You’re nobody’s friend, you’re regularly booed, and you’re often blamed and scapegoated — talk about a thankless job! In fact, the old saying is that the best officials are unseen, with the implication being that players — not officials making bad calls — should command the attention of fans. Sports officials are an important part of sports, yet at the end of the day they are more often berated than thanked for the hard work they do to ensure fair play on the field.
Where’s the love?!
When it comes to sports officiating you will likely never see applause and standing ovations for accurate calls, controlling player emotions, mitigating risks of player fighting, and keeping hostile crowds in check from potential melees — yet these are all common tasks expected of officials for which they receive little, if any, attention. On the other hand, officials regularly hear it from the crowd for missing calls, and in some cases officials have to be escorted and protected after games for safety reasons. If you canvass the web for stories about sports officials you will find countless examples of interactions of officials with out-of-control players/fans, coaches and players using intimidation tactics toward officials, and accounts of verbal assault and physical violence toward officials. What’s sadly missed underneath all of this chaos are the many important qualities sports officials have to display (i.e. communication skills, displaying respect, modeling sportsmanship) in order to call a fair game.
Why every athlete & parent should say ‘thanks’
Since most people don’t think very long about the lifestyle and expectations we have for sports officials, it might be important to break down a few of the more important details that may prompt you to offer thanks to the next official you see:.
- It can be a thankless job. It’s rare that sports officials are thanked for hustling and calling a great game, yet they are almost always blamed when they make a human mistake. When officials do their job well their work is almost invisible, and therefore few people take time out to recognize the efforts it took to do things like hustle, diffuse potential conflicts, and display fairness to both teams.
- They receive little, if any, support. When we watch a game there are fans of both individuals/teams competing, but the official is out there alone. Unlike players who support each other when dealing with tough situations, the official is left to him- or herself when trying to regroup after a bad call, missed call, or angry athlete or fan.
- They are often over-blamed. Athletes, coaches, and sports parents sometimes erroneously blame the official for bad calls on the field, or scapegoat the official when, in fact, the official had nothing to do with the outcome of the game.
- They receive little, if any, pay. Only a very small percentage of sports officials make enough money to live on, and the overwhelmingly vast majority of sports officials make very little, or no money at all.
- They’re constantly hustling. While players get to take breaks by coming in and out of games, officials are required to perform on every play — and often expected to hustle to get into the right positions to make fair calls.
Don’t forget to tell the official ‘good game’
In most sports, it is customary at the conclusion of the game to shake hands and show appreciation and respect to the opponent. Here again, however, officials are often forgotten and overlooked, and rarely complimented for their efforts. Most sport officials I know don’t need much more than a quick positive nod after the game, as that one simple gesture might be the only one they receive the entire time they are out there working to ensure a fun and fair game. Remember, officials are human and will occasionally miss calls, but when you see them working hard to perform the best that they can then it’s on us to reinforce their efforts.
It’s easy to forget or overlook the important role of a sports official, and it’s similarly easy to immediately point blame toward an official when it really isn’t fair to do so. Instead, try and take pause to fully appreciate the efforts sport officials make to ensure fair games take place, as well as the resiliency they must regularly exercise when faced with emotionally-charged athletes, coaches, and fans.