Let’s take a look at sportsmanship in youth sports

The results are in. Being that I have been a certified sports official in two sports (ice hockey and lacrosse) for over the last 12 years and a member of the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO) during those years, I must say I was not surprised with those results. What am I talking about? 

I’m talking about the results from the National Officiating Survey that was conducted and powered by REFEREE.com, a monthly publication (REFEREE Magazine) which is published by the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO). The survey polled sports officials and referees in all sports and they received 35,813 responses. In that survey, one of the questions asked was… 

At What Level is Sportsmanship The Worst?

The results were as follows: 

Youth Competitive: 49.7%

High School: 19.3%

Adult Recreational: 13.9%

Youth Recreational: 12.8%

Professional: 2.4%

 College: 1.9%

Interesting. Surveying over 35,000 sports officials, it became clear that in the eyes of all those sports officials, clearly youth sports being played at the “competitive level” are considered to have the worst sportsmanship of ALL levels of sports!  Worse than high school sports, worse than adult recreational sports, worse than college level sports….I mean, clearly worse than ALL other levels of competitive and/or recreational sports. But, let’s drill down on this for a second.

If “youth competitive sports” have the worst level of sportsmanship, who do you think the sports officials feel is the responsible party for this lack of sportsmanship? Would it be the young athletes themselves? Are we talking about the behavior of 10, 11 and 12 year-olds participating in whatever sport it is they are playing? My guess is probably not. In fact, I would guess that when the 35,000+ officials answered this question on the NASO Survey, I would bet they were thinking far more about the adults involved in these youth sports programs than they were the young athletes. Yes, my guess is they were thinking more about the coaches and, of course, the parents involved in these competitive youth sports programs. 

As a referee for over 15 years, I must say if I have ever had a problem with a young athlete, it was largely because of the way he or she was being influenced by their coach and/or the parents involved. Most of the time it’s not the young athletes who are the problem – it’s the adults!  

Now, do sports officials make mistakes? Absolutely we do. We are human and even at the highest levels of competitive athletics, sports officials do make mistakes. Do coaches and parents get angry and irate when they see a call or no call that they don’t agree with? They most certainly do. But, I can honestly say that whenever I have worked any contest as a referee, my partner(s) and I have always been committed to doing the very best job we can as sports officials. And yes, I will even say that other than doing the very best job we can, we really don’t care or have an interest in who wins the game. Bottom line, we’re trying to do our very best to make sure it is a fair contest, to make good calls, and yes, to keep the athletes safe. And ultimately, I want everyone involved (athletes, parents and coaches) to enjoy a positive, youth sports experience. Oh yeah, and did I mention, I want the kids to have fun!  

I truly love organized youth sports programs because I believe our kids can  learn valuable life lessons through their participation in youth sports. And yes, one of those valuable life lessons is learning what good sportsmanship is all about. This is what truly gives the youth sports experience value. 

Posted in sports, sportsmanship and tagged , .

Harold “Bud” Boughton is a husband, father and grandfather who is often referred to as “the teaching coach.” A former senior executive, published author and professional speaker, Bud currently works for Shine.FM radio, a community-supported, not-for-profit Christian radio station affiliated with Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL. He will continue to work for Shine.FM in conjunction with his responsibilities as Co-Director of Team Focus – Indiana. You can reach Bud Boughton by calling 317-258-6372 or click here to leave him a message