Soccer group is setting the standard

Walking the plank

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A young man walks down the street clad in a blue and orange jersey with the name DAVIS printed across the back shoulders in capitol letters.

It's not an uncommon sight here in the Rocky Mountain region where the Denver Broncos' running back has become a legend. Despite missing most of last season with a blown-out knee, Terrell Davis has become a role model to millions of young children across Colorado and the country.

It's also popular these days for both young and adult sports fans to put professional athletes on a pedestal to be idolized. As adults, we hold the players who rise to the top of their games to a higher standard than we do the people in our own community after all our kids are looking to them as examples of how to act and how to behave.

When someone like Atlanta relief pitcher John Rocker opens his mouth, parents can do nothing but shake their heads.

Why is this guy playing the game? How can he act that way? How can he say things like that?

Doesn't he know that he is setting an example for our children and in a way teaching them how they should act when they step onto an athletic playing field in their own hometown?

The fact of the matter is that no matter how much we like our sports heroes, it doesn't automatically make them good people. In most cases they are young men who are more interested in collecting a big paycheck at the end of the season than impressing some guy's family sitting in the thirty-something row of Coors Field.

Unfortunately, this is the type of guy children watch on television 12 months of the year. Whether it is baseball, football, basketball, ice hockey or some other sport, these are the heroes that the next generation is going to look up to and act like. You can hear the players words on the 10 o'clock news, read what they have to say on the pages of Sports Illustrated and even learn the somewhat troubling aspects of their personality by logging onto your home computer.

But all too often some parents forget that role models also come from other places some of them a little closer to home than a major league ballpark or an NFL football field.

Mom and dad cheering on the sideline of a local youth game can have a lasting impact not only on their own children, but other kids who are playing the game and those who may be along the sidelines watching.

The Colorado State Youth Soccer Association took a big step toward recognizing the fact that parents have a big impact on the game as fans last week when it implemented the "It's Only a Game" initiative.

The initiative says nothing about a player's conduct on the field, but instead addresses spectators who are cheering the players on at the local games. On Saturday, soccer coaches in the state, including seven from Steamboat Springs, were asked to hand out a code of conduct card to spectators before the start of the game.

"I think the CSYSA is taking a proactive approach to addressing behavior along the sidelines," local commissioner Mike DeGroff said. "Usually bad behavior is association with more aggressive sports, but we have seen a trend even in soccer."

As a reporter, I applaud the soccer association's willingness to address a growing problem in youth sports, but I have to wonder why this type of initiative is needed.

"We hope to blanket every soccer field in the state with a positive message about spectator behavior," said Colin Schmidt, a director of coaching for the CSYSA. "So far soccer spectators don't have as bad a reputation as spectators of other youth sports. Through this initiative, we hope to keep it that way."

The code of conduct emphasizes emotional control and positive encouragement to all participants.

"We are encouraging adults to act like adults and not go haywire if a referee makes a bad call or someone makes a mistake," Schmidt said.

The rules posted by the state soccer association would be the type of characteristics most parents would like to see passed onto their children.

DeGroff said sportsmanship hasn't been a big problem in local soccer games, but the Steamboat Youth Soccer Association also supports what the CSYSA is trying to do.

"It's important to address this now," DeGroff said. "Before it gets out of hand."

It's nice to see a large organization taking a stand on sportsmanship. The Colorado High School Activities Association also makes a statement prior to most of the local high school games that promotes similar behavior from fans.

In today's world of high-salaried, often times spoiled sports stars, isn't it time to start making a statement a little closer to home. Who knows, someday the same expectations may be demanded out of spectators and athletes at professional sporting events.

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