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"He knew his parents would be disappointed because he hadn't lived up to their expectations," recalls Burnett.

Another factor is that people today are more likely to retaliate than negotiate, he says: "Somebody pushes their buttons, and away they go."

Parents need to have reasonable and realistic expectations, stay calm when kids make mistakes, look for positives, and praise kids just for participating, according to Burnett, who says parent-training classes can be effective as long as they have some teeth in them.

So far, such programs have scored big with the nonviolent parents who make up the vast majority of coaches and spectators, says Fred Engh, author of Why Johnny Hates Sports and president of the National Alliance for Youth Sports. The alliance's 19-minute parent program is used by more than 250 organizations, he says.

"These programs put everybody on the same page," Engh says. "Nobody can scream and embarrass their child, criticize officials, demean the coach -- all in the name of competition and sports. They learn that they're stepping over the line and that their behavior is detrimental to their child's development."

A year after the Jupiter Tequesta Athletic Association became the first in the nation to require that parents take an ethics class and sign a code of conduct if they wanted their kids to play, 84% of parents said the class was a hit, and 60% reported a change in behavior at games, according to a recent survey.

"It's been real effective," says Jeff Leslie, president of the athletic association. The proof, he says, is the dramatic decrease in the number of serious incidents that have occurred, from 12 in 1999 to none last year.

And while minor incidents still arise, the association board or even the parents themselves quickly resolve them, says Leslie, who calls the overall effect "a blessing for our league."

In El Paso, parent Powell says the sportsmanship classes have been a big hit with everyone.

"The parents needed to be brought down to reality," she says. "They were getting too competitive and thinking only of winning, and not why they were really there."

Perhaps no one likes the program better than the kids, she says. Now when their moms and dads come to watch them play, they aren't embarrassed anymore.

Kathy Bunch is a freelance writer in Philadelphia.

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