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Outside the Lines: Parental Guidance Suggested

Here's the transcript from Show 68 of weekly Outside The Lines - Parental Guidance Suggested

Host: Bob Ley, ESPN.
Reported by: ShelLey Smith, ESPN.
Guests: Fred Engh, president of National Alliance for Youth Sports; Cliff McCrath, men's soccer coach Seattle Pacific University..

Announcer - July 15, 2001.

Bob Ley, host - Anger and conflict, part of sports at the highest level, and at your neighborhood park where adults are supposed to set the tone.

Unidentified Male - The players aren't the problem, it's the parents and it's the coaches.

Unidentified Male - They probably think that if they say negative things, it will make us try harder.

Unidentified Male - Their behavior can have life-long affect in a child's life.

Ley - It's more than words or a harsh tone. Increasingly, parents are involved in physical, even violent confrontations.

Unidentified Male - There has to be a significant crackdown. There has to be zero tolerance.

Ley - Today on Outside The Lines - How bad is the problem? And are remedies an overreaction when parental guidance is suggested?

Announcer - Outside The Lines is presented by State Farm Insurance.

Joining us from ESPN Studios - Bob Ley.

Ley - On the long list of difficult things to achieve in sports, near the top is this - remaining objective or at least calm when your child is at the plate, or dribbling the ball, or making the play. Only then do you get a vivid sense of the unflattering term, "little league parent." Now, the list of parental sins ranges from overzealous enthusiasm to a case of alleged manslaughter. In the age of the home video camera, there's always evidence of when things go bad -- when parents forget that these games are for the kids and not themselves.

A survey by one advocacy group claims that nearly all people polled have seen verbal abuse by a parent or a coach, and nearly half have seen things get physical. But there also are parents who believe they should not be gagged on the sidelines or forced into training classes simply to watch their kids' games.

Shelley Smith begins this morning with a look at the dimension of the sins of the fathers.

Shelley Smith, ESPN correspondent - The rage is palpable.

Unidentified Male - (Yelling)

Smith - At a T-ball game for 5- and 6-years-olds, parents disputing an umpire's call rush the field, creating an all-out brawl that eventually drew the police.

And after a soccer match between 14-year-olds, surveillance video captured an angry confrontation.

Stephen Farinacci, former Youth Soccer Referee - The last words out of his mouth was, "what are you going to do now," and he just -- he proceeded to head-butt me.

Smith - Stephen Farinacci's crime - He was the referee, attacked by a coach after he called the game off because of the coach's abusive language.

Farinacci - I took eight stitches to the nose. It was a broken nose, deviated septum; more damage than I thought was done.

Smith - He was lucky, not everyone is. A year ago, Thomas Ginto was charged with manslaughter after he fatally beat a fellow parent following their son's hockey scrimmage.

Jim Thompson, Founder, Positive Coaching Alliance - Absolutely, I think things have gotten worse, and are continuing to get worse.

Smith - New incidents are being reported almost daily. Just two weeks ago in southern California, people were arrested for fighting at a soccer match between 14-year-olds. Last week in Baltimore, a 16-year-old referee said she was stopped and harassed by angry parents. And at a Pee-Wee Hockey game, an assistant coach who was also a parent allegedly jumped over the boards and grabbed a referee by the throat over a disputed non-call.

Dr. Daniel Wann, Psychology Professor, Murray State University - Parents don't wake up in the morning and say, OK, I'm going to go cause a riot today; I'm going to go punch out an umpire today. They don't realize how important it is to them, how much they seem to have something at stake, how powerful the situation and the psychology is.

Smith - Often parental rage is directed at the referees or opposing players or coaches. But too often it is directed at their own children.

Richard Jacob, Coordinator, Medaille College Sports Management Program - I've witnessed parents really berate their child just based on one play in a game -- you know, didn't meet their standards -- you know, how could you miss that? That stinks, you're better than that. And have the child have to cringe and be embarrassed and humiliated.

Thompson - A soccer fellow who is asking a kid in the neighborhood why he wasn't playing soccer this year, and the kid said, well, my dad doesn't know anything about snowboarding, and it's too cold for him to come and watch me, so I get to snowboard without having him yell at me.

