Now, before you go getting your panties in a wad to defend yourselves, take a breath, think about the consequences involved with flying off the handle (you look insane, people will judge you, your kids will see you, you’ll feel a shred of guilt later), and attempt to get your testosterone levels back to normal.
Maybe I’m not talking to you.
But, maybe I am.
Either way, I am going to start with a story to help you determine whether you should be nodding your head in agreement or stomping off to reconfigure who you are as a person.
A few weekends ago, like pretty much every weekend of life, my middle son, affectionately known here as Dude 2, had a basketball game.
From the moment the jump ball was released, you could tell that it would be an interesting match-up –the kids were playing hard, the team was one we’d faced previously, and everyone had come to the gym to win, especially the opposing coach who seemed to take our last win over his team exceptionally hard.
Let’s go ahead and skip to the meaty part –at some point during the game, the parents and the coach of the opposing team began to feel like the ref wasn’t calling the game favorably.
We’ve all been there, it’s a tight game, one or two calls could turn the tide, shift the momentum just right to allow one team to pull ahead. People were, for lack of a better word, getting lit.
And, as they started to truly feel wronged by the situation, they began to engage the referees negatively –yelling about perceived missed calls, bad calls, and essentially all calls against their players.
The female ref, eager to not be disrespected, attempted to put a stop to the nonsense immediately. She gave a warning to the coach, admonished a few of his players, and told a parent they needed to calm down.
Only, instead of accepting her ruling, the coach got belligerent with her which, I believe, started a trickle down effect of disrespect and misbehavior from the parents and the players on the opposing team.
Multiple insults were hurled onto the court from the stands, the players began to argue every call, multiple technical fouls were delivered, and I remember thinking that there’s no amount of money that could get me to make referring my job –the stress and the abuse is just too much.
Following the buzzer, there was an intense verbal altercation between the opposing team’s coach and the female ref where I witnessed him kicking a chair in her direction and proceeding to get in her face to scream obscenities and various threats and accusations at her. He was close enough that I am certain she could smell his tongue.
The ref, not trying to go out like no punk, responded similarly.
I’d largely characterize what I saw as her defending herself against his verbal assault and several families from that team agreed with my assessment. Many expressed their embarrassment over his behavior, apologizing profusely, proclaiming that they were leaving the team.
But, not all of them. Some of them were part of the problem –yelling at the ref even after the game, egging the coach on, and basically acting more 13 than the 13 year olds we’d all come to see play.
The entire experience was frightening to the kids and annoying to me as a parent.
Sadly, I’m sure every one of you who has a child who plays any sort of youth sports that requires officiating can recall a similar story wherein the coaches and the parents had negative interactions, maybe on a smaller scale, with the referees (or umpires, or officials, or whatever those authorities are called in the sport you play).
And it’s sad that our youth sports have come to this.
Reffing and Youth Sports
Why is this happening?
If you’re honest with yourself, like really, truly, no my-kid-is-going-to-the-NBA-even-though-he’s-only-4’10-in-7th-grade delusions type of honest, refs are almost never the real reason you lose a game. Especially when we are talking about a game where you are getting blown out by 20 in the first half.
That is a mismatch of skills and abilities among your players and/or coaching staff and that of the opposing team that is common in youth sports. When this happens, no matter how many missed travels or double dribbles a reasonable ref makes, it’s not going to make up that 20 point deficit or get your 4’11 phenom back in the game when they have a 6’4 13 year old who can dunk like Lebron.
Facts are facts. Ball don’t lie.
I think we can all agree that you yelling at the ref in this situation is a waste of effort and reputation that, end of the day, isn’t really worth it.
But, let’s say for the sake of argument, that we are talking about an intense, lead switching playoff game, between two equally matched teams where anyone could realistically go home the winner.
Miss a moving screen, call a travel, don’t see a foot go over the line, and one team could suddenly be going home with crushed dreams.
Still, I say, no excuse.
Being hostile to the ref is not okay, even when the game is on the line.
For one, in almost every organized youth sports organization across the United States of America, you probably signed some code of conduct that pinky swear promised you wouldn’t act like a drunk frat boy on the sidelines of your kids’ games.
Maybe you didn’t read it, maybe you thought it was a formality, but you signed it and promised it and now hear you are proving that your word is most definitely not your bond.
Good job, Dad.
But, even more importantly than this, missed calls are just part of the game.
You have human refs who make human errors.
Sometimes they make them in your favor, sometimes they don’t.
Even at the highest level of professional play, referees, with their human eyes and their subjective realities make mistakes and, prior to the advent of instant replay technology and rulings, those mistakes were forced to be accepted.
It’s just the way the cookie crumbles.
No human is perfect. No one will catch every call. Sometimes they will give one guy the benefit of the doubt and sometimes you can’t catch a break.
It’s. Part. Of. The. Game.
And, the sooner you allow your child to accept that, the better off they will be.
It Does Your Child a Disservice
Let’s say your kid is actually going to find himself in the NBA one day.
Until he realizes that aggressive arguing with refs is a good way to seriously impact that awesome millions of dollars contract he signed. And, while there is a lot of discussion about fairness of refs and legitimacy of calls at that level, it’s not a fight the NBA is letting players win. They’re eager to have good player/ref relationships and are investing in deeper ref training to assist with that, but they are also committed to the idea that there needs to be respect for officiating to maintain the level of play the NBA is known for.
But, even without that lofty goal in your child’s future, there’s something to be said about kids having a healthy respect for authority. As parents and coaches, individuals youth players look up to, continuously behave with hostility and aggression towards officials, kids learn to behave similarly.
Not a game goes by when we don’t witness a child arguing with a ref, throwing their hands up in disgust, tossing the ball to an official aggressively, or having an outright tantrum on the court in reaction to a call they didn’t agree with. Their behavior is rarely chastised by their coaches or parents which, of course, encourages them to continue.
We’ve Lost Sight of the Point of Youth Sports
Maybe it’s not important to you that your child learn to follow rules and be respectful of adults, particularly authority figures, but for us, it is paramount. Because, more than I want my sons to be great ball players, I want them to be great people.
I want them to be kind, respectful, team players who exhibit discipline and tenacity. I want them to follow reasonable rules, maintain emotional self-control, and learn to accept consequences when they fail to do those things.
I feel like our eagerness to win games has gotten in the way of the entire point of youth sports. And, while I too relish in the idea of a victory and celebrate my heart out on behalf of my boys when they claim one, there’s got to be more to it than that.
Youth sports are an opportunity –to develop character, to gain access to education, to be your best self.
They can’t just be about who goes home with the $7 gold spray painted trophy –it has to be about what they did to get there, as a team and individually, and what they will do after, when their time on the court (or field, or whatever) ultimately comes to an end.
I don’t know about you, but I’d hate for their only take away to be that they can get their way by bullying a 16 year old kid or a retired lady who doesn’t quite see things their way.
Read more youth sports posts here: Dear Parents, Are You What’s Wrong with Youth Sports?