Sport et Violence par Elaine Raakman

Violence in sport is most often envisioned in terms of fan violence: massive stadiums filled with unruly spectators such as the infamous hooligans. This group behavioural disorder continues to be a problem today and is emblematic of greater societal problems. In fact, as fan violence has become an increasingly popular theme of study, sociologists and academics point to such factors as unemployment, the disenfranchisement of youth, and the regional clustering of individuals belonging to a particular class as contributing directly to this unruly behaviour. Certainly, confronting the issue of violence in professional sporting events is an important task, since there is a fear that children will emulate the behaviour they witness when watching professional sporting events. It is also a task made more difficult by the fact that the world of sport has become an enormous financial enterprise that is generally administered by faceless corporations.

Yet, while the formative or de-formative role of the professional sporting environment should certainly not be underestimated, what I would like to focus on today is something closer to home, namely, violence in youth sport. Research shows that the experience of children in their own sporting environment is at least as important, if not more important in teaching what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable conduct. than that of the professional sporting environment. Further- more, research also shows that youth coaches are extremely important role models in demonstrating what is to be expected from those participating in sports. Lastly, the field of youth sports is also the place where the most effective changes for the better can be made as they form the foundation upon which all other sport behaviour is built. As cyclist Lance Armstrong once said : " A team is just another version of a community. The same principles apply to any communal undertaking. whether you're talking about a community garden, a neighbourhood watch, or a race around France : if you want something, first you have to give it. You have to invest in it " . Likewise, if we want youth sports to be rid of violence. we have to invest in this; we have to ensure that youth sports programs and structures are truly formative and not de-formative.

It is unfortunate to learn that unacceptable behaviour has become rampant in today's youth sports. These problems range from the ubiquitous verbal abuse and harassment to the more severe, yet increasingly frequent, forms of physical abuse. Some recent examples of deviant behaviour in youth sports in the past few years include : coaches instructing players to physically injure opponents; verbal and physical assault of officials by players, coaches and spectators; parents, including mothers, exposing themselves to other parents or children ; a father of a player choking his son's coach to unconsciousness ; the list goes on and in some incidences has restarted in death such as the Junta Costin incident in Boston in 2003.

Worse still is that this violence is occurring in an environment that is " supposed to be " educational, as people still consider sport to be beneficial for children to learn physical, mental and behavioural skills that will help them mature as persons. In fact, many youth sports programs were originally envisioned as a healthy means of recreation where children could develop such social skills as friendship and citizenship. The potential for sport to foster these benefits is enormous, yet the potential for harm is equally great. In recent years we have come to understand that sport does not inherently build character.

Some argue that it only reveals character. In order for sport to build character, sport programs must be structured and monitored in such a way to support and encourage the values and principles that foster character building.

Sports psychologists and researchers attribute " unsportsmanlike " conduct that permeates youth sports to such factors as the ever increasing emphasis on winning. over invested parental interest, insufficiently trained coaches, exacerbated professionalism, the negative demeanour of top athletes, and the erosion of social values. Regardless of the reasons, the ultimate outcome of negative sport environment may have long-term effects that can be far more serious than the present behaviour problems at sporting events themselves. Studies reveal that participants in sports environments that permit or support negative conduct (either deliberately or inherently) are more likely to display, adopt and justify antisocial comportment outside the sport environment.

Beyond mere good will, there is a real need of accountability and measurement in sports programs in order to effectively indicate whether programs implemented to improve or reduce the frequency of misconduct are indeed effective. While sport agencies around the world were directing considerable resources towards managing these problems, no formalized feedback systems were being implemented to objectively assess the effectiveness of their interventions. This motivated me to start Justplay Sport Services, as a means to help sports administrators identify the sources and conditions that contribute directly to problem behaviour in order to effectively correct them. It also helps administrators to identify and understand the comportment trends (both positive and negative) within a given sport environment so that it is possible to create and maintain policies and standards that ensure that sport is affecting our youth, families and communities in a positive manner.

After five years of monitoring various sports at the community, provincial (state) and national level, we have noted some important trends. The discussion of these trends is beyond the scope of this presentation. Howerer, some of the more disconcerting trends we have identified are the following : a) Problem behaviour occurs in all sports we monitor, from 20% to 37% of the time (This is far more than 'a few bad apples'! ); b) In all sports, coaches were the number one cause of misbehaviour from 30% to sometimes 50% of the time. Players are second at approximately 27%, and spectators are third, at a mere 18%; c) Officials also indicated that poor coach and player behaviour more adversely affects officials than poor spectator behaviour; d) Upwards of 70% of all misconduct occurs during regular season games, in home league divisions, as opposed to play-off games or more elite skill levels.

In conclusion, we can see that behaviour begins at home - at the weekly practice or game. and much depends on the coach or parent! If he or she is a " good sport ", so goes the rest of the team. If, on the other hand, there is only concerned about their own ego, this will also be reflected in the team. Peace has a price. If we want to rid sport of violence. something has to go. I suggest that the individual " ego " of the coach, spectator-parent, or player be sacrificed for the good of the team. In fact, the etymology of the word 'community' is " friendship based on shared interests " and that of the word 'team' means " being yoked together ". A team is another form of community. All of us have the opportunity to build a team at the community level. I invite all of us to allow our shared interest in sport to yoke us together in this common endeavour to rid sport of violence for the good of our youth.