Youth sports leagues all over the country are experiencing a crisis, and because of it, many young athletes are losing the opportunity to play. It isn’t because there is a lack of players or there are no more venues to play at. It is because there is an alarming shortage of referees willing to officiate the game. And without referees, the games cannot take place.
Gary Musselman, executive director of the Kansas State High School Activities Association said, “The effects of a referee shortage are many — games are delayed or moved or canceled altogether, and referee crews in sports such as soccer and basketball are trimmed from three to two.”
What is causing this shortage of referees?
Some clubs and leagues say that the problem may be a number of things. With sports programs expanding, there are simply more games than there are referees. Some suggest that it may be conflicts in scheduling, disagreements in pay, and training fees.
However, of all the reasons and theories, the one that has come up the most often is poor sportsmanship and the verbal abuse that many officials experience. And in some cases, it has gone beyond verbal abuse and escalated to physical violence. There was an incident caught on video where an assistant coach ordered two of his players to collide with the referee deliberately.
And there have been reported cases of officials getting ambushed in parking lots after games.
And in two horribly unbelievable cases some years ago, officials in Utah and Michigan were killed by players who punched them.
Referees and umpires took up officiating knowing that verbal abuse would come with the territory. Parents and other spectators hurl all sorts of insults towards officials. Even coaches are known to get right up in the referee’s’ faces to the point that they get thrown out of the game.
Most referees officiate because they love the game and want to give back to the community.
Despite what some may think, referees don’t earn much, and some get paid per game. However, when verbal abuse turns violent and physical, it becomes a matter of common sense to avoid a profession that has potential dangers.
A referee may love the sport, the game, and their community, but a job that where there is no protection from the verbal and psychological abuse or the potential of physical threats hardly seems worth it.
Some might argue that they knew exactly what they were getting into when they decided on a career in officiating, whether full time or as a side job. However, many cannot deny how much the sports environment has changed in just the last decade. With multi-million dollar contracts and athletic scholarships at stake, players, coaches, and parents have become alarmingly more and more aggressive.
Referees who officiate at the youth league level don’t get away unscathed. They experience the verbal abuse just as much from parents and coaches fueled by the win-at-all-costs attitude who think that the youth league is the child’s first step to professional athlete greatness.
What can be done?
Sports organizations need to make referees feel safe again. And the only way to do that is by changing the culture of sports. There was a time when officiating a game came with pride and distinction. Today, there are less and less deciding to take up the profession and with good reason.
“Uncoachable kids become unemployable adults. Let your kid get used to somebody being tough on them. That’s life, get over it!” – Patrick Murphy, Alabama Softball
This quote resonates with many coaches, parents other adults. All coaches at one point have probably struggled with a child who was simply uncoachable. These were the kids who refused to take orders, disrespected authority and ignored all the good advice that was offered to them.
Don’t confuse being uncoachable as a child who still did not improve their game no matter how hard the coach worked to train them. Being uncoachable has very little to do with athletic skill. This is why uncoachable kids are often such a great disappointment and a reason for concern. It has more to do with attitude than it does with skill and their performance at games or practices. In fact, skilled athletes can be considered uncoachable particularly if they believe so much in their abilities that they refuse to let anyone dictate how they should perform. Even the most skilled players can be rude, lack focus, and not work well with their teammates.
As adults, we all know someone who just couldn’t hold a job. They didn’t work well with their colleagues and preferred to go at it alone to perhaps take all the credit for themselves. They may have lacked focus, didn’t manage their time well, or were altogether lazy. And they most likely had problems taking direction from their supervisor.
The chances are that this adult had issues with authority even as a child. They didn’t work well with others. They were stubborn or resented the fact that someone told them what to do and how to do it.
Parents often worry about how their child’s coach may be too hard on them. Coaches are known to bark orders, get overly excited, and maybe even humiliate players in front of their teammates.
Their enthusiasm can easily be mistaken as aggression. However, coaches who are tough on their kids are coaches eager to see their athletes improve – not just for the win but for the child to develop in both life and sports.
