May 23, 2013

Editorial: Encourage sportsmanship


---- — The death of a soccer referee earlier this month in Utah at the hands of an angry 17-year-old player — who allegedly sucker-punched the official after receiving a yellow-card penalty — reinforces the lack of sportsmanship that appears to be growing in competitive sports.

And it’s not just on the professional and collegiate levels. The behavior exhibited at those levels has slowly crept into local high school and even youth sports.

There is plenty of blame to go around. Watching professional sports on TV, you can get a sense that athletes and coaches have forgotten about sportsmanship. The way they react to the game, other competitors and calls by officials is often unacceptable.

Further, the respect for officials at all level of sports competition seems to be eroding. In our area, you can see high-school players and coaches hollering at the officials or seething on the sidelines. That kind of behavior used to come mostly from fans or parents.

It’s not just a sports problem; much of it is societal. It’s all about “me” being in the spotlight, and there’s a prevalent aversion to adversity. That attitude now plays out in athletic competition.

We need to take a step back. Part of the aim of sports — youth sports, in particular — has always been to educate and transform, to instill athletes with skills and values they can use for the rest of their lives, in settings that don’t have hardwood courts or boundaries outlined in chalk.

Many successful people can trace the lessons they learned about teamwork, fair play, leadership and overcoming challenges back to Little League, PAL football or some other youth sport.

But just like passing, dribbling or hitting, those skills don’t come with the uniform and the practice schedule. They have to be taught and reinforced by adults — the coaches and the parents who signed their kids up for a team.

The bottom line is that we’ve allowed bad behavior to go unpunished. And some local officials want state organizations, such as the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, to take a stronger oversight role. They suggest the state groups exert more control and accountability.

Youth sports is where it all begins. Good sportsmanship isn’t just going to happen. More training and monitoring would be helpful, and rules about what’s tolerable and what’s not must be clearly defined and enforced.

We urge coaches and parents to teach, encourage and reward good sportsmanship. The kids are counting on you.