UB Law Professor Urges Zero Tolerance of Abuse to End Out-of-Control Rage, Behavior at Youth Sporting Events

By Mary Beth Spina

Release Date: July 19, 2000 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A policy of zero tolerance is an effective deterrent against abusive, out-of-control behavior by parents at youth sporting events, says Charles Patrick Ewing, a nationally known law professor and forensic psychologist at the University at Buffalo.

A volunteer coach or player's parent for the past 10 years, Ewing is all too familiar with the fairly predictable and often preventable consequences of "youth-sports rage."

The kinds of outbursts and rage over action on the playing field that recently have made headlines and left one father dead and others injured, he says, can be tied to a disturbing numbers of parents -- primarily fathers -- who unrealistically push their kids to excel and to win.

"They lose sight of the fact the games are designed to teach kids sports skills, have fun and learn to compete," Ewing emphasizes.

The author of "Battered Women Who Kill," "Kids Who Kill" and "Murderous Families," Ewing is a frequent legal consultant and expert witness in high-profile cases of murder committed by family members in the home, at work and school.

Although there still is relatively little scientific data available on rage behavior at kids' and teens' sporting events, he says that stating and enforcing a zero-tolerance policy against violent and abusive behavior appears to work.

Some leagues, he notes, have parents sign or take an oath that they will comply with a zero-tolerance policy. Others have the coach or manager meet with parents to reinforce rules that already are understood by the players, coaches and umpires.

It's a good idea for players and their parents to get the message early on that unsportsmanlike behavior on or off the playing field will not be tolerated, Ewing says.

Too often "compete to win at any cost" becomes the primary goal in sporting events.

In today's competitive, fast-paced and rapidly changing society, losing is associated with "failure" and "winning" with success. But there's always a "winner" and a "loser" in any competition -- from getting a job or promotion, to winning an election or making the highest test score, Ewing notes.

"Athletic competition is a good way for kids to learn early in life that they will not always 'win' or always 'lose' but to always give your best effort in whatever you attempt," he says.

Among the more common problems on the playing field that Ewing has encountered as a coach and father of a young athlete are parents who loudly criticized their own kids' performance, boo or scream at umpires or verbally attack coaches.

"In many leagues, such as the ones I'm involved with, the umpires are teen-agers well-acquainted with the rules of the game," says Ewing. In others, umpires may be former athletes or retired coaches.

Only once has he seen an umpire tell a parent to leave a game, and Ewing had to tell another to "cool it" or leave when he complained loudly from the stands at an umpire.

"Parents don't get involved in the first place if they aren't interested in their kids," he points out.

"The greatest emotional damage to kids occurs when parents try to live out their dreams through their kids, or berate or humiliate them privately or publicly because of often unrealistic expectations," according to Ewing.