Out of Control

A few weeks ago, Michael Costin was supervising practice for his 10-year-old son's hockey team just north of Boston. During the practice, another parent, Thomas Junta, became upset at how his son was being treated. What happened next is a sign of where our culture's attitudes about parenting can lead. Junta followed the coach into the locker room and beat him senseless. Costin died two days later, and now Junta faces 20 years in prison. This may be an extreme case, but it's part of a larger pattern. In its July 24 issue, Sports Illustrated chronicles what it calls an "epidemic of verbal harassment and physical violence" by "out-of- control parents." The "mildest" instances consist of berating and humiliating officials, coaches, and kids. But some parents don't stop there. Assaults on coaches, and even on other people's children, are a growing concern. Last spring officials in Jupiter, Florida, started requiring parents to attend sportsmanship classes and sign a "sportsmanship pledge" before their kids could participate in youth sports. Writers at Sports Illustrated suggest that a major cause of this problem is the fact that many parents live vicariously through their children's athletic accomplishments. Melinda Schmidtt, a swim coach who resigned her position, told the magazine that it was the parents who drove her out of the sport. She often thinks of returning to coaching, she says, but "I don't want to deal with the parents [since] they're trying to live out their fantasy." Schmidtt is right, but there's more to this rise in obnoxious behavior by parents than that. There's nothing new about parents living vicariously through their kids. Parents have always taken pride in their children's accomplishments. But what's different is the exaggerated importance given to athletic performance. For many parents, youth sports is a kind of compulsion, and the fact that it is reflects our culture's spiritual and moral poverty. And this compulsion affects the way parents raise their kids. Simply stated, raising a talented or athletically gifted child is sometimes seen as the measure of a successful parent -- even more than raising a good or moral child. Such parents see their children's accomplishments as vindication for their efforts as parents. For them, what matters most is how Johnny or Janey does at the swim meet, and which prestigious college they can get into. But this is a recipe for disaster. What happens when that child's performance doesn't live up to the parent's expectations? Well, this usually is what causes these parents you read about in Sports Illustrated to become so obnoxious. But this is an area where a Christian worldview can make all the difference. Christian parenting focuses on honesty, integrity, and character building, both for kids and their parents. We care more for what sports and other activities can do to shape kids' character than about getting parents bragging rights for kids' winning awards. Youth sports is great for kids -- if we keep things in perspective. The real goal is raising honest, responsible kids who demonstrate genuine respect for others -- and this is the greatest reward for any parent. Clearly, our culture needs to learn this lesson, and you and I can help teach it by the example we set.


Chuck Colson


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