Now that summer sports are in full swing it’s almost a foregone conclusion that you, the sports parent, will inevitably run in to some pretty bad youth sport officials. The reason for my confident assumption you ask? The short answer is that if the professional officials make mistakes (and they do all the time as instant replay reveals their every miss), it’s guaranteed that the volunteer/low pay youth sports officials working your child’s games will make mistakes, too. In fact, in many youth sport leagues across the country the officials are teenage kids who work the games — and rarely are they trained beyond the basics of the game.
Perhaps the first, best starting point to helping you temper your anger this summer when an official blows a call is to remember the difficulty in officiating. Often in sports plays are very fast and “bang-bang,” and there are always those outside factors that can get in the way, too — like a hostile crowd. At the youth sports level it’s also important to remember that rarely are there as many officials on the field than as needed or hoped for, and often the entire game is left up to one individual to do everything. For example, in professional baseball there are umpires seemingly everywhere, but in little league baseball often 1 person is responsible for the entire field.
Once you come to an acceptance that errors in officiating will be made, only then does it become a little easier to deal with the fact that it is likely a bad call will be made against your son or daughter this summer. With that said, here are a few additional reminders to consider:
- Know the difference between bad and wrong calls. A bad call by an official is a judgement call, like when a pitch is called a strike when most feel the ball was outside the strike zone. A wrong call, however, is when an official is unfamiliar with the rules — for example, if a baseball umpire allows for 4 strikes instead of three, clearly he or she is not familiar with the rules of baseball.
- Develop resiliency when errors are made. Talk to your kids early and often about how there will be plenty of bad (and wrong) calls throughout his sports career, but the real lesson will be around how he handles the situation. Rather than escalate (and possibly get thrown out of the game), try to instead develop resiliency by quickly moving on to the next play.
- Steer clear of heckling, sarcasm, and general rudeness. There is no need for you, the responsible parent, to call out insults to an official who is trying to do his or her best. If you do see things that can and should be improved upon (i.e. you should expect to see officials hustling on the field), then try and find a discrete way to pass that suggestion along rather than yelling out insults from the stands. Remember, what you do and say at the park will be modeled by not only your child, but possibly other kids as well.
- Communicate in a healthy and productive manner. If you happen to experience an unusually bad official this summer, try to find a way to let the league know about the problem, but use tact in your approach. For example, if the official blew some calls on the field because he didn’t know the rules but did do a good job of hustling to try and make calls, you might want to begin your conversation with the league commissioner in a positive way by stating how impressed you were by the official’s hustle. Once good rapport is developed, you can then offer your constructive feedback about the error the official made in interpreting the rules.
The level of satisfaction and overall learning experience your child has in youth sports this summer is ultimately determined by how you approach the experience. Regularly beating up on officials won’t help the situation, but displaying tolerance, understanding, and using healthy communication to remedy problems will help your child grow by leaps and bounds.
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