Being a referee or game official is a thankless job. Players get frustrated by your calls, there’s typically a lot of exercise involved with running up and down a field to observe game play, parents are constantly debating whether or not you’re good at what you do on the sidelines – or whether you suddenly went blind – often with words most would not repeat in front of their own mothers.
More than ever, game officials really have to hang on to their love of sport and kids to subject themselves to the abuse.
It doesn’t have to be this way, however. League members like coaches and even the parents of athletes can create a better atmosphere for referees and officials by helping to deescalate conflicts and learning more about the sport at hand.
1. Rule Education
We know that many parents get bad attitudes when it comes to referees making calls that negatively affect their team. Commonly referee volunteers or hired game officials take courses or have to read material on the rules of the sport their officiating, while parents can sometimes only have a basic understanding of the rules of the game.
One way to help alleviate some of the bad blood between angry parents and game officials is to arm parents with official links or brochures that better explain the more complicated rules of the game. Whether it’s baseball, soccer, lacrosse, hockey, wrestling, volleyball, gymnastics, track and field or football, each game has its own unique rules. In soccer and hockey, it’s the “off sides” rule. In baseball, the infield fly rule and the balk are common sources of confusion. In lacrosse, the penalty enforcement rules are complex. In wrestling and gymnastics, points are awarded based on judgment calls. In track and field, interference calls and faults are often hard to detect and critical to close outcomes. Parents who better understand the rules can be more at ease with a ref’s decisions.
2. Promoting a Value-Conscious Atmosphere
It’s important for everyone to understand that causing conflict, yelling and disrupting a game or meet because of a disagreement with an official doesn’t accomplish anything.
In the case of a disagreement with a ref, yelling on the field doesn’t accomplish anything, but waiting a few hours, and – if still warranted – sending an email to a league head might. Parents should be encouraged to film games and look at calls they believe adversely affected their team, reporting any that they believe should be questioned. The cool-off period is however crucial in that it bring the issue into perspective.
Parents should also be reminded that not every call a ref makes will be right, but that doesn’t give anyone the right to harass a game official or intrude upon the game. If they feel extremely angry while on the field, take a walk away from the game for a few minutes instead of causing a scene that will put fellow spectators and the players in a difficult position to take sides.
3. Promoting Referee and Team Relationships
Players can also become angry with referees. Often the “bad” call is only the manifestation of misplaced anger. Leagues can encourage refs to talk to both teams, and all participating athletes if the sport is not a team sport, in order to foster a relationship. This talk should include what to do before they call the game, how to act sportsmanlike while on the field and to congratulate each other after the game ends. It should also include warnings that unbecoming conduct from anyone (players, coaches, spectators) can – and will – be met with consequences.
Referees have a hard enough time with their job. Remember to thank them for their services and try to make their work environment as positive as possible. Much like airlines have taught us that flight attendants are primarily on board to ensure our safety, referees are on the field to ensure the players safety, enforcement of game rules and fairness. They need to be respected.