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Parents Turn Violent During Youth Sports

It was the big championship youth football game in Corpus Christi, Texas, and the 5- and 6-year-old athletes were playing with all their hearts.

With 10 seconds left on the clock, a coach charged the field and tackled a referee, knocking him unconscious and sparking a raucous brawl. Some parents jumped in to protect their kids, others to protect adults at the bottom of the pile.

The 18-year-old referee, Marc Benavides, didn't want to show his face, but says the coach — who is nearly three times his age — just exploded.

"He starts talking, so I'm ignoring him and he … starts cussing at me in front of the players, so I ended up throwing him out of the game," he told The Early Show correspondent Kelly Cobiella. Next thing I know, I'm the one getting hit."

"I'm at a loss for words because I just don't understand. This shouldn't happen in a youth football game," Felix Cornejo, President Corpus Christi Youth Football League, said.

This is not an isolated incident. Last month, a father took a gun onto a kid's football field in Pennsylvania. Earlier this fall, a father in California ran onto the field and knocked a player over.

Peter Roby, director of Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University, said parents are losing perspective on the point of playing sports and are viewing the game through their own eyes, rather than from their child's point of view

He said "they are living vicariously, watching too much television."

"(That) leads to people really getting out of balance in terms of why they actually want their children to play in the first place," Roby told The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith

Luckily, none of the kids in Texas was harmed. Tapes of the incident are being viewed by police and the district attorney's office. So far, the coach is the only one who might be charged with assault of a participant in a sporting event, which is a misdemeanor.
But Roby said this kind of parental behavior has a profound effect on children.

"It's traumatizing," he said. "There's a reason that of the almost 40 million children that play youth sports, 70 percent of them quit and the reason is because it's no longer fun and these are the reasons it's no longer fun."

The problem, he said, is that parents are trying to create fantasies inspired by the way some professional athletes behave.

"People want to bring things they see at high school and the professional level down to the youth sport level so they can create their own associates ... fantasies around being a professional coach, if you will," he said.

Roby said that the 5- and 6-year-olds who inspired the fight are not even mature enough to understand plays. They would be better served to participate in "informal instruction" an learn more complicated concepts when they get older.

Roby said that if a fight breaks out at a child's game, adults should make sure they and their children are safe.

"You don't want to put your own health and safety at risk but, if you can, look around the facility and see if there's somebody in charge of the venue, whether security or somebody there supervising. Ask them to intervene. I think that's the safest way to do that," he said.