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Class goal: better adult manners

Former coaches want kids' sports returned to kids

One Saturday morning while preparing his little league football team to take the field, Ron Hill saw something that left him as sick as if he'd been hit in the stomach.

On the field where Hill's team would play, a group of parents were berating the part-time referee.

"It was just unreal," Hill said a year and a half later. "What struck me was the reaction of the kids. They were standing in a little group, huddled together, and you could tell they were embarrassed. One of them was crying."

He turned to his longtime friend and fellow coach, Scott Rampton, and asked him, "Do you think these people have any idea what they're doing to those kids?"

After thinking it over, Hill and Rampton decided that many parents did not understand how their bad behavior was affecting their children and how it was poisoning their games. Like many people, they've watched from the sidelines over the years as spectator behavior has deteriorated into violent, even deadly, behavior. The question for Hill and Rampton, both businessmen, then became what to do about it.

"We just felt it was something that was never going to stop if someone didn't decide to make it stop," Hill said. So they left their jobs and spent a year researching the topic. Then, last summer, they started a company designed to teach parents and coaches what seems to have been lost in our modern society — good manners.

Youth Sports Management is the company they formed, and they offer 50-minute seminars to those involved in youth sports that remind them the programs are supposed to be about the children. Their message is simple: Be a role model. Hill said all they are doing is reminding parents the reason they signed their children up for sports is to play.

They marketed themselves to leagues and municipalities that run sports programs for young people, since they felt they could reach the most people that way. Their first taker is the city of Sandy.

"We're kind of trying to get ahead of the problem," said Jeanie Underwood, who runs Sandy's recreation programs. "We said, 'Let's try and educate and calm the coaches and parents, so we won't have any problems.' "

Sandy is offering the class to parents and coaches of softball, baseball and soccer on two nights, Monday, April 2, and Monday, April 10. The classes are voluntary and free to those who come. The city pays $4 per person — and $3.50 if attendance exceeds 300.

Underwood said officials met no resistance when they discussed offering the class to those who participate in their programs. She also has no idea if anyone will attend.

"We just don't know," she said. "We've been doing some coaching clinics . . . and they've been a huge success. We'll find out."

Hill believes the adults involved in youth sports are there because they care about the youngsters and will respond favorably to the seminar. During the presentation, they rely on experts and national youth sports organizations that have studied the problem for years.

"Dr. Keith Henshen (University of Utah) is one of the people we work with, and he says, 'If you want to ruin a youth sporting activity, invite an adult,' " Hill said. "And think about it, when were games the funnest? When you were out at recess or in your back yard. Because you were just playing for fun."

They offer parents ideas on how to support their children from the sideline without causing problems or being negative. Hill believes a number of things have contributed to the increased bad behavior at youth sporting events.

"Parents and coaches have unrealistic goals, unrealistic competition," he said. "And a lot of parents are living their lives through their children. It's unfortunate . . . parents also supply the organizational support their children need to participate in sports."

Some of the problems stem from the fact that parents often come to the games straight from stressful jobs, enduring frustrating traffic, only to see what they believe are bad calls.

"Even if they did make a bad call, so what?" Hill tells parents. "It's a learning experience for your child. You have to overcome adversity, play through it, win in spite of it . . .. No youth official is out to get your son or daughter, or throw the game."

Hill and Rampton are confident their message will resonate with parents because it comes from people just like them.

"We're not psychiatrists," Hill said. "We're not MDs. We're parents. We're coaches."

How does he feel about making a living teaching what used to be common sense?

"It makes me sad," he said. I grew up playing youth sports. Some of my fondest memories are of playing organized and unorganized sports. We now have to be taught how to be grown-ups on the sidelines."