First, I must come clean. I have yelled at officials. I have criticized, ridiculed, booed and disparaged those people, without whom we would not have the games, leagues, tournaments and championships that we compete and coach in.
Man, I wish I could take those times back. I am ashamed. I’m also quite glad that I have “seen the light” and changed that behaviour.
It’s not right. Ever.
First I want to talk about why it is unacceptable in youth sports.
Reason #1 – Without officials the sports and games that we so love would not be able to take place…at ANY level. I don’t care how bad the officiating is…if those people didn’t show up, the game would be cancelled or postponed. The end.
Reason #2 - You are a role model. Parents in the stands and coaches on the playing surfaces are TEACHING young people what is acceptable behaviour. When kids see you yelling at and showing anger to officials, they assume that that is ok for them to do as well. The message is, “If you think this person has made a mistake, you have the right to yell and scream at them.”
Reason #3 – Another message you are sending to youth is that they are not actually in control of the game or what they do in the game. You are allowing them to shift responsibility for their play to the officials. How many times have you heard, “The ref made a bad call and we lost the game”? I try to teach my students and my athletes to deal with things that they are in control of – their play, carrying out the game plan or strategy. They are not (nor is the coach or the parents) in control of the officials so why even worry about it? Not to mention the fact that if you are a coach you need to be sure that your focus stays on coaching your players and worrying about the things that YOU control.
Reason #4 – Often in youth sports, especially the younger the level of play, the officials are the most inexperienced ones around. There are many reasons for this. They are cheaper. The flow of the game is generally slower/easier to follow and so this is the best place for them to get practical experience and improve their skills – just like the players. It sickens me to think about the number of times I have seen adults yelling and cursing at minor officials. Kids. Kids who are doing their best, who are trying to give back to the sport they love and earn a few bucks while they are at it. When would winning a game ever be more important than the dignity of that young, inexperienced official? Oh ya…and how would yelling at the official ever help you win the game? (That goes back to “worry about what you can control.”) The answers are NEVER and IT WOULDN’T.
Can you even imagine an official thinking “Jeez, I really hope I screw this game up today”? Do you think like that when you go to work? These people go into competitions with the greatest intentions of getting the calls right. Do they always? Of course not. They are just like you and me (the people who haven’t signed up to take the officiating courses, buy the gear and equipment needed and spend hours of unpaid time training before they are allowed to actually work). Ever made a mistake at work? Me too. Ever had 20 or 30 people yelling at you when you made that mistake? How about hundreds or thousands of people? Me neither.
When did this become such a part of our sport culture? It is so accepted. It happens ALL the time at ALL levels. I’m not saying that it is not ok to disagree with officials. Why can’t coaches just talk to officials? Ask what they saw or how they interpreted a certain play? Have a discussion. Whether you discuss or yell and scream, the likelihood of the call being changed is slim. BUT, if you yell and scream, the chance of the next close call going your way is also slim.
I have one more point to make. Disrespecting officials at higher levels (junior, college, senior, professional, etc) is not ok either. I know that some will say that these are the people who get paid the big bucks (not THAT big, really), that they are supposed to be the best and that they should be held accountable. Once again, asking them to be PERFECT is unrealistic. Yes, officials need to strive to do their best, just as the athletes do. I have been watching the NHL playoffs these last few days and have seen many mistakes made by THE BEST PLAYERS IN THE WORLD.
When we are in the stands at these high quality, high intensity sporting events we are again role models, whether we like it or not. There will undoubtedly be young people around us who are watching to see what is acceptable behaviour. They don’t understand that expectations are higher for these officials than they are for the ones at their own games. They emulate what we do. When those kids go back to their home field or rink or diamond or court, they will do the same things they saw at that professional game.
So next time you are participating in or watching a sporting event at any level and you hear yourself shout, “Get your head in the game” or “What are you, blind?” or “Are you #$@$ing kidding me?” Stop and think about what is to be lost or gained by your words. Think about the example you are setting. Can we please stop yelling at the officials?