Fred Engh, Founder, National Alliance for Youth Sports - One of the ugliest incidents I think I've ever seen was a father stand up when his child missed a goal in hockey, 8-years-old. The father said, Aaron you bum, you can never do anything right.

Smith - What is it about youth sports and watching your child compete that brings out such emotion and ultimately bad behavior?

Wann - Literally it is truly your own flesh and blood that's out there playing, so their performances, their success, their failures are really felt as your own.

Thompson - They must have a lot of anxiety about their kids, and so there is a heightened sense of, is my kid being treated fair, is he getting to play enough, is the referee's call fair to her?

Jacob - It's constant pressure to perform well, or to win, or to, you know, be the best. And this whole vicarious living through your children vicariously is a real issue.

Smith - How damaging do you think it is to a young athlete, when parents behave badly?

Mike McCaffery, Parent - Well I think it has short-term and long-term effects, right. I mean, the short-term effects are, I think it is highly embarrassing and disincentivizing. And I don't think the parents realize that.

Smith - As parents and coaches debate where the line of acceptable behavior is drawn, one very important element often is forgotten - the children themselves. Last month we gathered a group of young athletes ages 10 to 14 and asked them how they feel and what they think when they hear negative comments from the sidelines.

Nathan Majors, age 14 - When I play, like, no one really says anything negative unless it is in, like, baseball. And like, you know, you get struck out.

Smith - OK, what happens? You strikeout, what do you hear?

Majors - You hear, like, oh, you suck, get off the field. You can't hit the ball.

Smith - People yell that at you?

Majors - Well not at me, but like...

Smith - Oh, because you don't strike out, of course.

Majors - And like, I just hear it in the background.

Smith - How does that make you feel, when somebody's yelling things like that?

Brittni King, age 13 - I try to ignore it, but like most of the time, I know whoever they're yelling it at, it makes them feel pretty bad because now, the next time they probably won't hit the ball because their feelings are hurt, basically.

Smith - When you make a mistake, you know that you made the mistake, right. So...

King - You really don't need people yelling at you to tell you that you made a mistake, because you know that you made it on your own.

Jillian Carroll, age 14 - Well, I like when my coach or, like, my parents, or, you know, any parents on the sideline, they focus on the good things I did rather than what I did wrong. And like, if you do something wrong, you can hear the whole sideline go, oh, and like, you're just, like drop. It's just really depressing. It's as though you don't play as well. It really affects your game.

King - If you started in the game, like you were happy, and you were positive about yourself and you thought you were doing a good job. And then you hear people saying they shouldn't be out there, or she shouldn't be out there, then you start doubting that you actually should be out there.

Smith - Why do you think parents yell negative things?

Majors - Because maybe they don't know how it makes us feel. And like, they probably think that if they say negative things, it will make us try harder. But...

Smith - Have you ever seen -- anybody here ever seen parents lose their temper on the sidelines?

Carroll - Yeah.

King - Yeah.

Majors - Yeah.

Smith - No? Jillian you said yes; what have you seen?

Carroll - Well I've seen, sometimes, like at football games some fights with the parents. And because a parent will yell like, get your hands off my child, or something like that. And then, I don't know, the other parent will say -- they just get mad at each other because it seems like the parents are kind of living through their children. And so if one parent gets at mad at a child, it's like getting mad at them, and so they just fight with each other.

Smith - Have your coaches ever had to tell your parents on the sidelines...

Carroll - Yeah.

Majors - Yeah.

Smith - That happens. Is it the coaches' responsibility, you think, to keep the parents in line? What does the coach say to the parents when he's telling them to watch it?

Majors - Like, sometimes on the sidelines the parents, they try to, like, to tell their players what to do. And the coaches say, I'm the coach, not you.

Smith - Do parents get mad when the coach does that to them?

Majors - Yeah, they get mad, but then again they understand where he's coming from.

Smith - Do you think people should be able to yell at games, though? You know, we go to baseball games and screen at the umps and football games. But...

