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  Keeping Parents from Crossing the Line Between Nurturing and Nuts Continue  
   >When Parents Misbehave … send 'em to boot camp   
 
What if children, in order to play ball, had to enroll their parents in a sideline-conduct clinic?

Poor sideline behavior is a national youth soccer epidemic. From coast to coast, parents berate officials, taunt opponents, chastise their own coaches, children and children's teammates.

Embarrassed spectators roll their eyes or walk away. Occasionally, a brave fan speaks to an offensive adult. But angry parents seldom listen and such challenges could cause a situation to escalate.

These days, however, you don't see those things on the soccer sidelines of El Paso. And they don't happen in the football, basketball, baseball or softball stands either.

The Texas city of 700,000 has instituted mandatory education for all sports parents. In the three-hour program, participants learn performance skills to help them cope with the intensity of their feelings. They learn communication skills and sports rules. It sounds like spectator boot camp. And it works.

The Sports Parent Training Program began after a 1999 series of incidents that included parents pulling knives, attacking parents of players on opposing teams, and verbally and physically abusing young players.

Paula Powell, sports operations supervisor for the city, and Keith Wilson, a psychotherapist with experience as a soccer administrator, coach and referee, developed a pilot program. The parks and recreation department made it mandatory. For a child to participate in a city-sponsored sport, at least one parent must attend the entire session.

Sessions are held in English and Spanish and are sign-interpreted. The $5 fee includes membership in the Parents Association of Youth Sports (PAYS) and its newsletter.

The course is divided into short presentations using various media. Videotapes of local games at which parents behave poorly are interspersed with stores and artwork by children urging their parents to behave.

Wilson identifies sideline problems. He introduces "performance parenting," a concept based on the belief that most parents know how to behave but act improperly because they're caught in an "intensity web." He teaches intensity-control. "As athletes learn to control nervousness and anxiety, they reach their peak performance," he says. "It's not different with parents. They need to keep their focus and concentration, too."

The Child Crisis Center of El Paso discusses child abuse, including sideline cases. When parents recognize that positive skills work with their children, they are less likely to react abusively.

Then comes rules education, because abuse of officials often results from misunderstanding rules. Sometimes parents simply do not know the correct regulations; other times they misapply professional or college rules to youth sports.

After its successful first year, the parks and recreation department expanded it to include parents of all teams using city facilities. Because 6,000 young soccer players use municipal fields, thousands of soccer parents had to take the course.

Besides sign-ins at the beginning and end of each session, parents are given stickers to place on their children's player passes. One day, a spot check revealed that 314 young basketball players lacked the required stickers. They were forbidden to play. That night, dozens of parents took the course on videotape.

The city's "zero-tolerance" policy of abuse was tested when a father charged the field to shout at an official. He was banned for a year. Wilson hopes such situations will be rare.

"Parents seem empowered not to put up with negative actions," he says. "After my U-14 girls team played its most recent game in Las Cruces (N.M.), the referee came over and said our parents were so well-behaved, we could come back any time."

In May, the National Conference of Mays named the Parent Training Program one of 15 finalists in a contest for programs improving the livability of cities.
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