One issue of contention that I regularly hear at my office are concerns relating to sports officiating; specifically, problems relating to how some referees officiate games. This is an important topic worthy of discussion, as officials play a very important role in game-play, sportsmanship, and safety relating to all competitors. So, what should you expect from the officials working your kid’s games?
The first thing to remember about sports officials is that they are human, and they will absolutely miss calls from time-to-time. Even at the professional sports level we see referees blow calls, especially in this day and age of instant replay where the misses become even more magnified. The point is that even the best, most well-trained sports officials don’t always get it right all of the time.
A big part of the reason why calls are missed on the field has to do with how fast sports have become — even at the youth level. Plays happen quickly, and sports officials are regularly challenged to keep their focus and attention on multiple things at the same time. When you enter in emotions, fatigue, and various other distractions (i.e. crowd noise), it becomes rather easy to see how officials can sometimes miss things.
Now that we have provided more depth and breadth to the challenges of being a sports official, we can turn our attention to basic expectations you should have for the officials working your kid’s games.
What you should expect from sports officials
Sports officials from youth sports to the pros are trained relating to the expectations pertaining to the level of sport they officiate. When it comes to early youth officiating, the main goal is safety and keeping things moving so that kids can enjoy participating in the sport. On the other hand, professional officials are required to go through extensive, ongoing training to meet the demands of working at the highest levels in sports. In between those two polar ends of the spectrum you can, at minimum, expect the following:
- Knowledge of the rules. Officials at all levels of sports should have a basic understanding of the rules pertaining to the sport(s) they officiate. It is important to note that there is a difference between a bad call and a wrong call — as was mentioned previous, officials will make bad calls from time-to-time, but when they make wrong calls it is a reflection of not knowing the rule (something officials can be held accountable for when working games). Officials should also be accountable for staying on top of any cheating that might be occurring.
- Hustle. It is a reasonable to expect officials to keep up with the action and work hard to get in position to make appropriate calls on the field. Remember, they won’t always be in the perfect spot to make the call, but they should always be working toward being where they need to be during game play.
- Respect. Officials should always model sportsmanship and show respect to all players, coaches, fans, and the game itself. Additionally, officials should make a point to do what they can to model these behaviors for everyone else to follow as well. Respecting the game includes hustling, refraining from vulgar language, tempering hostile attitudes on the field, and addressing brewing situations before they get out of hand.
- Safety. Officials are expected to pay close attention to safety factors relating to the game, including field conditions, expected storms that could impact safety, equipment, and any other factors that could leave kids in harms way.
The reality is that youth sport officials are often held to high standards, and in some cases unreasonable standards in cases where parents expect them to be perfect. Remember, the officials working your kids games will miss calls from time-to-time, just like professional officials do. On the other hand, it’s not at all unreasonable for you to expect that officials have an understanding of the rules, hustle to get in the right spots to make calls, respect all competitors, and do what they can to ensure safety at all times. Try to be understanding and supportive whenever possible, and remember being a sports ref is never an easy job at any level of sports.
What expectations do you have for youth sport officials? Do you find that most live up to this level?
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