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Lighten Up -- They're Kids

September 22, 2003

As soccer-playing kids and their I-coulda-made-that-goal parents take to the fields these Saturdays, they're likely to see changes brought about by soccer officials fed up with the boorish behavior of unruly infants -- that would be the moms and dads, you understand.

Parents must sign a contract that reminds them of facts so basic the document would be laughable if it weren't also necessary. "I understand that the game is for the kids," one line reads.

This year, close to half the regions in the American Youth Soccer Organization are participating in its Kids Zone program, which started small last year. Besides requiring contracts, coaches set up banners on the fields and hand out badges as visual symbols -- you know how grown-ups need reminders -- that the next hour belongs to the kids, not to parents and their vicarious dreams of athletic glory.

Kids Zone was the brainchild of Steve Hamann, former San Diego-area AYSO regional commissioner. He found that warnings and bad-behavior cards didn't keep uberparents from bad-mouthing coaches, players and their own offspring.

Committed to restoring the fun, Hamann required bad sports to accompany him to K-League games, to observe 6-year-olds having a blast running around with each other or even stopping in mid-dribble to watch a butterfly.

A Stanford University study shows that the main reason kids drop out of athletics by age 12 or 13 is that the increasing and strident pressure to excel makes sports drudgery, not fun. The study inspired Stanford's sports department to devise the contract now used by AYSO, which hopes to get its remaining regions to join the program.

But why stop there? Imagine what parental hands-off contracts could do in the schools, with clauses like: "I understand that it's OK to help my children with homework but not for me to do their homework myself."

And here -- sheesh -- would be the corollary clause: "I understand that I have already proven my ability to do elementary school academics. No matter how much fun it is to glue sugar cubes together, I will not build a model of a California mission -- one that obviously could not have been constructed by anyone lacking an architect's degree -- for my children to pass off as their own fourth-grade state history project."

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