By Nick D’Andrea
I will open this up with full disclosure. I am a sports official. I won’t hide it and I am not ashamed of it. Since I got that out of the way, let’s move on.
There has been a growing culture in sports, mostly at the lower levels, that the officials are incompetent and that they don’t know what they’re doing, they don’t know the rules and they should not be out there.
You can ask my friends and my family, I am a sports rules junkie. You cannot go into a room in my house without seeing a rulebook or a casebook of some sport. I am constantly reading the rules of different sports and I love to hear interpretations of those rules by top officials. Yes, I am a geek, but you will very rarely stump me on a scenario.
So, when I see parents in the crowd screaming and yelling at officials (at a kids game mind you) all I do is laugh. Most people have no clue as to what it takes to be an official. It’s not just about the rules, that’s actually the easy part. The mechanics of a sports official is more important than knowing the rules, why? An official can’t apply their knowledge of the rules if they are not in the right place to make the call.
That’s neither here nor there. I came across this article that was written by a parent on how referees can take charge and improve the youth sports culture. I understand the writer’s premise in this letter but he is deflecting from the real issue.
Mr. Wilson, the author, asked the umpires to do three things that he feels would help.
Be proactive in what you expect in the game. Referees are very good at letting players know what they expect and consequently players have learned to play to the referee’s level of expectation. When the referee does not make this clear, the ref spends significant time in the game establishing the level of play that is acceptable.
My response: Mr. Wilson we are game officials not coaches. It doesn’t matter what level of expectation we want, we officiate the level we are at. We expect errors in a game, we are not disappointed when we see them. To suggest that the officials expectations are more important than the expectations of the coaches takes away from the important job that the coaches have and should be doing. If we as officials implement our own expectations on players what do they need their coach for?
Be proactive with the coaches. Make it clear at the beginning of the game how you want the coach to communicate with you. It is much easier to keep coaches at the level of interacting you want when the standard has been stated clearly at the outset of the game. It is easier to intervene the first time the coach tests the limit because it has been clearly stated before the match. When it has not been clearly stated, the coach often responds negatively because they feel they are being picked on and the standard is not the same for both coaches.
My Response: That’s what we do prior to the game. Those little meetings at home plate, center court or midfield are not prayer services. We are doing exactly what you asked above. That communication last about five seconds, or until a close play goes the wrong way. It implies that as an official we can control others emotions simply by stating what we expect and how situations should be is giving us way more credit than we are due. When a play goes badly the conversation we had at the start of the game is the last thing a coach, parent or player is thinking about. It’s not the clarity of the communication, it’s the lack of punishment from leagues that let that continue to grow.
Lastly, Mr. Wilson Adds:
Be proactive with the coach concerning the role of parents at the game. Make it clear that the coach is responsible for the action of the parents. If parents are being negative, you will approach the coach to have them take care of the situation. If the coach does not take care of it then you will have the parent leave the field.
My Response: Mr. Wilson that is a rule. It may not specifically say parents but it calls out spectators. You suggest that if the coach doesn’t care or doesn’t want to deal with an unruly fan, the official should ask the parent to leave. That rarely goes over well since the official is the target of their venom. Ejecting a parent at a youth sports level tends to escalate the situation, should we go ahead and cause more chaos at a youth sports event?
I give Mr. Wilson credit for trying to solve a problem but he is not looking at the correct issue. I have also came across another letter written by a player of youth sports it’s titled An Open Letter to My Dad, who Makes Me Want to Quit Sports. I don’t think me explaining the rules, setting expectations or asking them to calm down will help them.
Since Mr. Wilson asked three things from referees in youth sports, I will ask the same of parents.
- Take time to learn the rules rather than yell when they don’t go your way
- Stop yelling at players, coaches and referees. You are setting an example it will either show your child to show the same behavior or feel very embarrassed and want to quit
- Let your child have fun. Embrace it, the odds of your child getting a scholarship or going pro are so small, why waste this time stressing your child out
Mr. Wilson, the refs do have an opportunity to make a difference. But shouldn’t parents and coaches also be setting a good example for their children?