Kids Zone isn't a new thing. AYSO created the program in 2000 and it has found its way into approximately 400 of the organization's 1,000 regions. In the future, the program could prove valuable to youth sports organizations beyond the world of soccer.
Stories of fights, screaming matches and aggression at youth sports events are told more and more often these days. Most have heard about Massachusetts hockey dad Thomas Junta. Two years ago, Junta and another father, Michael Costin, were involved in an altercation after their sons' game. Costin died from his injuries and Junta was charged with involuntary manslaughter, tried and convicted, and sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.
It would be easy to think AYSO is not a part of this trend toward violence, but it is. One such incident occurred at a tournament last summer in Southern California. After a hotly-contested game, just as the players were about to shake hands, groups of parents from both teams rushed the field and began to fight. The authorities were called, several parents were arrested and several others were injured. At another AYSO tournament this year, a disgruntled parent actually hid in the parking lot and accosted a referee after a game.
These incidents emphasize the need for programs like Kids Zone, especially because Kids Zone has already proven itself a successful deterrent to violence. Some Kids Zone regions have reported entire tournaments ending without a single incident. One area director reported that parents on the sidelines of a game used Kids Zone buttons to calm a parent who was angrily yelling at his child and the referee. They simply pinned their own Kids Zone buttons on his shirt until, 12 buttons later, he finally realized he was acting out. He later apologized to the referee, coach and his child for his behavior.
The Kids Zone format is exactly what the Crisis Prevention Institute (CPI) recommends. CPI has been teaching the principles of Nonviolent Crisis Prevention for more than 20 years. Judith Schubert, executive director of CPI, said individuals need boundaries. If they know exactly what is expected of them, they are more likely to comply.
Kids Zone sets clear boundaries for spectators and coaches: Children come first; fun is more important than victory; fans only cheer and only coaches coach; no one yells in anger, swears or smokes; and referees deserve respect.
Schubert also said asking spectators to commit to abiding by Kids Zone rules is also a good way to prevent violence and other irrational behavior. Parents sign a contract that they will act appropriately or leave the playing area.
AYSO and Kids Zone sponsor Capri Sun encourage every AYSO region, section and area to beome a Kids Zone. For more information on Kids Zone, call the National Training & Support Center at 1-800-USA-AYSO.