With violence in youth sports becoming all too common, many parks and recreation professionals are turning to proactive measures to prevent their agency from receiving negative headlines and, most importantly, providing a safe and positive experience for the children in their program.
According to Frank Pizzo, assistant director at Clinton Township Parks and Recreation (Mich.), even though an incident of violence has never occurred on their fields they wanted to take a proactive approach in ensuring that an incident won’t occur in the future either. “We were aware of news reports that had shown an increase of violence in youth athletics,” said Pizzo. “We took a preemptive strike at this and implemented the Parents Association for Youth Sports (PAYS) program to prevent any problems in our community.”
PAYS is an educational program developed by the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS). Parents play a crucial role in youth sports – as spectators, volunteer coaches and referees – and can have a positive, or negative, impact on their child’s youth sports experiences. After a PAYS class, parents are aware of their roles and responsibilities as a sport parent and understand how they can make the youth sports experience more enjoyable and positive.
In 2003 the recreation department created a town wide ordinance that requires at least one parent/guardian to attend a PAYS class in order for their child to participate in the flag football league. At first Pizzo met resistance from some parents who didn’t think the class was necessary. “But once they took the class, they were impressed,” he said. “Many parents came up to us after the class and said they wished some of the other parent-run leagues in our community would make PAYS mandatory.” For the recent flag football season, Clinton Township held a PAYS class for 140 parents.
Perhaps one of the key outcomes of the PAYS class is that it has encouraged everybody to be accountable, a key to the foundation of a successful youth sports program. “If anyone gets a bit angry or begins to display unsportsmanlike conduct, they’re nudged by a fellow parent and reminded of our policy,” said Pizzo.
Since parents can serve multiple roles in a youth sports program, PAYS brings a universal message that promotes accountability from all. “The coaches in our program are parents,” said Pizzo. “So they not only see the change PAYS has made, they are part of it.” When the adults involved in youth sports take responsibility for their actions they can help ensure a safe and positive environment for all of the children participating.
For information on how to implement the PAYS program at your NAYS Chapter, visit www.nays.org/parents, contact a NAYS Chapter Development Specialist at (800) 688-KIDS (5437) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.