TRENTON – Youth sports would be the focus of a proposed task force advancing in the Legislature, with a wide focus ranging from abusive coaches and spectators to the financial oversight of organizations and sponsors.

The bill was endorsed by the Assembly Women and Children Committee on Wednesday though doesn’t necessarily appear to be on a fast track for approval this month. The idea is more than two years old but just got a first hearing and didn’t yet have a Senate sponsor for a companion bill.

The proposed task force would consist of 13 members – six with a background in the legal, policy, educational, social or psychological aspects of bullying and seven from the public including parents, coaches and a young athlete who was a victim of harassment, intimidation, or bullying.

“If we are to do better for our children, we must understand the issues affecting today’s youth sports – such as abusive coaching practices, spectator harassment, bullying amongst players, and unscrupulous business tactics by team sponsors,” said Assemblyman John McKeon, D-Essex. “This task force will help our state provide our youth with the safe, enjoyable athletic experiences they deserve.”

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The task force would be directed to consider:

  • Protection for parents, guardians, and athletes from unscrupulous business practices conducted by for-profit entities sponsoring youth sports activities
  • Financial oversight to strengthen the business practices of youth sports team organizations and for-profit entities sponsoring youth sports activities
  • Training for coaches to recognize the signs and symptoms of harassment, intimidation, and bullying
  • Ways to acknowledge and promote youth sports as an extension of the classroom
  • Developing training workshops for parents and guardians to recognize the signs and symptoms of harassment, intimidation, bullying, and abusive coaching, and on proper spectator conduct
  • Protection for sports officials from abusive behavior while engaged in the performance of their duties

The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, the nonprofit that oversees high school sports in the state, endorsed the legislation.

“We think it’s about time that the state looked at some of the practices in youth sports that are not governed by the NJSIAA,” said lobbyist Paul Anzano. “And we think this task force will provide valuable insight and help us maybe craft some recommendations on how better to manage youth sports across the board, including high school sports.”

Randy Nathan of West Orange, a longtime baseball and softball coach who has written a book on bullying in sports, said around 1.5 million kids play sports in New Jersey and that there are few controls on a $45 billion industry with increasingly higher stakes.

“It’s become a consumer-based situation, return on the investments. We’ve seen parents go after umpires, parents going after coaches,” Nathan said.

“I think it is very important,” Nathan said of the planned task force. “I’ve been studying it for 10 years. And I’m so pleased to hear that New Jersey is going to be one of the first states to actually look within the world of youth sports.”

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