ST. LOUIS (AP) – A study of youth sports found evidence of cheating, taunting, even intentionally trying to hurt an opponent.

And the bad behavior wasn’t limited to the kids. Some coaches admitted yelling at athletes – even verbally abusing them, and some players said they were struck.

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, the University of Minnesota-Minneapolis, and at Notre Dame. It involved 803 athletes ages 9 to 15, along with 189 parents and 61 coaches. Results will be published Thursday in the Journal of Research in Character Education.

“There has been a hot debate in the news media about the overall quality of youth sport programs, but incredibly little research to support backers or detractors,” said David Shields, an education professor at Missouri-St. Louis and one of the authors of the study. “This study supports some of the views of each.”

Among the findings:

• Nearly one in 10 young athletes admitted cheating.

• 13 percent said they have tried to hurt an opponent.

• 31 percent had argued with an official.

• 13 percent had made fun of a less-skilled teammate.

• 27 percent had acted like “bad sports.”

“Even more disturbing is the number of coaches whose behavior fosters unhealthy climates,” said Brenda Bredemeier, another author and associate professor of education at Missouri-St. Louis.

Seven percent of coaches encouraged athletes to cheat, and 8 percent encouraged their athletes to hurt an opponent, the young athletes told researchers. No coaches admitted either encouraging cheating or injury.

But more than one-third of coaches said they yelled at players for making mistakes, and one-fifth made fun of a team member.

Four percent of athletes said their coaches had hit, kicked or slapped them.

“If our sample is representative of the larger youth sport population, this finding would suggest that there are nearly 2 million kids being physically abused by their coaches each year,” Shields said.

Thirteen percent of parents said they had angrily criticized their child’s performance.

John Engh, vice president of youth development for the National Alliance for Youth Sports in West Palm Beach, Fla., which advocates positive and safe youth sports, said the findings support other research as well as feedback he receives.

“There’s so much emphasis put on competition,” Engh said. “The recreation has been taken out of recreational sports. These are results of putting so much pressure on kids.”

Despite the drawbacks, the study found that most participants enjoy playing sports, and most parents believe the coaches do a good job, researchers said.

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University of Missouri-St. Louis: http://www.umsl/edu

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