Most people recognize being an umpire, official, or referee is
A Crisis of Disrespect
It's probably no coincidence that as society's win-at-all-costs attitude has increased, youth sports organizations are facing a severe referee shortage.
While incidences of violence against referees were extremely rare, they are now occurring more frequently: in 2013, a Utah youth soccer referee died after being punched in the head by a player upset about being called for a foul. A few years later, two high school football players in Texas received national attention when they blindsided a referee during a game. While those tragic incidences represent the extreme, young athletes can see professional athletes and coaches verbally confronting officials on television almost every night.
Even at the youth sports level, it isn't difficult to find instances of players, coaches, and parents verbally abusing referees. If we're being honest, most parents have probably - even unintentionally - let a "You've got to be kidding me, Ref" come out of their mouths. The ease with which these comments emerge makes it more important to increase awareness about how parents, coaches, and athletes treat officials.
The 7 Lessons for Referee Respect
Like with sportsmanship and teamwork, referee respect is an important value that needs to be specifically taught to athletes, parents, and coaches. However, even though there are referees at every game, there is virtually never a direct conversation about the expectations for respecting referees.
Teaching respect for referees
1. REFEREES HAVE MORE TRAINING THAN PLAYERS AND SPECTATORS
No matter how experienced or knowledgeable an athlete or parent is, it's important to remember referees have specific training in the rules of the game, how to observe the game, and how to make difficult calls. They are also often in a better position to see the play, especially compared to parents on the sidelines or in the stands. If you're still convinced you can do a better job, leagues are always hiring.
2. MORE FOCUS ON THE REF MEANS LESS FOCUS ON THE GAME
There are many aspects of sports that are unpredictable and out of a player's control. However, there are some things an athlete can control. Players, spectators, and coaches can't control officiating, but if players are overly focused on how the officials are calling the game, they are likely less focused on playing the game to the best of their abilities. Similarly, coaches should advocate for their
3. REFEREES SHOULD BE TREATED LIKE COACHES
One of the ways coaches can model respect for officials is to make an effort to personally greet referees before the game, just as you would the coach of the opposing team. And while it may not be practical for every player to greet the officials, encourage captains at the pre-game meeting or coin flip to introduce themselves to the officials. These efforts help turn nameless, faceless referees into people, particularly people to be respected, in the eyes of young players.
4. RUDE TEAMS DON'T GET CLOSE CALLS
Referees do their best to call games objectively, but they are still human. On a tough call that could go either way, a referee may be more likely to rule in favor of a team whose players (and coaches) have been respectful and focused on fair play throughout the game. It's a natural bias to reward favorable behavior and the people who have treated them respectfully.
5. YELLING AT OFFICIALS MODELS POOR COMMUNICATION SKILLS
For parents and coaches, it's important to think about what yelling at refs teaches young athletes. Youth
6. TRY IT BEFORE YOU CRITICIZE
Having athletes and parents try officiating during scrimmages at practices is a great way of illustrating the difficulties referees face. It's the old "walk a mile in someone else's shoes" lesson, but it's effective for helping parents and athletes be more empathetic toward referees.
7. REMEMBER IT'S JUST A GAME
No missed call during a youth sports game is going to make or break an athlete's career. Youth sports are an environment for learning about and falling in love with sports, not heaping pressure on athletes, coaches, and officials. And in the
TrueSport® is a grassroots movement born and powered by the experience and values of USADA-the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. The TrueSport® mission is simple and bold: to change the culture of youth sport by providing powerful educational tools to equip young athletes with the resources to build the life skills and core values for lasting success on and off the field.
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