Majors - It's fine in the professionals because there's like thousands of people there, and everybody's yelling different things, and it doesn't really matter in the professional games. But in, like -- at the younger games, there's not as many people there. So -- and the professionals know how to ignore the crowd, but the younger kids don't -- haven't really learned that yet.

Smith - Have you guys ever said anything, or seen anybody say something to a parent? Like a teammate say, look, quit yelling at her?

Unidentified Child - Well, I heard -- the parents were yelling at one girl on my team. And she just turned around, and she's like, "Shut up." And then the parents were quiet the rest of the game.

Smith - They were?

Ben Poser, age 12 - Yeah, they were kind of mad at her, but they stopped.

Smith - How do you think we teach parents, or tell them -- teach them about what the right thing to do is, and the right thing to say? How do we inform them?

Carroll - I think it's just by going to lots of games, they learn what to say and what not to say. And kind of like, say if they do it once, and then like people get made at them or they realize that nobody's paying attention to them or it wasn't the right thing to say, they'll try not to do it again.

Monica Yee, age 10 - I just have a feeling that if you're saying something bad, you know you are, but it's usually tucked away back in your mind. So I think we need to bring that out so parents realize what they're saying.

Majors - I'd give them a red card, and then they'd get kicked out, and then they wouldn't want to get kicked out again, hopefully.

Smith - They'd learn by experience.

Majors - They're basically learning from what they do.

Ley - And joining us this morning, Fred Engh, who is the founder and president of the National Alliance for Youth Sports. He is in Davie, Florida. Cliff McCrath is men's soccer coach at Seattle Pacific University, and the winningest active coach in collegiate soccer. He joins us this morning, early, from Seattle.

Fred, I know you believe things are worse. How much worse are they and why?

Engh - Well, they're worse because parents don't know how to behave themselves. Everything that these kids have said, Bob, we've been saying in our organization for the last 20 years.

Is America finally now going to listen after they hear these kids? I think they need to. We need to change this culture.

Ley - Well, Cliff, I know, aside from coaching at the collegiate level, you operate a very successful soccer camp, and have worked with kids. Do you see a growing trend? Is this getting worse?

Cliff McCrath, Seattle Pacific University - I don't see a growing trend. I've seen isolated events over the years. I'm an old hockey player, a baseball player from the streets. We had our own fights when I was growing up, but there wasn't a whole lot of parental interaction.

And the truth is, I've seen it, I'm aware of it, but I don't accept the fact that there's some sort of epidemic that needs all kinds of action and all kinds of legislation.

Engh - Yeah, but Bob, let's look at it from our perspective. Our organization has 2,200 chapters across this country. We have 150,000 members. We have a pulse-beat of what's going on in this country with children's sports. The No. 1 question I'm asked in almost 300 interviews now, is why the parents behave this way? And the answer is, nobody ever told them they couldn't behave that way. Now, we have to change the culture.

McCrath - Yeah but Fred, what you have is an organization that has heightened awareness to the episodes. I travel across the country. I'm in all kinds of communities throughout the year. I'm called in to make speeches, to give seminars, to conduct clinics, to witness games, scouting across the country. I've seen some of those things at various points.

But again, I think that when you have an organization -- and I certainly am not demeaning what you are doing or what you are trying to do -- but as far as any kind of a wide, sweeping epidemic, I think you get that perspective when you have an organization like yours or any others that's in place to focus on those things.

Engh - Cliff, listen to what the kids have told us. That's the important thing. The amazing part -- we're looking at the tip of the iceberg. We're looking at violence and rage. We're not looking at the parent that sits in the stands and says to their child, you're not meeting my expectations. We're not looking at the parent coach that says, it's OK to cheat in order to win. There's a plethora of things going on that we need to be aware of.

McCrath - I couldn't agree more that some of those things are going on. I really am addressing the issue of some sort of wide, sweeping problem that requires some sort of a countermove or a counter-program that puts everybody that isn't doing that sort of thing at risk as well.

Engh - You don't have the picture, and I want to make this perfectly clear. What we do with our program is to be able to give parents an idea of what this is all about. This isn't professional sports. When the parent comes through, we're not saying that they're all going to be bad parents; 85 percent of the people out there are wonderful, caring people. Everybody needs to be on the same page, to understand what this means. Why do children come out for sports?