A child or parent who takes this tough love to personally and decides to quit or transfer to another team with a less “aggressive” coach may be missing out on the valuable lessons that will toughen up their child for life in the the real world – the life they will have long after they leave the field and stop playing the sport.
Of course, there truly are mean coaches out there, and parents and young athletes need to recognize the difference between cruel coaching and tough love. The same can be said about uncoachable kids; some children are uncoachable for valid reasons and a specialist can diagnose why.
Are you the parent of what appears to be a young athlete who opposes authority, refuses to comply with rules you know they understand or does not get along with a team? Maybe time in a sport they love with a coach who will teach them to respect authority, discipline, teamwork, time management, hard work, and other skills they need to be someday employable is exactly what they need.
Accidents and injuries are inevitable. Despite our best intentions, they may still happen. However, warming up and stretching the right way before a game will reduce the risk of injuries and even prevent you from having postgame aches and pains.
Warm with about five to 10 minutes of light aerobic activity. Follow it up with Stretching increases flexibility and improves the range of motion of your joints.
Because each distinct sport requires different ranges of motion, there are special stretches you can do that will target the muscles that you will use most during the game. The following are just a few of the stretches you can do depending on the sport you play:
- Start with a straight back and your arms at your sides
- Lift your right foot off the ground
- Squat back and down while standing on your left leg
- Lift your right knee to your chest
- Grab below the knee with your hands
- Pull your right knee as close as you can to your chest while contracting your left glute
- Step forward
- Repeat on the other side
Continue alternating sides and moving forward for the prescribed number of reps
Remember to keep your chest up. Don’t let your knee slide during the squat.
- Lie on your back with your legs flat on the floor
- Hold your right leg at the knee
- Slowly bring to your chest
- Keep the other leg straight
- Feel the stretch
- Lower the leg
- Repeat with the other leg
- Sit cross-legged on the floor
- Straighten one leg out keeping the other leg bent
- Lean forward and feel the stretch
- Repeat on the other leg
- Put one arm behind your head touching the back of your shoulder
- Use your other arm to push the bent arm down and stretch
- Repeat with the other arm.
- Stand on one leg
- Pull the other foot up behind your bottom
- Keep your knees together
- Push your hips forwards to increase the stretch
- Hold for between 10 and 30 seconds
- Lie on your back
- Lift one leg towards your chest
- Cross your opposite leg (your foot should touch a little above the knee of your non-crossed leg)
- Pull your non-crossed leg towards your chest
- Reverse and repeat
- Stand with your legs wide apart
- Shift your weight to the left
- Allow your left knee to bend until it is over your left foot
- You will feel the stretch in your right groin
- Keep your feet on the ground facing forward
- Hold for 20-30 seconds
- Repeat the stretch on the opposite side
School-based sports programs have been known to bring out positive behaviors in its student-athletes. Through playing for their school’s team, these young athletes benefit by learning skills, habits, and attitudes that lead to their future success and preparation for life after school.
Many students and even parents may not even realize the impact that playing school-based sports has on the student-athlete. It goes beyond playing the game they love. Here are some of the benefits of engaging in school-based sports:
- Social Benefits
Students who participate in sports learn how to forge close relationships with their teammates. These relationships are vital for overall well-being throughout their years in school. Students who bond because of common interests often maintain this connection long after school is over resulting in friendships that last a lifetime.
Through sports, students also represent their communities through their schools. This strong sense of community brings student-athletes a sense of pride for representing their town’s home team and school
- Time Management Skills
Student-athletes learn about the importance of time-management very early in life, and it is a skill they will use long after they graduate, particularly when they are working in the real world. As a student-athlete, they learn how to juggle practices, games, tests, and homework.
- Academic Benefits
It has been observed that athletics have many benefits on the student’s academic performance. Sports teach them how to focus. Because sports promotes self-esteem, they value their academic standing. And the potential of someday winning a scholarship is also an excellent motivator to do well both in sports and school.
