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In our opinion: Healthy competition

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 6 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

The central point of youth athletics is not to breed the next NFL quarterback or home run king. By and large, the great benefit of such activities comes in the ability to learn cooperative social skills that carry over into life off the field and last long after the game is over.

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"This is a game being played by children," reads a sign at the Buffalo Grove Park District in a suburb north of Chicago. "If they win or lose every game of the season, it will not impact what college they attend or their future potential income."

In other words: overly competitive parents need to simmer down.

These signs are an innovative means to provide a reminder that ought to be unnecessary. Unfortunately, too many parents still don't get the message. Throughout the country, and even here in Utah, adults provide unwelcome demonstrations of childishness to their kids playing in competitive sports leagues. Tempers flare, raised voices hurl insults, and even violence breaks out on some occasions. And more often than not, the bad actors are the grown-ups in the grandstands, not the youth on the playing fields.

The signs in the Buffalo Grove Park District are an attempt to reign in this kind of bad behavior. Other youth leagues now insist that parents sign codes of conduct or recite good behavior pledges before games begin. Some of them conduct what are called "quiet" games, where both coaches and parents can only shout out encouragement instead of criticism.

And these are the milder measures that have been proposed.

Umpires and referees in many instances now give warnings to parents, not just coaches, and are not afraid to eject a loud-mouthed mom or dad from the game. Some coaches are even forced to kick players off teams in order to get rid of the parents. Such solutions are indicative of a problem spiraling out of control.

A little perspective is necessary.

The central point of youth athletics is not to breed the next NFL quarterback or home run king. Statistically speaking, the odds of a son or daughter using Little League as a stepping stone to going pro are miniscule. By and large, the great benefit of such activities comes in the ability to learn cooperative social skills that carry over into life off the field and last long after the game is over. There is nothing wrong with healthy competition, but competition is healthy only if it is conducted honorably and respectfully. Good sportsmanship never goes out of style.

Those are the lessons parents ought to be teaching their children when they sign them up to put on a uniform. And those are the lessons they undermine when they refuse to live them.

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