Can We Please Stop Yelling At The Officials?

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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?

 

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What’s Wrong With School Sports?

I have written a number of posts on this blog about my role as a coach and athletic rep at my school. The most recent one about the struggle to find coaches and ensure that students who want to play at least get the chance to tryout. Last week I read an article by Dr. Doug Gleddie expressing his disappointment with school sports. He lists 3 things in particular that are causing his negative outlook despite many years as both a player and coach of school sports. They were: 1. Participation Rates 2. Elitism and 3. Winning First.

The article made me stop and think about school sports and their impact on me as a young player and as a coach and athletic administrator. There are, most certainly, some frustrations, but as I reflected, it was evident that the positives and long term benefits of school sports largely outweigh those frustrations.

Dr. Gleddie states that in his experience only around %25 of students actually play school sports. While I haven’t crunched the numbers at my school to compare, the one thing I do know is that school sports are competing heavily with outside sports and leagues. Each year at my school (k-9 approx. 480 students – 240 in 7-9) we have a good number of kids who are interested but chose not to play school sports because of their commitment to equestrian, football (not a school sport in Jr. high), soccer, community basketball, dance, cheer, swimming, hockey as well as others. Opportunities are out there for young people to find their passions athletically. School sport is no longer the be-all and end-all for competitive athletics. I believe that the percentage of kids who are gaining the benefits of physical activity, socialization and competitive challenge from sport are much higher that Gleddie’s %25. Also, school sport is optional…we don’t HAVE to be offering any sports. Even if participation is “only” %25, that is a large number of kids who are getting an opportunity they wouldn’t have otherwise.

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Not all kids are interested or passionate about sports or competition. Extracurricular sports teams are not meant to reach every student. If you look at schools across Alberta and Canada, you will find extracurricular programs in a large number of disciplines. All of these programs are meant to feed the emotional and physical needs of our youngsters. Assuming that all (or even most) students would like to be on a sports team is quite presumptuous.

Yes, I have seen elitism in sports. I have seen it in drama and music programs as well. The onus has to be on coaches to make sure they are doing their best to develop a whole team of athletes. Teaching a young player and their teammates what it means to “play a role” is a vital lesson that can be used in many areas of life. In our junior high athletic program, we believe strongly that all kids need to play significant amounts of time in order to learn and improve the needed skills. However, there are other things that come in to play when a coach doles out minutes on the court or field. Does the athlete miss practices? Do they work their hardest at drills during practice time? What about character? Do they treat their coaches and teammates with respect? The officials?

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I truly believe that a “winning first” attitude of coaches or athletic programs is a thing of the past. I have seen very, very few examples of this kind of focus in 15 years of coaching at the Jr. High level. Generally, coaches are looking to teach the sport and social skills and attitudes that will help athletes in all areas of their life. Teaching them HOW to learn is as important as teaching them how to dribble a soccer ball, throw a football or shoot a hockey puck. In Canada, school coaches are not paid at all for their time. That alone shows that winning is not the top priority in our school athletic programs. Providing opportunities for our student/athletes is. In the athletic association of which I am a part, we have even put in rule changes in both our volleyball and basketball leagues to support player skill development and move away from placing importance on winning.

Are school sports perfect? Nope.

Are there some examples that illustrate Dr. Gleddie’s three issues with school sports? Yup.

Could we make some changes to how school sports are run/organized/coached? Probably.

Are there undeniable benefits to participation in school sports? Most certainly.

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Another interesting point about Dr. Gleddie’s post is that he states himself that, “To be honest, I am not really sure what we should do.” I’m never a fan of making a complaint without having input as to what could be done instead, or done to improve whatever it is we are complaining about.

Even though I am not complaining about school sports, I do have one suggestion for Dr. Gleddie, schools, coaches and athletic organizations, that may help with improving some of the areas he is disenchanted with. I think that it is vitally important to decide as an organization what you believe and value and to make a public statement to shareholders as to what those team/organization cornerstones are. The next step is to ensure that decisions and actions express that same worldview. Follow up. “Put your money where your mouth is” so to speak.

I’d love to hear your opinions on school sports and on what is working and what isn’t. What do you think needs to change (if anything) about coaching and sport administration in your area?

Who Should Coach?

In my role as the Athletic Rep at Stony Plain Central School, it is partly my job to find and organize coaches for our Jr. High sports teams and programs. Over the last five years, this hasn’t been an easy spot to be in, but I have to say, people have always managed to step up whether it be teachers, administrators or sometimes even parents. Today, I am sad to say, it looks like I may be unable to find that person or people.

It seems that the current teachers at our school have too many other commitments, most of which include work, family and leadership outside of school as well. Last week, I held a meeting of all boys in grades 6 to 8 who were interested in playing basketball. In the end, I had 25 of them say they would like to try out. So I implored them to go home and ask, no BEG, their parents to come and coach the junior boys team. I had a few bites, but in the end, those who had seemed likely to take on the role decided that it was too much of a commitment for them.

I am now in quite a time crunch. You see, I have to declare by Friday whether or not we have teams. I have to admit, I am frustrated by this situation and that brings up a question that I am struggling to answer: In a school system where coaching is a %100 volunteer position, who should be expected to coach school sports teams?

I’m torn in two by this question. My first, automatic response is that teachers should be doing the coaching. We know the school and division policies, are trained to work with kids (seems like a no-brainer, but lots of outside coaches know their sport well, but don’t know how to handle young people) and can use sport to help build relationships with students and to help build a positive culture in the school. I have lived by that belief. It has been a part of my worldview. Coaching volleyball is something I have always enjoyed, felt confident in and saw the benefit of. I want to do it right. I want to attend a lot of tournaments (we do six in senior volleyball). My own children have been dragged along to volleyball games and tournaments since they were only months old. It is something I am passionate about. And I don’t mean passionate about volleyball, although I do love the game, I mean passionate about contributing to our school culture and sense of pride.

My second response is that I completely understand teacher’s reluctance to coach school teams. In order to do it right, it takes A LOT of time. It is not just the coach that is willing to spend that time, but their family who sacrifices time with them. My heart gets torn out every time I hear my kids say, “You have to go to volleyball again? Can’t you just stay here with us?” I explain to them that while I do not enjoy spending time away from them, it is important to me, and I am helping people. When I am in the stands watching them play hockey, someone else’s mom or dad is on the ice coaching them. It’s a trade of sorts. Many people are not willing or able to make that trade. I completely understand that. As my kids get older, it is getting harder and harder for my family to manage all of our commitments during volleyball season. What kind of trade is one that boosts school culture, but hurts – sometimes irreparably – family culture? That is not a fair thing to ask and while I know that some administrators will pressure teachers to coach, I’m not prepared to do that.
So now we are left with our 25 boys who are interested in playing, but no one to take over the team. Who owes it to them? Teachers? Parents? the Community? Don’t we all?