McCrath - Fred, there are ways that you can heighten the awareness and help educate people. And anybody that would take a stand against that kind of educational approach to behavior or anything else, or any kind of parental interference with coaches making decisions, picking teams - I don't have a problem with that. But you already stated that 85 percent of the people aren't a problem, so why make that 85 percent do anything other than read a pamphlet?

Ley - I'll jump in right there guys, because obviously we've got more to talk about, and we'll get back to Fred Engh and Cliff McCrath in just a moment, as we take a look at the topic of possible solutions, including mandatory classes and contracts. Do they work, and are they fair? As we continue on Outside The Lines.

Unidentified Child - Stop it.

Unidentified Male - (Unintelligible)

Unidentified Male - Come on Billy, baby!

Unidentified Male - Thanks coach.

Ley - Overbearing sporting parents, and sensitive kids are now fair game on Madison Avenue. And terms like Silent Saturday are part of the youth sporting vocabulary. Before we get back to our guests, Shelley Smith now will examine some responses to the problems of parents out of control.

Smith - This summer two national conferences sought ways to curb parental violence and bad behavior. The National Alliance for Youth Sports met in Chicago in early June, and the Positive Coaching Alliance met later that month at Stanford.

Unidentified Male - Parent meetings are essential. They are essential, and one way to supplement that is with a parents manual. It should include a code of conduct.

Unidentified Male - Giving every parent on the sidelines a job -- it's your job to make sure that there's positive encouragement for the referee. Or it's your job to make sure that there's positive encouragement for the coaches.

Smith - Following a brawl at a youth football game, city leaders in El Paso, Texas began requiring parents to take a three-hour training course.

Mayor Carlos Ramirez, El Paso, Texas - Some parents threatened us. Some parents threatened the officials. We had a bomb scare. Some parent who's mad called in a bomb scare. But we knew we had to do something; so it was mandatory. Either they took the course or their kids didn't play.

Wann - Parents will often be resistant to change. It's the way they were brought up, it's the same program they were brought up in, why should it be any different for my kid?

Smith - Eventually, 15,000 parents attended the classes, and Ramirez says confrontations are less frequent.

Unidentified Male - I will do my very best to make youth sports fun for my child.

Smith - In Jupiter, Florida two years ago, parents were required to recite and sign a good behavior pledge, and several cities have tried Silent Saturdays, where parents are not allowed to yell anything during the game.

Unidentified Female - I think that the idea behind it is good, but I think that the way that they are doing it is not so good. Stifling enthusiastic parents who just want to support their kids is not the right way to go about it.

Smith - I'll say, hey, but this is my kid. And I paid my money for this team, and I'm here, and I can yell whatever I want. What would you say to me?

Unidentified Male - That's not how we do things here. You -- I'll be happy to go with you to the head of the league and try to get your money back, but you have to behave this way if your kid is going to play here, or your kid is not going to be on this team.

Ley - And we are back with Fred Engh and with Cliff McCrath.

And Fred, let me begin with you. When people hear mandatory classes, Silent Saturdays, you can understand why some people would say that's an overreaction.

Engh - Yeah, but that's not the true picture, Bob. What we need to do is change the culture. We need to step back. Shouldn't there be somebody to supervise children's sports in a community? These people that are parents are not just people in the stands, they run these programs, they coach in the program. We need to educate them on what this is about and then hold them accountable. It's that simple.

Ley - What do you think about mandatory classes, Cliff?

McCrath - I think it's silly. My daughter was a principal of an inner city high school in Los Angeles and now is working with special ed here in Seattle. So I ran it by her. She's got a couple of kids of her own.

She's had broken car radios thrown at her, at her legs from behind, had escorts to the parking lot. I said, what do you think about all this stuff? She said, I think it's silly. She said kids need to hear their parents screaming their lungs out for them.

I think, again, I want to make a distinction - What Fred is saying, I'm not demeaning. It's all right to have heightened awareness kinds of programs. But to send everybody to class and get a certificate before they can come to the game, and scream, "Murder the Umpire." Where's William Bendix when we need it?

