THE BLOG
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

How Sports Can Help End Violence

Lately, we have experienced a surge of violence around youth -- in the realm of sports, and beyond. It is time we consider how coaches, parents and school administrators can shape the youth and high school sports experience to heal communities, prevent violence and develop character in youth.

Here in Chicago, recent examples of youth violence include the grisly videotaped murder of Derrion Albert. It also includes last month's on-field brawl between the North Chicago High School and Simeon High School football teams, which canceled the game in the first quarter and led to a one-game suspension/forfeit for North Chicago and an apologetic press conference by North Chicago coach and former Chicago Bears player Glen Kozlowski.

Nationally, last week a youth football coach outside Boston was charged with aggravated assault and battery stemming from an altercation with a player's father. The dad brought his 12-year-old son to practice 10 minutes late. When the coach ordered the player to run laps, the dad objected and his argument with the coach turned physical, leaving the dad with a fractured eye socket, broken nose, and torn rotator cuff. Another dispute between parent and coach over playing time for a Davis, California high school field hockey player also ended in fisticuffs and bloodshed.

It is a shame and a horror when anyone suffers from violence. As a high school athletic director, it is especially galling when violence occurs in the context of sports, because sports, perhaps more than any other activity, actually lends itself to character education.

No activity impassions more Americans than sports. Sport so enraptures the public that our youth and high school athletes are a captive audience -- perhaps more captive than in a classroom or house of worship -- for life lessons in persistence, teamwork, courage, compassion and many other traits that mark contributing members of our society.

Yet those opportunities are too often squandered by individuals and institutions that care so little for youth that their environment allows for the murder of a Derrion Albert. Just as problematic, are the too many coaches who are ideally positioned to aid youth through the magical character education properties of sport, but instead succumb to ego and a win-at-all-cost mentality.

In September, we at Niles North High School had a problem. In the week before our football game against Evanston Township High School, an ETHS student named Dashaun Davy was stabbed to death in Skokie. We changed the date of the game to allow Dashaun's classmates to mourn him in dignity, rather than facing the incongruity of a funeral followed by a football game.

Amid these events, Niles North last month won an Honoring the Game Award from Positive Coaching Alliance, a national non-profit founded at Stanford University with the mission to "transform youth sports so sports can transform youth." Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) gives these awards to schools and youth sports organizations throughout the U.S. that most effectively use sports to teach life lessons.

As part of our effort to revitalize Niles North athletics, we partnered two years ago with PCA to host workshops for our coaches, players' parents and school leadership. The partnership galvanized Niles North's buy-in to the PCA precepts of educational-athletic excellence. Our scoreboards do not always display athletic dominance, but our hallways are home to players, parents, teachers, administrators and coaches who are mostly on the same page about what is important in sports.

This year, we expanded our PCA partnership to create a community consortium among local government, park-and-recreations programs, and the youth sports organizations and middle schools that feed into Niles North. We are confident this bodes well for achieving both our goals as PCA-trained Double-Goal Coaches: winning, and more importantly, teaching life lessons through sports. This is critical in our community because our school district's tremendous ethnic and socio-economic diversity does present significant challenges to our efforts to establish a unifying athletic culture.

Nothing will bring back Derrion Albert or Dashaun Davy. But sports can be a key to both healing communities and preventing future violence. If we can stop the madness within youth and high school sports, putting character-education of youth ahead of adult ego and a win-at-all-cost mentality, then sport can be a safe haven for youth in this generation and beyond.