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Most Youth Sports Fans Don't Resort to Acts of Violence

January 26, 2002

The case of Thomas Junta, sentenced this week for involuntary manslaughter in connection with the death of a youth hockey coach, brought to the forefront the problems of parental involvement in youth sports.

Rita Luther spoke with DAVID SENNINGER, a Long Beach architect and volunteer youth hockey coach with the Marina Cities Hockey Club in Culver City, about how he deals with parents who behave inappropriately during a practice or game.

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In my years as a youth hockey coach, I have never had a problem like the one that tragically took the life of Michael Costin in Massachusetts. Sure, we've had parents get overly involved in the game and in most cases we allow them to vent their disapproval and things usually calm down. If a parent gets too upset, the officials might eject them or sometimes the management of the rink we are skating in will ask them to leave and cool off.

Parents will occasionally get upset about how we are coaching or what is happening on the ice and they usually will voice their concern--sometimes yelling--but then cool down and the game continues without a problem.

I have heard of occasions in other leagues where the police have been called because of an unruly parent, but that situation is rare and has never happened in my experience as a coach.

I have a rule that parents cannot sit or stand next to the bench or talk with the kids during practice. We ask them to let the coaches do the coaching for that hour. In the majority of cases, parents are very supportive and are involved in a positive way.

Our first concern is the kids' safety on the ice. We emphasize safety during practice and of course keep a close eye on them during a game. We have both boys and girls on the same teams and take pride in the fact that youth hockey teaches young people how to work with others on a team, how to see something through, how to win and how to lose. It also teaches them loyalty and helps them hone their interpersonal skills.

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