Updated: May 19
Hey, Ref! Are you kidding me?
Here’s the scene:
It’s a tie score coming down to the wire. The game has been deadlocked since the first minute. Your child has been tearing it up all game. But wait, on a game leading drive, the official makes a decision that may affect the game’s outcome. All the parents and coaches go up in outrage. Players sprint up to the referee to plead their case and begin getting out of control. Ultimately, the ref ejects a player from the game and issues warnings to several others. When the game finally resumes, your child’s team seems less motivated and can’t seem to regain their edge. As time expires one phrase seems to be the anthem, a phrase that we hear too often — “The ref cost us the game.”
Does this sound familiar?
We’ve all been there. We’ve all seen parents and coaches berate officials. Blaming officials has become as much of a past time as the sport itself. But what does this teach our kids as they mature as athletes and as people? And what does this communicate to the officials?
Can you relate to any of these?
- Arguing constantly with the referee
- Mentioning the officials performance before talking about the players performance
- Blaming the result of a game on the officials
- Asking for every call to go your team’s way
- Not enjoying the game because of how the ref officiates
Here are some ideas to keep in mind:
1. Refs are one of us
We’re lucky, very few of us have dozens of people yelling at us for each decision we make while at work. Referees care deeply about the sport they officiate. Not only do they study and practice to get where they are, referees often go through more training than coaches do. Referees are one of us. They’re enthusiasts of the sports we care about. Try to be an advocate for the officials and be a voice of reason to other parents and players.
2. The future at stake
Many sports now face a serious crisis. There is a dangerously low rate of new referees/umpires/officials. Youth sports still attract a high volume of kids, but there are not enough officials to support the high volume of games. There aren’t many people that want to give up their weekend to be yelled at. Organized sports are at risk because games cannot happen without referees. We can help change this dynamic.
3. We can set an example
What if your child dropped a milk jug at the grocery store and responded by yelling at a grocery store clerk? This scenario sounds ridiculous because the store clerk probably had very little to do with the incident. However, it is the clerks job to clean up the mess and ensure you still have a good shopping experience. This analogy is similar to players yelling at referees. A player might dribble into a crowd of opponents, lose the ball, and then complain to the referee. The player has learned to blame officials for their own mistakes. Behavior is often learned from what is demonstrated to them. As a parent or coach, be aware of your impact on the players. Don’t teach them to blame others for things only they can control.
Coach at USL team, Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Dan Visser has a clear theory for his players. Visser’s theory expounds on the elements of a game you can and cannot control. He encourages his players to focus their mental and physical energy on areas they can control. The breakdown is shown in the image below.
Whether you’re playing, coaching, or spectating, channel your energy and competitive nature to be the best at your role. Spectators and fans should go to enjoy the experience. Players should play because they want to challenge themselves. Referees officiate games because they care about the sport. The challenge for all of us is to control the things that are in our sphere and let the rest take care of itself.