soccer Organization has posted signs and handed out buttons declaring its fields Kid's Zones, where adults are welcome only if they cheer good play, respect the referees, and keep their tempers in check. "The message is simple: We're here for the kids and the game," says former commissioner Steve Hamann.
The Jupiter Tequesta (FL) Athletic Association and the city of El Paso are going further: Kids can't play until their parents have undergone training in sportsmanship, child development, and sports parenting. "What we're teaching is common sense," says Jeff Leslie, president of the Florida league. "But people lose their grip on common sense in the emotions of the game."
Leslie launched the parent-training program after a bloody incident in nearby Port St. Lucie, FL. Early in the second half of a coed under-14 soccer game in November 1999, referee Stephen M. Farinacci whistled a penalty. Fifty yards away, coach Mauricio Lesmes leaped up, slammed down his clipboard, and started screaming. The players on his bench quickly joined in. Farinacci approached Lesmes and asked him five times to calm down. But the livid coach blasted the ref with profanity. "Finally, he said, 'F--- you,' and that was it," Farinacci says. The ref ended the game and ordered all the players and spectators to leave.
Minutes later, Farinacci saw Lesmes sitting on a bench near the clubhouse. "He said, 'I guess you forgot that the game is for the kids,'" the referee recalls. Then, Lesmes -- whose 6-foot-2-inch frame towered over the 5-foot-4 ref -- slammed his head into Farinacci's face, shattering his nose and the bone around his left eye. Lesmes claimed his belated attack was provoked by Farinacci's behavior and the heat of competition. A judge who saw the attack on a surveillance-camera videotape disagreed and convicted him of assault.