There is a disturbing trend that is showing no signs of slowing down: The rise of lawsuits in youth sports. Rather than focus on the important life lessons their children are learning, parents are focusing on who's to blame. Their targets are numerous: It's the referee or official not foreseeing potential player injury risks on the field; the coach that is not playing their child or is making poor decisions that are hurting the team; the league for not providing the type of venue and services expected… The list goes on and on.
Yesterday on our site, we ran this story about a 12-year-old girl breaking her leg sliding into home plate. Rather than focus on their child's rehabilitation and focusing on teaching her how valuable it is to pick herself up in life after falling down, the parents chose to show their child what you should do when something goes wrong. It's become as much of an American tradition as apple pie and baseball: You sue somebody. In this case, they sued the township and the league. Quite frankly, I'm surprised they didn't sue the coach for not teaching the player proper sliding technique. Among the complaints justifying their compensation demands in the lawsuit, they list limiting her "earning potential" as a reason. While I'm not judging the merits of this specific lawsuit and whether or not monetary compensation is justified, I am using it as the latest example of how parents are using litigation to hurt youth sports.
At a similar age, I suffered an injury that was similar. I was playing indoor soccer and a part of the turf was pulled up. I went to kick the ball and my foot stuck underneath it and twisted in every direction it shouldn't have. Rather than look to financially benefit from this injury or blame someone from ruining my chances of becoming the next Pele, I focused on rehab and getting back on that field. And that was exactly what my parents focused on, as well, using that thing known as a brain to recognize that their son is playing contact sports and the risk of an injury is always a possibility.
Lawsuits are becoming more commonplace these days in youth sports. Sadler Sports & Recreation Insurance examines some of the more bizarre lawsuits in youth sports, including a father that sued his son's coach simply for bad coaching. Or the player that sued for part of his paid registration fee based on games he actually played. And then there's the two parents of players on opposing teams that got into a physical fight at a youth soccer game. The instigator of the fight, who just so happened to be the one unofficially declared loser of the fight, sued his opponent and the league because they failed to control HIS behavior when they realized he was out of control. Oh yeah, the participants in the game? Five- and six-year-old girls. Then there's the outfielder who had a fly ball miss his glove and hit him in the face. The league and coach were sued by the parents because, as the suit claimed, they knew or should've known he had sight problems and never been allowed to play the outfield. (You know, because it's so much safer putting a kid with vision problems in the infield to face hard line drives.) And who can forget the 11-year-old catcher that was warming up his pitcher and accidentally hit a woman with a throw in the face. She sued him — yes, him — for $150,000.
One of the great organizations in this business is the National Alliance for Youth Sports, the leading advocate for positive and safe sports and activities for children. A featured article on its website discusses why insurance is so important for its members and coaches in, as they astutely put it, "today's lawsuit-crazy youth sports environment." And that is sadly what youth sports has become, a lawsuit magnet. I have seen the ugly side of parents far too many times to count at these types of activities. And it doesn't change the older their children get. In the May issue of Athletic Business, I will be addressing sportsmanship on the high school level, and I'm sure you can guess who two of the primary culprits are for poor sportsmanship: Mom and Dad, who magically transform into Mad and Dumb once they arrive at their child's sporting event.
As a society, we need to bond together to help our children learn the valuable life lessons that come with sports. There shouldn't be a rallying cry to remove sports anywhere, there should be a rallying cry to better support sports and our children. THIS is the fight that we should be fighting. Not fighting with other parents or coaches or officials or leagues in court where any financial gain could contribute to a much greater loss — the loss of youth sports.