Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

Is yelling at youth sports officials OK?

with 4 comments

That musical question is asked by Springfield (Mass.) Republican columnist Bill Wells.

[youtubevid id=”h7gi4eFWMC8″]

“WHAT a lousy UMPire… WHAT a lousy UMP-ire… WHAT a lousy UMP-ire…” — it’s like a remix  with no music.

You can click through to see what Wells has to say. But because you’re here, I’ll give my answer, which is applicable from high school on down, but especially so for any game involving prepubescent children.

My first rule, to myself and the players I coach, is that the level of officiating can be no better than the level of play. So if you’re expecting NBA-level refs at a fifth-grade basketball game, you’re due to be disappointed.

My second rule, to myself and the players I coach, is that yelling at the official is a waste of time that only takes your focus away from the task at hand. I’ve seen too many players get caught up in what calls are made or not made, and completely take themselves out of the game. I tell them if anybody is going to talk to the official — not yell, but talk — it’s me.

My third rule, to myself, is that only rarely will I talk to the referee during the game, except to call a time out. I have exceptions. One is if I feel like the game is getting dangerously out of control. I have pointed out during basketball games that my players are getting hit with elbows, or I have asked the refs to get control of a kid who might be pushing or undercutting people. (If that happens with my own team, I handle it.) I don’t speak to the refs like they’re idiots. Sometimes they don’t call fouls because at younger ages refs sometimes are instructed to let the kids play.

Yes, I have, on a few occasions, questioned individual calls. But I ask for clarification — why was that a travel instead of a foul? And I try to use that to instruct my team — here is what the refs and calling and why.

The rules are the same when I coach baseball or softball. Except that usually kids throwing elbows aren’t quite such a big issue.

As for parents yelling at referees, in my intro letters to them, I note rules Nos. 1 and 2 in hopes that if they have any inclination to yell at officials. As far as I’m concerned, parents have the least right to yell at officials, and that’s at a standard where no one has the right to yell at them. Parents who yell at officials tend to general pains in the asses to players and coaches, for one thing.

For another, you as a parent are not making your kid any better by sending the signal that any failures are because of a bad call. In fact, you train your kid to be as big of a pain in the ass as you are.


Written by rkcookjr

February 7, 2010 at 6:11 pm

4 Responses

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  1. Excellent point of view on expect no better officiating than the level of play – that is right on the mark. It’s also true that arguing and yelling at game officials has a severely negative impact on the game and the experience for the kids. This is especially true for the prepubescent crowd, as you describe them. But the issue it truly more complicated than revealed in your article. Let’s move on up the age brackets and take a look at officiating for kids 13 years and older. More often than not these kids, and their families, take their sport very seriously and dedicate (perhaps way too much) time, energy and money to the activity. Here’s where the situation gets sticky: These families pay the officials. These families should be able to expect officiating that reflects a similar time commitment as their own – hours (ok, let’s be real: days) of practice and study. It’s also true that game officials (or at least the organization that pays them) get paid a hefty sum for their service. It can calculate to an hourly rate better than that seen by professionals with a college degree and years of experience. That generates an expectation of expertise and professional results. Yes, this begins to get crazy complicated but we need to recognize this complexity.

    In my own experience I have volunteered to help make the situation better. I devised and proposed a plan to help. Coaches and team administrators would receive training in evaluation of officials. These evaluations would be used to help game officials receive additional training to boost their skill level. The scenario would create a partnership between game officials, coaches and team representatives. True, this would require a bit more money. But the folks with kids on these teams would gladly pay an additional ten or twenty dollars per season to enhance the level of game officiating. Here’s what happened: The guy running this sports league said, “no”. Why? Because he was afraid he would never see another official at any of his games. The person that ran the game official’s organization was, quite literally, intimidating his clients and threatening that his officials wouldn’t be there for league games.

    That’s a problem. And that problem sparks the type of frustration that results in yelling at the umpire or screaming at the ref. I agree with your premise but it gets more complicated as the athletes get older. Game officials need to have a sense of responsibility and commit to training and advancing their skills. Teams need to have a partnership with the game officials. It needs to get better and we need folks that run our youth sports programs to have the guts to make it better.

    eddie sutton

    February 8, 2010 at 8:57 am

  2. Bob,
    Great column and I agree with many of your points. I’ve been involved with coaching at all levels from college to youth and have also officiated at those levels as well. What always jumps out at you is that players and parents almost always mirror the attitude of the coaches on how they deal with officials. Show me a coach that is constantly arguing with officials and you can bet the players and parents are right in line with that attitude.
    On the flip side show me a coach that has behaves calmly on the bench, taught his players that it is not acceptable to argue with officials, has met with their parents and will enforce that it is not acceptable to argue with the officials and you’ll find their games are much more enjoyable to be around. Instead of a frustrate-a-thon you will actually garner the felling that the players are enjoying the games and are in a safe learning environment where they are growing as healthy young learners. Of course this requires a wise and knowledgeable coach to be leading the ship, which unfortunately is often difficult to find.
    The biggest challenge we face in youth sports is having our governing bodies being aggressively pro-active in laying out a set of standards on what is acceptable behavior for coaches, players and parents and MAKING SURE THESE STANDARDS ARE UPHELD. There are many programs that are great models of what they will not tolerate, but many others where the individual governing boards simply do not get it or lack the fortitude to step in and make a coach live up to the standards the program has set forth. This is especially true for the winning coach that everyone is afraid to question.


    February 8, 2010 at 9:13 am

  3. Eddie,
    i agree with your post as well, as officials truly need to prepare and be competent at the level they are asked to officiate at. Your points of the officials being paid is very valid and more officials need to understand that their pay is actually coming from the teams they are being asked to officiate. My sense is that most somehow believe that their officiating board is paying them.
    Some sports are great at making sure their officials get the proper training, have mentoring programs for newer officials and make sure they are only officiating games they are ready for. Other sports are not that organized, lack the number of officials or have a vision on how to implement a serious training program for their officials. This idea can also be seriously compromised by having an officiating board that is more concerned with having their friends get the bulk of the best paid games for income (regardless of their abilities), than training all their officials to move up the ladder.


    February 8, 2010 at 9:34 am

  4. Thought I’d also add a great video to add to this post, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to post a video in the comment section. If you are interested in seeing a great message go to youtube and look at the Don Lucia Speech. You have a subtitle of your kids not going pro, this video does a great job of pointing out what our coaches should be teaching and how they should be working with our kids.


    February 8, 2010 at 9:46 am

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