A recent altercation on a high school soccer field in Salt Lake City sent one player to the hospital and left another facing assault charges. The incident by itself is disturbing, but the fact that it is among dozens of cases of violence in the first few weeks of the spring season is reason to start a public discussion on how to address this alarming trend.
A recent Deseret News report found that 51 players and coaches have been ejected from games so far this year for unruly conduct, extending a five-year trend of increasing acts of aggressive behavior in boys soccer in Utah. League officials and educators say they are concerned that such conduct is becoming commonplace.
The boys involved in the incidents deserve to face the consequences of their behavior, but blame for the rising frequency of such incidents falls on the adults who have nurtured a culture that fails to condemn violence as a way to deal with on-field frustration.
Parents are expected to instruct their children on the values of sportsmanship and proper conduct during competition. But many incidents of misconduct are being directly attributed to the behavior of parents on the sidelines. Incidents of enraged spectators losing control during soccer matches have prompted officials in Florida, in some instances, to request police presence during matches. The state’s Youth Soccer Association has adopted policies that allow for banning entire team coaching staffs from the league for the misconduct of parents.
Holding teams accountable for the actions of players and spectators may be the only way to disrupt the pattern of escalating violence, and the schools and leagues that run programs in Utah should consider formalizing a similar policy, as well as taking other remedial actions.
Those who mentor young athletes also are responsible for setting a proper example, but that doesn’t always happen. After a recent college baseball game, also in Florida, that featured a highly publicized brawl, the coach of the team whose players began the skirmish expressed pride “for the way we fought we certainly didn’t back down from anything.”
The culture of modern sports often elevates “hard-nosed play” and “standing up for yourself” as worthy competitive values. But any form of violence, on the field or off, should in no circumstances be condoned.
Those who oversee youth sporting programs should pursue nothing less than a policy of zero tolerance for actions that can disrupt an atmosphere of healthy and respectful competition.