Let me first say that the issue of dirty and abusive play does not start with the referee or the players, it begins with coaching. The tolerance level of the coach has a direct bearing on the ethics of players. The best coaches will reprimand their own players for foul play. I have seen good coaches pull their own players even before the referee takes action. …
Do not “dive” when you have not been fouled in an attempt to attract sympathy from the official [Editor’s note: apparently this message isn’t taking on the international level]. Nothing irritates fans, players and referees as much as this. If you are caught diving, not only may you receive a yellow card, but you may never be taken seriously by the referee. You must also avoid retaliation and returning any verbal comments. This will give the defender the idea that they are getting to your psyche which will reinforce and escalate their behavior.
On dead ball situations, have your captain ask the ref to check into the pattern of recurring fouls. If the issue continues, have the coach visit with the official at halftime. If this is unsuccessful, have the fouled player go down with injury to create an opportunity to speak with the referee and once again reinforce the violent play [Editor’s note: didn’t you just say no diving? Maybe you can say something at the next dead ball?]. Your captain and coach must do their jobs here. It is their duty to the team.
If a referee ever loses control of the match and play gets out of hand, remember that your goal is to live to play another day. Nothing is worth a broken leg or a broken nose in a bench clearing brawl. As a coach (or parent), simply indicate to the referee that in the interest of safety, it is best that you calmly remove your players from the field of play and accept whatever consequences come with this. Stay in a group after the game. Do NOT have players and parents walk alone to their cars.
Great advice — for any sport.
Why does rough play start with coaches? Because they set the ground rules. They are the ones who draw the line between good, aggressive play and outright thuggery, mainly because they are the ones who (should) know the difference.
For example, I teach my basketball players that on a fast break, there’s nothing wrong with committing a foul if you’re behind the player but you’re going for the ball first. However, it IS wrong to push a player from behind, or wrap your arms around him or her, or try to pull him or her down without making a play on the ball.
In most cases, players don’t realize that what they’re doing might hurt someone. In my 7th- and 8th-grade basketball league, the only time I talked to the refs about foul calls was one very tall, strong girl who had a tendency to swing her elbows after she got a rebound. In one case, she elbowed one of my players in the throat. (Ouch.) I don’t think she meant to hurt anyone — she was just trying to clear space. I asked if the ref could call that more tightly because it was clear her coach was not advising her to stop swinging her elbows, and I was afraid more kids might get hurt. Unfortunately, the ref relayed to me that they called fouls looser because this was a rec league, and they didn’t want to slow the game down. Fortunately, no one else got hurt.
Here’s a case of a coach stepping in. One coach asked me to help him to take one of his sixth-graders (a kid I coached the previous year, which is why he talked to me) out of the 5th- and 6th-grade league we coached in and limit the kid to the 7th- and 8th-grade league. He was too strong and aggressive (in a good way) for the kids his age, and we wanted him to be able to play hard without worrying about hurting somebody. (Though later one of the refs, to me before a 7th- and 8th-grade game, related he thought that kid was a “thug.” That was the same ref who wouldn’t call the elbows on the other girl. Anyway, his assessment was seriously harsh, given this kid was aggressive in a good way, and as nice a kid as I’ve ever coached. Hence, unfortunate examples A and B of not counting on refs to sort things out.)
By the way, my interest in this post was not necessitated by my own son’s injury. He sprained his right foot on a clean, common basketball play — rolling off someone’s show when he landed after jumping. Sometimes play gets rough when kids are putting out a full effort, and that just goes with the territory. The important thing for coaches and parents is not to blow up in the heat of the moment.
Rather than argue with a coach or official, give yourself 24 hours, then talk to whomever runs the league about what happened, if there’s anything that person can do to control rough play. More often that not, someone will then contact the officials or coach to recommend putting a lid on certain activities, or at least send the message that they won’t be tolerated in case, say, the coach is an asshole and is going to argue instead of listen. Also, the coach needs to be ready to explain to his or her players and their parents the difference between aggressive play and rough play.
After all, as Zenfooty says, the goal is to live and play another day.