El Paso, Texas is a multi-cultural city of 700,000 across the Rio
Grande River from Juarez, Mexico. Like most communities across the
United States, large and small, El Paso has experienced problems in
youth sports, including out-of-control parents. In 1999, youth sports
violence in El Paso escalated. At city-sponsored football games,
incidents of violence included parents:
Pulling knives on and threatening other adults
Using sideline equipment to attack parents of players on the
Engaging in fist fights with other parents
Physically and verbally abusing children on the sidelines
Paula Powell, Sports Operations Supervisor for the City of El Paso,
had had enough. As a member of the National Association for Youth
Sports, she decided to use the NAYS parent education program as the
foundation for establishing a youth sport parent education program in
El Paso. At the same time, Dr. Keith Wilson was making the case in
"Performance Talk," his weekly newspaper column in the El Paso Times,
that towns and municipalities needed to do whatever it took to stop
parental misconduct and violence at youth sports contests. After
reading Dr. Wilson's columns, Powell invited him to join her in an
effort to change the face of youth sports in El Paso in the fall of
2000. Together, they hoped to develop a program that would:
Reduce or eliminate violence, negative talking and taunting on
Improve communication between coaches, officials, parents and
Put fun and learning back into youth sports.
In developing the program that would become known as "Youth Sports
2000," Powell and Dr. Wilson agreed that training would have to be:
Mandatory. In order for a child to participate in city sponsored
youth sports, at least one parent would have to attend training;
Comprehensive. The training sessions would need to last 3-½ hours
to cover the subject.
Flexible. To accommodate parents' schedules, training sessions
would need to be provided on both weekend mornings and weekday
Multi-Lingual. For monolingual Spanish speaking parents, Spanish
translation would need to be provided.
Videotaped. A videotape of the presentation would need to be
available so parents unable, or initially unwilling, to attend a
live session could still receive training in order for their child
Dr. Wilson and Paul Powell recognized that getting any parent to pay
attention over the course of three and one-half hours, much less a
parent angry at being forced to participate in the first place, would
be a challenge. The program they developed was therefore broken up
into a series of short presentations using a variety of different
Registration: Setting The Stage
As parents registered, they were shown videotapes of city football
games, including footage taken by a local television station showing
parents, undeterred by the fact that the TV cameras were filming,
verbally abusing players, officials and coaches at a 1999 game. Powell
used stories and artwork by children embarrassed by their parents'
behavior to drive home the message that children want their parents to
behave better at sports contests.
Performance Parenting: An Introduction
As the keynote speaker, Dr. Wilson began the formal program by
identifying the kind of problem behaviors parents exhibit on the
sideline and offering some solutions. The aim of the presentation was
to help parents understand how they can create a sideline experience
that is not only enjoyable but actually improves their children's
Dr. Wilson introduced the parents to "performance parenting," a
concept he has developed based on the belief that the majority of
parents know what to do on the sidelines, but lose their ability to
conform their actions to that knowledge because they get caught in the
"intensity web" .
Dr. Wilson then taught parents techniques to help them control their
intensity and avoid tunnel vision. Dr. Wilson concluded his
presentation by reminding parents to remember the values participating
in youth sports teaches. When parents are value-focused, they have a
good reason to keep the sideline a healthy and safe place.
Empowering Parents To Report Child Abuse
Next, the Child Crisis Center of El Paso made a presentation on child
abuse, including a discussion of two documented cases of child abuse
occurring on the sidelines of youth football games in El Paso in 1999.
This portion of the program was designed to help parents refocus on
positive parenting skills. When parents recognize that positive skills
work with their children they are less likely to react abusively.
The other positive aspect of this presentation is that it empowered
parents to get involved if they see abusive behavior taking place on
the sidelines by reporting the incident to the appropriate
Let's Go To The Videotape
To provide another perspective on the challenges faced by El Paso
parents at youth sports contests, the El Paso Parks and Recreation
Department played a 30-minute training videotape created by the
Parents Association for Youth Sports (PAYS) an organization under the
NAYS umbrella working to improve youth sports, including parents'
behavior at sporting events.
Educating Parents On The Rules Of The Game
All too often, a parent verbally abuses an official based on his or
her disagreement with a particular ruling on the field. Many times,
the parent's rage is based on a misunderstanding of the rules and a
failure to realize that the rules that apply in youth contests are
often not the same as apply during college or professional games.
Recognizing this area of conflict, an important part of Youth Sports
2000 was to review the youth rules of the particular sport. To
encourage audience participation, representatives from each team in
attendance were asked to present the rules and answer questions from
parents. This not only gave parents a chance to learn the rules, but
also to see how well the coaches knew them.
Signing A Pledge Of Good Behavior
At the conclusion of the training session, all participants were
required to sign a parental agreement pledging that they would conform
their behavior to the PAYS Code of Ethics.The signed forms were then
forwarded to PAYS, which then sends parents quarterly newsletters
containing insights and tips designed to help them improve their
behavior at their children's sporting events.
Organization Is The Key
Part of the reason for the success of Youth Sports 2001 is due to the
fact that it is sponsored and supported by the City of El Paso. The
Parks and Recreation Department has budgeted the additional resources
to enforce the program. Organization is the key to its success. For
the fall football season, over 2700 parents received training. Each
participant is registered and cross-referenced to the team on which
their child plays.
Once coaches realized the city was serious and had the organization
and resources to enforce the training requirement, they made sure the
parents of their players attended. Before the first game, the rosters
were checked against the list of participants who completed the
training. Those few children whose parents had failed to attend the
training were not allowed to play in the first game. So their children
could play the rest of the season, parents were given a chance to
receive training by reviewing a videotape of the training session.
A significant by-product of the fall training has been an increase in
the number of complaints parents have lodged against coaches for
employing questionable training and coaching tactics. This is viewed
as a positive outcome because it means that parents have taken
seriously their role to provide a healthy and positive sporting
environment for their children. While behavior on the sideline has not
been perfect, the general atmosphere has improved and the number of
incidents of poor behavior has decreased significantly.
Training will be mandatory for the coming basketball and
baseball/softball seasons. Before summer 2001, it is estimated that
over 10, 000 local parents will have received training. The results of
the program are being closely monitored, both locally and on a
Parents are a vital link in the triangle of partipants who help to
make youth sports the best that it can be. When parents, coaches and
officials all have the same behavioral expectations, the sporting
environment is more likely to be a rich and positive one for the kids.
Children, after all, are why we, as parents, are involved in youth
sports in the first place.
Dr. Keith Wilson is a psychotherapist in private practice in El Paso,
Texas, founder of the Wilson Center for Sport, Business and Life
Performance, and a consultant to professional and amateur athletes. He
writes a weekly column on sports parenting for the El Paso Times
Performance Parenting is a feature of MomsTeam aimed at helping
parents be even better sports parents. Dr. Wilson will focus on
applying performance principles to sports parenting. As parents better
understand their role and are more empowered by education, the
sideline experience will be healthier for all of us.
Have a question for Dr. Wilson? You can email him at