PCA has requested my perspective on youth sports culture and its effect on those who may want to officiate games. It is difficult for me to wholeheartedly recommend that anyone undertake that role. It is a darned shame that matters have come to this, but they have.
On a national front, what I hear most is that parents of youth sports participants often act in a manner that is abhorrent. How can it be that kids are playing sports for their enjoyment and education, are being watched by fans/parents, and what we hear most is that bad-acting parents spoiled the day?
Youth sports is generally, on the spectrum of organized sports, the intersection of three things: the lesser-skilled players, the lesser-skilled officials and the virtual lack of formal game-site security. That is one bad combination. Aggrieved and agitated parents add fuel to that fire.
One remedy may be to hire more experienced officials and to hire formal security at every youth event. But when I suggest that, eyes roll, and I hear, “We have no money.”
Another potential remedy is to institute policies and procedures that prevent players, coaches and fans from harassing officials, causing game interruptions and showing displeasure at game calls and enforcements. Period. Then, heads of schools, conferences or other organizations administering events must set the tone for all that comes afterwards.
The critical dimension to me is not to say that officials are part-time or that they work for nothing or that they are fallible. The critical dimension is for youth and high school sports leaders to get their constituents to buy into the belief that officials matter in the same way that the judges in our legal system matter. They serve the same purpose and deserve the same measure of respect.
None of this turns on the rightness or wrongness of game officials’ calls. The vast majority of calls are correct. The ones that are incorrect thus must be viewed and treated as learning experiences for young people, who surely will face other “incorrect or unfair calls” in other areas of their lives. Help them get over it!
How about we help youth sports better fulfill their promise: to provide a venue for children to attempt goals in fair, honorable competition? Every one of us in sport should commit ourselves to that ideal. Do you care enough to stand up, speak up and lead your league, your players and your parents to a better outcome beyond racking up another win?