Why do we play Sport?

A spate of violence at junior sporting events has prompted me to write an article, perhaps out of frustration more than anything.

As a father and junior AFL Football coach and at the risk of sounding biased and fixated on my youth, I can’t recall junior sport in my younger days being as violent or as serious as it appears to be these days.

A couple of years back, news bulletins across Australia were lit up with violent scenes from a junior rugby league game in Queensland. Players, spectators, officials and parents alike have been implicated in what was a distasteful scene, highlighting a major problem with junior sport in this country.

As children we ran, skipped and jumped in the name of fun. We lifted ourselves up on monkey bars, twisted into awkward crazy positions and laughed like there was no tomorrow. We rode our push bikes everywhere and raced up the road and back with the winners and losers being forgotten within seconds. It was play and sport at its rawest and most basic.

As far as “official” sport, well that was always played on the weekend. Footy, basketball, little athletics and cricket were the mainstays. Being a child of the ’70s and ’80s there wasn’t much to do after that, sport was it and everyone took part in some type of activity. It was just how it was.

You played with your mates and you looked forward to the weekend. Somebody’s dad was the coach and it was innocent childlike fun. Winning and losing meant absolutely nothing. Sure it was better to win but it didn’t really matter did it? I played footy as a youngster, and for the life of me I can’t recall any scores in any games that I played as a junior. My recollection of sport was that it was fun and from memory I can’t recall any aggression or violence on or off the ground.

Where has it all changed??

Having seen the vitriol and hostility that can accompany junior football matches, I find myself consistently disappointed with both coach and parent behaviour.

With bad language a mainstay and aggression toward teenage umpires, opposition players and teams a consistent problem, it appears the objective in junior sport is to win at all costs.

For me we have lost the point of why our children play sport.

A few years ago, the police air wing were called to an under 17s AFL game in the Northern Football League where two people were hospitalized due to injuries sustained in an all-in brawl.

In 2011 a 16 year old was suspended for 200 games after breaking the jaw of a 14 year old in a country football match.

Perhaps a more worrying trend has been the increase in crowd violence and ugly parent syndrome at junior sporting events.

At a recent Netball game, a parent was taunting her child’s opponent with a verbal barrage to such an extent that this 13 year old girl was severely distressed. No-one confronted the parent.

Two years ago, security guards had to intervene in three junior rugby league finals in QLD.

With one brawl involving up to 50 players and spectators, the greater Brisbane Junior Rugby League association have indicated that lifetime bans would be handed out to those spectators and parents that jumped the fence and went onto the ground.

Described as “sickening” there have been reports of first aid officers being attacked whilst attending the injured.

In the Parramatta Junior Rugby league competition in 2010, seven referees were assaulted over a nine week period, a staggering statistic.

In an effort to curb the violence, part time body guards and secret cameramen could be used to stop offenders assaulting the referees.

And this is junior sport!

Sport Psychologist Phil Jauncey felt parents link their own self worth to the success of their children.

“They are identifying vicariously with their DNA on the field, and if the DNA is going well they feel really good, and if the DNA is not doing well, they have to project,” he said.

And project they do, with violent outbursts that are sure to see junior players leaving football codes as a result.

Perhaps it is more about phantom family legacies or parents hoping that their children can be better than what they were themselves.

Could it be more about parents thinking that an elite career is in store for an 11 year old that takes part in a junior sporting match?

Whatever the reason as parents and coaches we have a responsibility to our children. Sport has the potential to be a powerful teacher of life skills. The confidence and social abilities gained by playing sport is without doubt the most important reason our sons and daughters play.

Sport is a great community binder that creates lifelong friendships ensuring that each player has a sense of belonging. Without sport where will thousands of children be?

It’s not about winning or losing or about parents feeling better about themselves it’s about the children and what they can learn from taking part.

We must control the urge to teach our children that winning is the only thing and realise that the youngsters are only young once and the memories that are obtained from playing junior sport last a lifetime.

Do we want those memories to be pleasant and harmonious or do we want them to remember aggressive anti social behaviour ultimately turning them  away from the sport to who knows where?


Here is a recently published Parents Code of Conduct for Nth Townsville Junior Touch Association, now prominently displayed at all junior sporting events.

  • Do not force an unwilling child to participate in sports.
  • Remember children are involved in organised sports for their enjoyment not yours.
  • Encourage your child to always play by the rules.
  • Teach your child that an honest effort is as important as victory, so that the result of each game is accepted without undue disappointment.
  • Turn defeat to victory by helping your child towards skill improvement and good sportsmanship. Never ridicule or yell at your child for making a mistake or losing their competition.
  • Remember that children learn best by example. Applaud good plays by your team and by members of the opposition team.
  • Do not publicly question the official’s judgement and never their honesty.
  • Support all efforts to remove verbal and physical abuse from children’s sporting activities.
  • Recognise the value and importance of volunteer referee’s and coaches. They give their time and resources to provide recreational activities for your child.

