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Spectator Violence at Youth Sporting Events Possible but Unlikely

Posted: August 14, 2007
With the pinnacle of youth sports right around the corner—the Little League World Series—a recent study at Buffalo State College indicates the experience of attending your child’s football, soccer or baseball game is still more wholesome than you might think.

Despite the well-publicized reports of hostility at youth football, baseball or hockey games, researchers discovered a very low rate of potential physical aggression at youth sporting events, according to an article in the April 2007 edition of Violence and Victims. Buffalo State psychology professor Dwight A. Hennessy, Ph.D., and Stephen Schwartz, Ph.D., assistant to the dean, School of Natural and Social Sciences, conducted the study, “Personal Predictors of Spectator Aggression at Little League Baseball Games.”

“This research helps to eliminate the misconception that spectator violence in youth sports is prevalent,” Hennessy said. “There are an incredible number of games played each day without incident. We only hear about the games where altercations take place, making violence at these contests seem more common.”

The study centered on two separate youth baseball leagues in Western New York where 76 female and 52 male parents with an average age of 43 participated in the research. Both leagues, which featured players with ages ranging from 8-15, employed a zero-tolerance policy on spectator aggression. The participants filled out an anonymous survey that analyzed personalities, while also evaluating and rating the likelihood of possible aggressive actions toward different individuals at games.

The most telling statistic from the research shows that less than two percent of the respondents reported a likelihood of any type of physical altercation with another spectator, umpire or coach.

According to the study, a variety of factors contribute to the low numbers, including the fact that these were zero-tolerance leagues. “The serious personal consequences also serve as a likely deterrent, such as legal actions, personal harm and possible disqualification of their children from the league,” Hennessy added.

Unfortunately those consequences did not deter the reported likelihood of yelling by parents. The research points out that certain personality aspects, such as trait anger and vengeance, can elevate the potential for verbal and emotional aggression, as 27 percent of the respondents conveyed they may yell at another spectator during a game, while 21 percent admitted they would possibly yell at an umpire.

“Yelling may be more easily justified or rationalized to others as unintentional or kidding, when the true purpose was to harm,” Hennessy said. “Many individuals may not consider yelling as aggression either and, as a result, it would be considered less socially and morally wrong than physical aggression.”

Nonetheless, Hennessy suggests that further research is needed on the topic. While there have been extensive studies on fan behavior at professional and college sporting events, factors such as closeness of games, crowd size, competition level, seating designs in regards to the proximity of fans to the field, presence of alcohol and even temperature have yet to be analyzed for youth sports. Despite the need for additional analysis, initial statistics regarding the low probability of physical aggression were encouraging to the researchers.

“Youth sports are supposed to be fun,” Hennessy said. “While there will always be exceptions, this study shows that your child’s games are still a safe place for participants and spectators.”
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