Study documents ethical problems in youth sports

Author: Arts and Letters


There are some glaring ethical problems in American youth sports – from cheating to taunting to disrespect – but the news isn’t all bad, according to a new study co-authored by University of Notre Dame researcher F. Clark Power.

“The Sport Behavior of Youth, Parents, and Coaches: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” the study evaluated responses to a survey by 803 athletes ranging in age from 9 to 15, as well as 189 parents and 61 youth sports coaches.

Key findings among the young athletes included:

  • % Almost one in 10 acknowledged cheating %
  • % 13 percent tried to injure an opponent %
  • % 31 percent argued with an official %
  • % 13 percent made fun of a less-skilled teammate %
  • % 27 percent admitted to acting like a “bad sport” %

Compounding the above findings was a lack of remorse for such actions. Fourteen percent of the youngsters said they believe cheating is an acceptable behavior, and 32 percent consider arguing with officials to be part of the game.

The study also found poor behavior among parents and coaches.

For example, 13 percent of parents acknowledged angrily criticizing their child’s performance. Among coaches, 8 percent encouraged their athletes to hurt an opponent, 7 percent condoned cheating, 33 percent admitted to yelling at players for making mistakes, and 20 percent had made fun of a team member with limited skills.

Perhaps most alarming, 4 percent of the young athletes reported that a coach had hit, kicked or slapped them.

But there was some good news in the study.

Most of the participants said they enjoy their sports experiences, and most parents believe their children’s coaches do a good job.

The study will be published Dec. 1 in the Journal of Research in Character Education.

Power is the associate director of Notre Dame’s Center for Ethical Education and a professor in the Program of Liberal Studies. He has developed the Play Like a Champion Educational Series, a research-based curriculum designed to assist Catholic parishes, schools and dioceses in nurturing character and spiritual development in young people through athletics. The author of five books, he specializes in the study of self-awareness, moral development and democratic education. % %

Other co-authors of the new study – all of whom previously taught and conducted research at Notre Dame – are Brenda Bredemeier and David Shields from the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and Nicole LaVoi from the University of Minnesota.

_*Contact:* F. Clark Power at 574-631-7343 or

Originally published by Dennis Brown at on November 29, 2005.