Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

Posts Tagged ‘abuse

Is fan abuse making the youth referee an endangered species?

with 8 comments

[youtubevid id=”h7gi4eFWMC8″]

Who WOULDN’T want to take grief for $35 a game?

Mark Hyman, author of a recently published tome about what ails youth sports, in the New York Times took aim at a chronic problem: abuse of officials.

Looking for part-time employment in a field in which hundreds of onlookers can raise a ruckus over one’s honest mistake or no mistake at all? There are plenty of openings.

Around the country, it has become harder to find youth sports officials and to keep experienced ones on the job. The situation has forced some games to be postponed and others to be played with short-handed crews. In some places, it is not unusual for football referees to work two games on long and exhausting Friday nights. Spot shortages are also common in soccer and volleyball.

“Are we desperately short? No,” said Jack Folliard, the executive director of the Oregon Athletic Officials Association. “But we are struggling to get enough officials.”

The cause of the problem is not a mystery to those in striped shirts, who are growing weary over abuse from agitated fans, most of them adults.

“I have officials specifically tell me that’s why they’re not renewing their licenses anymore,” said Fran Martin, the assistant executive director of the Kansas High School Athletic Association. “They’re tired of putting up with the behavior.”

It’s difficult to get a handle on how many officials are really quitting, because this recession has created in some areas a boom in the number of people who’ll take that extra $50-75 a night while they try to find, presumably, less abusive employment. But, no doubt, youth official abuse is one of those problems that’s always been with us (I remember my mom, as official scorer during one of my games, having to make sure one coach left the field after the ump ejected him over his abuse — a coach that happened to be one Lyle Moran, my Little League’s founder), and probably always will be.

Think of yourself watching a pro game on television. How often are you outwardly berating the referees? Yes, these are pros, and you might have money on the line, but an occasional gripe is one thing. If you’re constantly blaming your team’s woes on the referees, then you’re a whiner, you’re teaching your kid to be a whiner, and you’re probably more likely to be the type who is going to go off on some 14-year-old girl umping your 8-year-old daughter’s softball game. It’s not that referees are blameless and mistake-free. It’s teaching a lesson to the kids you raise, and you coach, that you worry about the things you can control, like how you play. Kids aren’t going to become better players if they learn everything is always the official’s fault.

Bill Wells, the fine youth sports columnist for the Springfield (Mass.) Republican, has two good rules on the only times it’s acceptable to give grief to a youth sports official:

While I’m not a fan of yelling at officials, there are at least two scenarios where I think it’s acceptable, although not ideal. If an official tries to make an example out of a player, or if an official is letting dirty play continue, I think a coach or spectator is somewhat justified in yelling at an official as long as it does not include poor language or threats. Talking to the official would be best, but in the heat of the moment, things do happen.

Note that these scenarios have to do with safety and fairness — not whether the official is a fucking blind incompetent. The only times as a coach I can remember even talking to a referee during a game about calls is when I coached basketball, and I thought players were a little loose with the elbows and a little eager to undercut shooters. In those cases, though, I waited for a time out, and I suggested (nicely, I hope) that even though this is a rec league and things are called a little more loosely, that it might be a good idea to make sure that stuff stops. Like any humanoid, a referee tends to respond better if you ask, respectfully, than if you ask him to open his fucking eyelids, you stupid shit.

Also a good thing to remember for youth sports parents and coaches: The level of officiating can only be equal to the level of play. So if you’re watching a 8-year-old’s baseball game where five out of every six pitches is behind the batter, don’t expect a major-league level umpire.

However, I’m going to assume that not everyone is going to be nice and understanding. It happens. People watch their teams and their kids, and they get emotional, protective, ready to strike if they feel their young ones are being wronged.

So for the self-protection and sanity of officials, I would like to suggest they follow what I will call Sarzo’s Rules for Referees.

I name these after Mike Sarzo, who in 2009 became one of those aforementioned unemployed-turned-referees. Whatever his job situation, Sarzo has continued to officiate various sports, from football to baseball to lacrosse, in the suburban Washington haunts of Maryland. I interviewed him by email in December 2009 about his experiences, and daggone it, he didn’t have multiple harrowing tales to tell about rabid fans wanting to string him up at game’s end.

A lot of this, I believe, is because Sarzo keeps a good head about him on the field. Distilling what he told me, I give you Sarzo’s Rules for Referees:

1. Keep in mind that coaches, fans and players advocate for their own teams.

2. Tune out the comments, and keep the focus on your job.

3. But if the comments go too far, then be prepared to take action. When you say, “Coach, that’s enough,” mean it.

4. Crewmates should support each other on the field. (Off the field, you can critique each other all you want.)

5. Slow down. Make sure you see what happens before you make the call.

While these five rules might not minimize referee abuse, at least they can help the official deal with it. They also increase the chance that even the coach has been a jackhole all game, once the excitement and adrenaline has passed, Coach Jackhole will walk up to you, extend a hand, and say, “Good game, ref.”

