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Parents Turning To Courts to Mediate Their Disputes in Youth Sports

21 Apr, 2015

By: Tracey Schelmetic

It’s a whole new level of pushy parenting in the frustrated super-jock mold: Increasingly, parents who believe their kids are spending too much time on the bench are taking to the courts to resolve the issue.

Detractors are decrying the lawsuits as harmful to kids: young people are supposed to learn resilience on their own, and Mom, Dad and their lawyer stepping in to try and make everything better is the wrong message. Some parents, however, believe that if they’re going to invest the time and money in a sport – and to be fair to parents, the average costs for league sports run into the thousands of dollars – their kids should have something to show for it.

According to a recent article in the Washington Post, it’s not only benched kids that are inspiring parental lawsuits. Other parents have sued when their children were cut from teams due to not following rules (as in this case from Camden County, Pennsylvania) or due to injuries, yelled at by coaches or even fouled too harshly.

“Some experts see such lawsuits as part of a shift in youth sports in recent decades away from sandlot play and intramural teams to professionalized leagues and tryout teams partly aimed at snagging scholarships for players and giving them a leg up in college admissions,” wrote the Post’s Justin Jouvenal. “Parents are spending thousands and giving up countless weekends for kids to participate on travel teams and prestigious high school programs. Experts say parents want a return on that investment — and a handful are willing to sue if they don’t get it.”

As youth sports become increasingly competitive – many students are competing for coveted spots on teams – their focus has shifted from fun and exercise to a stake in the child’s future. And where their children’s futures are concerned, some parents get positively rabid, wrote Arthur L. Caplan and Lee H. Igel of NYU Sports & Society for Forbes recently.

“There is no doubt that youth sports, as a whole, is becoming increasingly organized, professionalized, and, not to put to fine a point on it, crazy,” they wrote. “For some parents, committing thousands of hours and thousands of dollars to anything related to sports participation is a worthwhile tradeoff for the chance at a college scholarship or even a crack at the pros. But, for the vast majority of others, parents are starting to ruin what is supposed to be fun rather than yet another chapter in the litigious world of America.”

Luckily, say school and youth athletic officials, it’s still a rare occurrence for parents to sue when they feel their child is being treated unfairly. (Though it’s common for them to threaten to do so.) But the cases are increasing in frequency, and child psychologists say the effects could have consequences. Young people who feel entitled to play on a team simply because they practice are being done a disservice, and the students whose parents file lawsuits might attract ridicule and bullying from other team members and students.

Youth sports officials are likely keeping an eye on this case, profiled by the Washington Post, in which the parents of a 16-year-old Virginia girl who won a coveted spot on a volleyball league but then wound up on the bench, filed suit against the Chesapeake Region Volleyball Association (CHRVA). The plaintiffs contend the CHRVA will neither let the girl play not allow her to switch teams, citing the contract she signed when she was accepted.

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