While watching my nephew’s youth hockey game last weekend, I spotted a sign hanging on the glass beside the bleachers. It read:





I have seen a number of similar reminders of perspective over the years while watching my own sons play their games. The messages bring to light what has become a national narrative of spectators, namely parents behaving badly at their kids sporting events.

The finer print on this particular note, though, was more of a warning: “Please remember that you are on private property and can be asked to leave at any time for any reason.”

Former NFL quarterback Cam Newton and some other youth coaches in Atlanta weren’t just asked to leave a youth football event last weekend when they got into a startling and frightening melee. They were removed after security guards had to forcibly pry them from one another.

The fight, which began atop a staircase and swung around to a fence amid wild shoves and punches, further underscores what’s wrong with our kids’ sports. We know parents can be overbearing and even physically and verbally abusive toward coaches and officials.

But this narrative isn’t just about parents. It’s about all the adults who are ruining youth sports for our children.

Adults such as Newton, who runs a youth sports organization, brawl with each other in front of parents and kids. Adults coach kids but feel they’re facing off against each other, or they sit in the stands across from one another, and feel their egos are on the line. Adults monetize these same kid with their so-called “select” or “elite” pay-to-play teams.

Adults enter these teams in events like the “invitation-only” We Ball Sports tournament that Newton’s C1N football team was involved in last weekend.

“I just think it’s society in general,” said Todd Nelson, assistant director of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association. “You know, individuals over the last four or five years have felt like they can speak their mind and do what they want to do and shouldn’t be any consequences for that. I think that’s unfortunate because I think they have taken that liberty that we have as a society and as Americans and they have taken it to the extreme.”

I spoke to Nelson last year for a story about how unruly spectator behavior, most notably parents, has created national shortage in sports officials. He wasn’t even talking about physical violence that we have seen at some youth sports events.

Sunday’s brawl involved the 34-year-old Newton and at least two other coaches from another program. Those coaches were from TSP (TopShelf Performance), a national 18U 7-on-7 football program, a source told The Athletic. At the end of one video of the fight, as noted by The Sporting News, Newton yells to someone, “I got something for you” off camera, implying more violence.

Violence inflicted by adults at youth sporting events, sadly, isn’t new. Among many others, there are stories of disgruntled parents throwing punches at sports officials in Florida, Indiana, Mississippi and California.

MORE COACH STEVE: What type of youth sports parent behaves the worst? We ranked them

Even guns have come into play. In the summer of 2022, the brother of former NFL cornerback Aqib Talib pled guilty to the murder of an opposing coach during a horrifying incident in Texas. Last October in St. Louis, a youth football coach of 9- and 10-year-olds was shot four times by a parent apparently upset with the coach’s use of his son on the team. Thankfully, that coach survived.

When I read about such incidents, my mind goes to the spring of 2022, when my then-14-year-old son was about to play a baseball doubleheader in Northern Virginia. The games were canceled because there was a shooting on the sidelines of a youth flag football game at a nearby school amid a dispute between, yes, adults.

Our worst qualities, and those of society, are coming out as we watch kids play games.

“They are stealing the moment away from children,” said Brian Barlow, a soccer official interviewed for an HBO Sports documentary of violence against referees. (Note: Video contains profanity.)

MORE COACH STEVE: 70% of kids drop out of youth sports by age 13. Here’s how to fix the problem

Two lacrosse referees in New Jersey I interviewed last year said they feared for their safety while walking to cars after games amid unruly spectators.

“I’ve been lucky so far with no physical assault – but I am cautious in engaging after the contest; would much prefer not to,” says Gary Herjo, who has worked two decades as a high school and youth lacrosse official.

In a survey of 36,000 sports officials conducted by the National Association of Sports Officials last year, 50% of the of the men and women from all levels of sports who responded said they have felt unsafe while doing their jobs.

Nearly 50% of the officials polled in the NASO survey said sportsmanship was worst at the “youth competitive” (travel) level.

Some of these coaches charge thousands of dollars a year for your kid to play on their team. They run these businesses full time and depend on them for their livelihood. They poach players from one another and get irate at each other for doing so. It’s big business that utilizes, and sometimes exploits, our kids.

During an interview with USA TODAY Sports, Adam Yahn, a former GM for an elite junior hockey team in Ontario, Canada, referenced the recent work of TSN’s Rick Westhead in investigating a team in the Greater Toronto Hockey League.

Westhead sparked a probe into team finances by the GTHL. It followed a parent’s accusation that player dues and fundraising money for the U12 club weren’t properly accounted for.

“We have to ask ourselves a question: Are we doing this for the kids? Are we doing this to fulfill a dream or are there people in this to make money as opposed to just developing kids in what used to be a volunteer coaching position,” Yahn says. “Parents (are) pushing their kids, but are there others that are financially benefitting from this? Have we gone away from the ‘for love of the game,’ so to speak, to, ‘what’s in it for me?'”

Coaches, and parents, can become heated because not only are we watching our kids, but we have invested so much financially. But, in doing so, what are we really mortgaging if the adults running the show can’t behave themselves?

Last December, a video went viral of referees in Colorado fighting at a youth basketball game. Official pools are dwindling nationwide, so lesser-qualified, and in this case lesser-behaved, referees are getting hired.

“We have informed these independently contracted officials that they are suspended indefinitely from working for Gold Crown Foundation,” the foundation, which hosted the game, told TMZ. “Most importantly we apologize to everyone that had to witness their unacceptable behavior – especially the kids.”

All adults who are supposed to be leaders of kids sports need to take that message to heart. If there are any adults left.

Steve Borelli, aka Coach Steve, has been an editor and writer with USA TODAY since 1999. He spent 10 years coaching his two sons’ baseball and basketball teams. He and his wife, Colleen, are now sports parents for a high schooler and middle schooler. His column is posted weekly. For his past columns, click here.

Got a question for Coach Steve you want answered in a column? Email him at sborelli@usatoday.com

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