- Leadership Skills
Whether the student-athlete is the team captain or they play a smaller role, they develop their leadership skills by taking ownership of the part they play in the game and the team.
Later, as senior athletes, they become the role models for the younger members of the team and discover what it means to lead and be a positive influence for a younger set of athletes. They discover what it is like to mentors.
- Health Benefits
There’s no denying the fitness levels of kids participating in sports. Because they value their health and know they need to be in peak condition to perform on the court or field, they are less likely to engage in activities that are unhealthy or risky behavior.
Student-athletes are comparatively healthier than other kids. The physical activity keeps their weight under control and are more likely to make the right food choices, knowing that what they eat has an effect on their athletic performance.
- The 3P’s
Student-athletes learn the 3P’s through athletics – persistence, patience and practice. They discover the value of practice to improve their skills. They realize how working hard results in performing better. They recognize how persistence and not giving up are crucial to achieving success. They develop patience by learning that success doesn’t happen overnight and that often, despite frustration and feeling overwhelmed, patience is needed to see hard times through.
Ultimately, school-based sports have existed for generations for a reason. Over the years, it’s shown how kids who participated in sports at some point when they were in school were better prepared to meet the challenges of adult life. They discovered how to solve problems creatively and had a stronger sense of community. Through teamwork and the rules of the game, they learned responsibility and respect for authority.
To perform well in sports, kids need to maintain a healthy diet and eat at the right times particularly on days they have games and practices. Kids who can compete in sports will have higher energy and fluid requirements.
Parents of young athletes will need to make sure their child is getting the right amount of calories, vitamins and minerals, protein, and carbohydrates to keep young athletes performing at their best.
Carbs provide energy for the body, and your child will need them as a source of fuel. When choosing carbs, opt for whole grain foods like whole-wheat pasta, whole-grain bread, and cereal, brown rice, fruits, and vegetables.
Protein is essential to building and repairing muscles. Most kids get plenty of protein through a balanced diet that includes foods like lean meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, beans, nuts and soy products.
Vitamins and Minerals
Calcium and iron are two vital minerals for athletes:
Calcium aids in building strong bones. Calcium-rich foods include low-fat dairy products such as milk, cheese, yogurt and even leafy green vegetables like broccoli.
Iron helps carry oxygen to the different body parts. Foods that are iron-rich include salmon, tuna, lean meat, chicken, eggs, dried fruits, fortified whole grain and leafy green vegetables.
Here is a nutrition guide for the game days and practices:
It’s important to eat a good meal before the game. Prepare a healthy breakfast for your child 2-4 hours before the competition. Here are some examples of a good breakfast:
- Whole wheat bagel with scrambled eggs and a slice of ham, fruit, and milk
- Sliced and lightly grilled potatoes paired with scrambled eggs with berries and orange juice or fat-free milk
- Pancakes topped with fruit, eggs, sausage and a glass of juice
- Oatmeal, 1/2 cup of yogurt and piece of fruit
During the Game/Practice
Ensure that your kid stays hydrated before, during after practices and games. Have them drink plenty of water. Between the ages of 6 to 18, kids should drink approximately 5 to 10 ounces of water every 20 minutes. Of course, this varies depending on weight. Sports drinks and diluted juices are good alternatives to water.
It’s crucial that young athletes drink adequate amounts of fluids to prevent dehydration. Mild dehydration can affect athletic performance. Not replenishing the fluids lost from sweating can lead to loss of coordination and result in heat-related illnesses.
Experts recommend that athletes should eat carbs within 30 minutes after intense activity and again 2 hours later. On game day, this could mean a post-game snack followed by a hearty, healthy dinner. Many athletes swear by chocolate milk as a post-game/workout snack because it is high in protein while also replenishes lost fluids.
Your child’s body will need to rebuild muscle tissue and replenish their energy stores and fluids up to 24 hours after the game. It’s important that their post-game meal is a good balance of carbs, protein, and fat.
Remember that your child needs to eat well year-round and not just during the game season. Eating right even if it is off-season will provide them with the strong foundation when it’s time to return to competition.