Written by rkcookjr

June 10, 2010 at 5:38 pm

Coach chucks volleyball at player during game

with one comment

“Boy, I love to compete. … I always have. I love having the opportunity to teach the game and instill a passion for it in young people. I try to let the girls see how important the game is to me. I coach with a lot of energy and fire and I think it’s catchy.” — Eric Maxwell, girls volleyball coach at Southern Regional High School, Manahawkin, N.J., to the Asbury Park Press on Dec. 12, 2009.

“Eric Maxwell patrols up and down the sidelines at Southern Regional with the fury of a drill sergeant. Calling play formations, barking out instructions and questioning calls, when Maxwell is at the top of his lungs, chances are Southern Regional is at the top of its game. ‘I am an extremely competitive person. I want to win. I want to put the team in a position to win. I want to do all I can to give them the opportunity for success.’ ” — “Maxwell takes it to the Max,” profile in The Star Ledger (Newark, N.J.) for its high school coach of the week series, April 24, 2008.

Coach Maxwell, you might want to dial that passion and fire down just a skosh. And remember that someone is always recording your games.

[youtubevid id=”Drq9pXKWm0Q”]

(Hat tip to for finding the video, and reporting that the coach got a red card during the game, but was not ejected. And he still, presumably, has his job.)

Written by rkcookjr

January 6, 2010 at 11:12 am

Do coaches yell more than they used to? DO THEY??????

leave a comment »

Recently University of Kansas officials began looking into allegations from players and their parents that football coach Mark Mangino… well, the Kansas City Star didn’t say exactly what, but it’s widely believed that it has something to do with his temper, which is on display in this oft-seen YouTube clip of Mangino going ballistic (in a possibly NSFW way) on one of his players who drew a taunting penalty after running an interception back for a touchdown.

[youtubevid id=”zmAYpAzNB34″]

Rated “R” for language and threat of violence. No nudity.

So Star reporters Dave Helling and Diane Stafford, riffing off of Mangino, proceed to write a story called, “Aggressive coaching is a growing problem, but how much is too much?” I know reporters don’t write the headlines. But the story promises exactly what the head says — a look at the growing problem of semi-abusive coaches.

Except that there is zero evidence in their story that there is a “growing” number of semi-abusive coaches.

One problem I have with stories like the one in the Star, and with the coverage of youth sports in general, is that it’s always either-or. Either coaches are violent hooligans destroying the fragile psyches of young children, or they’re don’t-keep-score weenies pussifying America.

Of course, both kinds of coaches are out there. I’ve seen no scientific evidence determining what percentage of coaches are hard-asses vs. bleeding hearts, but I do know that since I was a kid, leagues are far more upfront, at least on paper, about making teaching children and getting them to enjoy a sport a greater goal than winning. That’s why I have a hard time buying sentences like these from Helling and Stafford, who, to be fair, are only regurgitating what they’ve been told:

Yet the problem of overly aggressive youth coaching is growing in America. Indeed, three out of four young players quit organized sports before the age of 13, according to one survey, blaming overly aggressive coaching more than any other reason.

“The win-at-all-costs mentality that’s filtered down from professional sports has colored youth sports,” said Jim Thompson, founder of a California-based organization called the Positive Coaching Alliance, which counsels coaches at the high school level and below. “Youth coaches are imagining in their heads that they’re an NBA coach or an NFL coach.”

A survey by the Citizenship Through Sports Alliance gave youth coaching a C- grade in 2005, calling the lack of focus on effort, skill development, positive reinforcement and fun “unacceptable.”

“Youth sports has lost its child-centered focus, meaning less emphasis on the child’s experience and more emphasis on adult-centered motives, such as winning,” the group concluded.

The Positive Coaching Alliance and Citizenship Through Sports Alliance do some wonderful work, but if they believe youth sports has “lost” its child-centered focus, they’re not looking at the same world I see. If anything has changed, it’s not that coaches yell more. It’s that youth sports has grown more professionalized as a result of parents willing to pay big bucks to get their kids, the centers of their lives, everything they could possibly want and need for that elusive college scholarship or pro career.