Engh - Again, again, Cliff, it's -- I hate to interrupt you, but...

McCrath - Go ahead.

Engh - This class isn't about behavior, this class is about what sports are for children.

McCrath - Well you can do that with a pamphlet. You don't have to -- I don't have time to go to a class if I haven't misbehaved.

Engh - Cliff, one of the things about it, it's not just education. You have to hold people accountable. That's the bottom line.

McCrath - I agree.

Engh - If somebody can't go through an education program to find out what it's about, and then be accountable for their behavior, they shouldn't be around this activity. That's what we need to do.

McCrath - The people -- Fred, the people that can't read, they can go to class if they can hear. But send me a pamphlet, let me know at the annual registration meetings. Have someone get up and address the issue. I've done that myself as a coach. I've talked about parental behavior.

Engh - Look, 300 recreation departments are now implementing this program.

McCrath - I have no...

Engh - We didn't tell them to do it.

Ley - What about this aspect, gentlemen, reconciling the fun, certainly, with the competitive. Sports are, by their very nature, competitive. Some would say that -- and I'll invent a word here, it's been out there -- "wussification." There's a wussification of the kids of America. They've got to learn that life isn't fair, that there's a hard edge, you've got to go out there and win; and they need to be encouraged to do their best at all, and that some of these education programs kind of round off the rough edges of sports.

Engh - Bob, we're assuming that everybody that comes out for sports is an athlete. The kids below 10 years old, for 90 percent of them, this is social fun. They want to be with Billy or Mary and playing. Competition is another thing. It's great and wonderful when it's time.

McCrath - But Fred -- you have to keep in mind that any contact sport, or any other kind of sport that has aggressive tendencies in it -- how many times have you heard the coach say, you've got to be more aggressive? Any time there's an aggression factor in there, you're going to have a spillover, and you are going to have people watching, whether they're parents or not get involved and just get caught up in the whole idea of who's winning or who's...

Engh - Look Cliff, 70 percent...

McCrath - Well, wait, wait, just one more second, Fred. What I'm saying is...

Ley - Fifteen seconds.

McCrath - What I'm saying is, is that either it's -- it's not either-or - Either you all go to school or you don't come. It's both-and.

Engh - Bottom line, 70 percent of kids drop out of sports at the age of 13 because they said it wasn't fun. And that's...

Ley - That's the number, and that's the point we'll leave it with.

Thank you very much, guys, for a spirited discussion. Thanks a great deal. Thanks to Fred Engh and to Cliff McGrath.

Next, the come-backers e-mails on last week's fear factor of pitching with the ever-present danger of line drives for major league pitchers.

Ley - The mental side of pitchers coming back from comebackers, injuries suffered on line drives up the middle, spurring these thoughts to our e-mail in-box this week.

From Louisville - "Your program was all focused on the psychology of recovering, nothing about the sociology of the game, the culture which allows pitchers to knock down hitters. Until that culture which allows, indeed encourages, brushback pitches is genuinely acknowledged by pitchers and managers with some contrition, it's going to be difficult to garner much sympathy for the danger of comebackers that pitchers confront."

From Detroit - "I recently was struck in the face while pitching. My cheek broke in four places. The orbital floor was fractured. Now I sport two metal plates in my face. My sight, thankfully, was not damaged. I always thought about something like that happening every time I went out to pitch, but never really expected it to happen. As for getting back on the mound, the sooner the better. Watching the show this week and hearing what the guys had to say about what they went through physically and mentally really helped me with what happened."

The address for the online Outside The Lines is for more on today's topics and for our library of streaming video. Our e-mail address And thanks for being in touch.

Ley - A reminder, this show re-airs over on ESPN2 at 1 p.m. Eastern, 10 a.m. Pacific.

Tonight after "Baseball Tonight," we've got the Mariners and the Diamondbacks at 8 p.m. Eastern.

I'm Bob Ley. Mark Schwarz will be in this chair for the next several weeks. Now, Barry Bonds on what his final number may be in the MLB free agent shuffle. Dave Revsine, Pam Ward, they are next with "SportsCenter."

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 ESPN's Bob Ley attempts to educate the nation's "little league parents."
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