What has happened to respect in youth sports these days?


For more than 10 years I worked in the parks and recreation industry, and oftentimes I found myself coaching in the leagues as volunteerism wavered season to season.

What I saw was a growing sense of entitlement among many of the youth sport participants.
Whether it was players feeling they deserved more game day minutes than the others because of their advanced abilities, or believing they were worthy of special treatment for those skills, it just seemed like whenever these behaviors were present negative outcomes would usually follow.

Because I was in the trenches and saw firsthand how programs operated, and how participants interacted with the adults in charge, I always felt these recreation professionals did a fantastic job — oftentimes with minimal resources — of making sure the proper focus of youth sports was kept in perspective. Fun, social interaction and, win or lose, good sportsmanship. But, most importantly, respect. 

We’re talking about respect for the game and respect for everyone involved in it.

Apparently, however, not everything taught is learned and the consequences can be horrific. Recently, 46-year-old Ricardo Portillo lost his life because one of those lessons was not learned. This story has a storyline hauntingly similar to an incident in the Netherlands that happened late in 2012.

Portillo, also a father, was trying to make a positive impact in youth sports by teaching that lesson. Working as an official of a soccer game, he awarded a yellow card to a player during recreational league play in Utah. For those who may not know, a yellow card in soccer signals to a player that they have committed an unsportsmanlike play or disrespected the game in some way.

Essentially, the official was doing his best to be sure to keep the game under control and protect all the players participating in it.

What was the reaction of the 17-year-old? Well, just a punch to the head that put
Portillo in a coma and eventually led to his death.

Maybe this incident is an isolated case of a young man losing his temper and going too far. Or perhaps he felt justified because he felt he was the one wronged. Or maybe he felt he was the star and was above the rules of the game.

We can only guess at what was going through this youngster’s mind before he clenched a fist and ended a life.

But we do know that he clearly didn’t respect the game or the official in charge of overseeing it.

That behavior is happening far too often in our youth games these days – and a family is in mourning because of it.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the National Alliance for Youth Sports.

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