About David Griffin

Lover of coffee, sport and human endeavour. A writer and life enthusiast with a shameless admiration for dogged persistent people that get 'stuff' done.


  1. The fact that codes of conduct need to be displayed prominently at junior events is a concern in itself. I am with you on this topic, sportsmanship is now having to be rewarded, maybe it comes down to a lack of respect.

  2. In your younger days boxing was The Manly Art, ice was what you put in the Esky to keep the drinks cool, and we didn’t have c age fighting. Sure we had Ringside With The Rasslers, but that was pure theatre, and was recognized as such. Sorry DG, the times are a changing, and not for the better.

    As for the Parents’ Code of Conduct,it’s a good step forward, but sadly, to the parents who are part of the problem the Code won’t mean much. Like the goons who go to the soccer, they’re there for the flares and fights, not the football.

    Society itself has become a more violent place. We can only keep trying.

  3. One glaring error in the code of conduct. Honest effort is not as important and winning. It is far far more important.
    Great piece. As parent, coach and sports lover I share your disappointment for what sport can teach as opposed to what it often does teach.
    Great that we have thoughtful people like yourself advocating for young people.

  4. Neil Anderson says

    Alvin Tofler could see some of the problems coming in 1970. He referred to the syndrome as ‘ Over-choice’.
    Not only kids not being content to swing on the monkey-bars anymore, but parents being overloaded with choices about sport and entertainment and how it can all be delivered.
    By the time the kids get to participate in games there is probably a lot of frustration lurking brought from home, Kids are probably thinking I need to get this game over quickly so I can move on to the next activity planned for this afternoon.
    No-one is content with the basics any more. Some sort of middle-ground should be reached in time -allocation without going all retro with such expectations that kids will go back to swinging on the monkey-bars, riding their bikes everywhere and one sport activity on the weekend.

  5. E.regnans says

    Beautifully done, D Griffin.
    Importantly done.
    This is cultural – this “win at all costs.”
    Look at our Federal politicians.

    There is and always has been a better way.
    We should remember and celebrate the positive role models like: George Bailey, Ellyse Perry, Roger Federer, Jim Stynes.
    Forget this playing “hard” rubbish. This “we’re gonna break your f*ckin arm” rubbish. It’s pathetic and it’s the opposite of enlightened. It’s endarkened thinking,

    Leaving aside Garry Lyon’s recent trevails, here is a brilliant 3 minutes in which he emotionally describes the value of character in sport, the importance of remembering or realising the Big Picture, the perspective that he only later gathered, the character of Jimmy Stynes:
    (via Tony Wilson’s speakola site)

    That is something parents/ coaches/ children would do well to model.
    Rgds etc.

  6. Thanks one and all for taking the time to write your comments.
    Its a topic I struggle with. This piece was written a short while ago but its still a major concern.
    I am not sure it will ever change, will it? I can only hope.
    I really like the Gary Lyon piece……How he responds to his current issue is what will “make him”.
    As an interesting side note, and whilst not knowing any intimate details of the Lyon\Brownless saga, its interesting to note that the kids are watching.
    The examples we set are where these kids learn. Whether it be our behaviour at junior sport events or making a mistake, the kids are always watching.
    Enjoy your evening.

  7. G’day David,

    Spot on mate! The most important purpose of junior sports is having fun / enjoy. Also gaining skills and confidence through playing sports brings positives on kids.

    I remember about an article published on the Stuff website (New Zealand news website). Putting much pressure on children affects negatively towards them. I agree with you and it’s exactly the same what you make a point.

    I have played soccer at primary school, but found it didn’t reflect on my talents so I quit. Also I had to be forced to quit playing table tennis at secondary school to focus on academic study. My childhood was much far from having fun. This experience traumatises me.

    Recent trends at junior sports are the same as what I have experienced. It really sucks.

    “With bad language a mainstay and aggression toward teenage umpires, opposition players and teams a consistent problem, it appears the objective in junior sport is to win at all costs.”
    Unfortunately Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson has done towards then 19-year-old umpire at his nine-year-kld son’s junior footy match. I understand his frustration, but should have never affected his own son! He is a senior footy coach at the top level and should be the role model!

    We have to take responsibilities to create better world for generations.

    Your writing is so great and makes us re-think.



  8. Thanks Yoshi,
    Isn’t it interesting, we remember what it was like as kids……unfortunately your memory as a youngster in regards to sport, isn’t a positive one.
    My way of thinking suggests that any sport that has the word “under” connected to it, should be easy going and frankly speaking, fun.
    Thanks for taking the time with your message and the support, its much appreciated.

Leave a Comment