The story of the reaction to Mangino and others allegedly like him is not that coaches yell more. It’s that a coach who motivates through fear and yelling stands out much more than he or she used to — a point Helling and Stafford make later on, thus contradicting the thesis of their story:

Complaints about overly aggressive coaches aren’t limited to big-time college programs. Raytown South basketball coach Bud Lathrop lost his job after more than 40 seasons [in 2003] after stories surfaced that players were paddled for missing free throws.

At the time, some of Lathrop’s fans defended his approach, which they said was considered perfectly acceptable 30 or 40 years ago. …

Every management guru in America preaches that collaboration is the best way to get good work out of the “team.” Even the military, the bastion of top-down, do-as-I-say leadership, has tried to tone down the archetypal drill-sergeant abuse.

Yet society generally casts a more permissive eye on successful coaches who behave badly. Bob Knight and Woody Hayes were legendary for outbursts, physical and verbal, although it eventually got both in hot water.

Yeah, about that hot water. Hayes, Ohio State’s legendary football coach, was fired in 1978 after punching an opponent who was forced onto his sideline after returning an interception.

[youtubevid id=”HmoIjMr1BZs”]

Woody Hayes, losing his shit.

Knight, the legendary Indiana basketball coach, was fired in 2000 after he violated a zero-tolerance policy put on him after numerous controversial incidents regarding his behavior.

So let me ask this. If aggressive coaching is so much more of a problem, why are aggressive coaches being tossed out? Why are youth sports leagues emphasizing to their coaches the importance of teaching over winning? Which is it, Kansas City Star — are coaches being allowed to run wild, or are they being told to hold their temper? You’ve got a serious mixed message when you’re trying to send a firm one about the prevalence of abusive coaches.

Of course, as I mentioned before, it’s not an either-or situation. A lot of youth coaches, whether they yell or not, are focused on winning. Often, the parents whose kids are on that coach’s team emphasize it as well. Indeed, a recent study by a University of Washington professor found that children whose coaches emphasized mastery of skill rather than winning had less “sports anxiety” and were more likely to stay with a sport.

I think where reporters like those at the Star get the mistaken impression that coaches are yelling more is because there is so much emphasis from organizations like the Positive Coaching Alliance to make sure ALL coaches are creating a positive environment. By the way, that’s not as simple as praising everyone. In the coed fifth- and sixth-grade team I coach, sometimes you have to give ’em a carrot, and sometimes you have to be more forceful about what you want. Some kids respond to the carrot, and some kids need the stick. What I try to do is make sure they know I’m doing what I’m doing because I care for them and want them to get better. I don’t use a paddle.

Does winning matter? To me, no. But I know from my experience that if kids never win, or don’t win much, that’s as discouraging as an environment that is only about winning.

The big problem with youth coaching, and where organization like Positive Coaching Alliance prove valuable, is that because coaches are drawn from the ranks of parent volunteers, you have people who don’t know how to coach. So, they draw on who their old coaches were — yellers, like back in the day.

The next time someone writes a story about yelling coaches, I’d like to see either a study showing that indeed more coaches are abusive, or something that reflects the reality of youth sports today — where some coaches yell, and some don’t, where some kids are in professionalized programs, and some aren’t. Just because Mark Mangino yells doesn’t mean most coaches do, or that just because he yells he represents a growing trend.

The story really is that if a coach does cross the line toward abuse, parents, players and others in the outside world are much more likely to call the coach on it.

Written by rkcookjr

November 19, 2009 at 11:33 pm

Bully for you

with 2 comments

bully_frontcoverYou think being a big-time teenage sports star makes you immune from bullying? Think again.

Tom Daley, 14, a British diver who competed in the 2008 Olympics, and his family say he is likely to change schools because of bullying. He says it’s not “high-level” but that “everyone is doing it.”

From the BBC:

Tom said: “It’s not getting to me, as in the words are upsetting me, it’s just the fact that I can’t have a normal school life like everybody else.

“It’s not high-level bullying, just name calling, someone chucking a bit of paper at you, tipping your pencil case out.

“After the Olympics it went mad… everyone that you walk past has a little dig at you.”

He said he had not been back to school since before the Easter holidays and had considered changing schools.

Katrina Borowski, principal of Eggbuckland Community College, said: “Tom’s extremely high profile has led to a minority of students acting in an immature way towards him.

“All involved in his education are supporting him as best we can and immediate action was taken to address concerns raised.”

It seems almost trivial to bring up Daley’s story after the recent suicides of 11-year-old Jaheem Herrera and Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, both of whom were reportedly bullied ceaselessly, far beyond have their pencil cases tipped out. But Daley’s case shows just how endemic bullying is, and how, even in small ways, it forces lives to change against their will. Here are some numbers from the National Youth Violence Prevention Center that should disabuse you of any notion bullying is just a phase kids go through and grow out of.