Fostering sportsmanship in youth athletics


Howard At Play

August 22, 2004|By LOWELL E. SUNDERLAND

THE REPORT here last Sunday about more than two dozen recreation and parks agencies in Maryland and Northern Virginia -- including Howard County's -- banding together in the name of sportsmanship has a couple of other elements.

First, the article led to at least one more organization, a sizable youth wrestling group, inquiring about how to ally itself with the government agencies and national lacrosse and softball organizations already in the Mid-Atlantic Recreation and Parks Sports Alliance.

That alliance is beginning to mutually respect penalties meted out by any one organization against troublemakers -- young or old, player or spectator, coach or parent -- whose extreme misbehavior warrants disciplinary action of a year or more. That means fighting, berating opponents or game officials and even assault, among many other ugly behaviors you might think wouldn't be a factor during amateur sports competition at any level.

Dennis Callahan, director of Anne Arundel County's recreation and parks department, is credited with coalescing other agencies into taking action against poor sportsmanship. Howard County's department was an early participant in forming the alliance.

But in getting what he calls "kindred spirits" together, Callahan also has left a paper trail that should cause anyone interested in youth sports to reflect a bit. This year, Callahan posted on his department's Web site a combination policy statement and update on the subject of sportsmanship. We think it's both general enough and good enough to warrant repeating, and so, here is what he said that every parent, coach and player ought to remember.

Callahan received a letter, he said, from a parent who reported seeing the following message on the back of a vehicle -- "My cheerleader may not be on the honor roll, but she can fly, so my cheerleader/student can kick yours in the head."

The vehicle "proudly displayed the name of the youth organization," Callahan said. "The parent writing [the letter] was `horrified' by `such violence and ugliness.' "

Callahan also noted two letters to the editor about two high school basketball games for girls that ended with scores of 105-11 and 76-4. The letter writer asked, "Where is the sportsmanship?"

Which led to Callahan observing that "the adults involved with the `kick yours in the head' cheerleading message failed to rise to their level of responsibility by promoting a culture of violence and negative behavior.

"The coaches of the winning basketball teams have completely lost their perspective regarding the value of sports by showing a total disrespect for their opponents. In both cases, the adults demonstrated an inexcusable lapse in good judgment that translates to being mean-spirited.

"I am not discouraged by these incidents, as I believe the culture is changing for the better in recreational athletics ... People of goodwill -- community leaders, parents, concerned citizens and recreation officials -- are working together like never before to shun those who do not put the kids first.

"The win-at-all-costs coaches and over-aggressive parents are a dying breed. They are being replaced by individuals with a willingness to perpetuate the positive attributes associated with youth sports -- fun, fitness, skill development, teamwork, winning and losing graciously, respect for authority, and more. ...

"We remain strongly motivated to eliminating violence and mean-spirited behavior. We can all agree that participation in youth athletics is not on the same level as parental guidance or academics when it comes to a child's development. However, youth athletics serve as a great opportunity for learning and growth, an opportunity that must not be squandered."

Hear, hear.

And here is a related footnote for anyone interested in coaching youth teams in any sport. Sign up early in your volunteerism for a course in coaching young people. The Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks for years has offered the American Sport Education Program's teachings.

This is a program we took about two decades ago, and while follow-up sessions available these days can be specific to a given sport, the opening clinic offered locally is, in general, far more about coaching kids. It's valuable, effective stuff.

Also noted

NO TOBACCO: There's a spreading movement in Maryland to ban or limit tobacco products at any amateur sports competition. As with the sportsmanship issues mentioned above, many rec agencies -- including Howard County's -- are talking tougher about non-smoking at ball fields and gyms they own or manage.

That applies to smoking, obviously, but also to secondhand smoke on sidelines and in stands.

Frankly, we didn't think this was much of a problem any more, but apparently there is enough smoking by parents at youth events to warrant some added attention. So, you're apt to see patches on uniforms or other material circulated by clubs about Howard County now supporting "Tobacco Free Sports."

ADULT LACROSSE: The county rec department is trying to find enough over-35 men -- including those who have never played the sport -- to form a lacrosse league this fall.

Sports supervisor Mike Millani, who also plays the sport, said the department is trying to tap into what seems to be a growing pool of potential players. Call 410-715-4605 to learn more.

Call the writer at 410-332-6525 or send e-mail to

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