Games are better when coaches, players, fans and officials stay in their lane

As a former high school and college basketball official, I found that the best games were those in which the players played, the coaches coached, and the officials officiated. You could add that it helped when fans supported their teams instead of trying to coach and officiate.

It sounds so simple, but all too often, it isn’t. All too often, you have players whining, coaches complaining, and officials babysitting players and coaches.

In August, the National Federation of State High School Associations distributed an op-ed suggesting that inappropriate behavior by parents and other adult fans at high school sporting events was causing many officials to quit before they reached even two years on the job.

Shortly after releasing the op-ed article, one of the member state associations shared a resignation letter it had received from a 20-year veteran soccer official who had taken all the abuse he could handle. A portion of that letter follows:

Soccer parents, you are absolutely 100% the reason we have a critical refereeing shortage and games are being canceled left and right. And you are at least a part of the reason I’m done here. The most entitled among you are the ones that scream the loudest. And every time you do this, you tell your son or daughter the following:

I do not believe in you, I do not believe in your team, I do not believe in your collective ability to overcome your own adversity, and you absolutely will not win and cannot do this without me tilting the table in your favor.’

On behalf of myself and so many other referees – and I say this with every ounce of my heart and soul – shut up about the referees, and let your kids rise or fall as a team, as a FAMILY. Because the vast majority of you truly have no idea what you’re talking about, and even if you have a legitimate gripe about one play or one decision, you’re not fixing anything.”

That same week, the Eastern Panhandle Youth Football League in West Virginia released the following statement:
“Unfortunately, it has come to the point that because of the abuse, negativity and utter disrespect shown to our officials from parents, coaches and most recently from our players, the Eastern Panhandle Officials Association president stated today that the association will no longer schedule officials for our league games at any field. This means effective immediately all remaining games are canceled.”

Believe it or not, an entire student section was recently removed from a high school football game for repeatedly shouting taunts and obscenities after being told to stop. In this case, the inappropriate behavior was directed at the opposing team instead of the officials.

Truth be told, the behavior of some players, coaches, and fans would never be tolerated in most civilized places – the workplace, for example.

When I was one of the state tournament basketball officials in Topeka, I was standing next to a Kansas State High School Athletics Association administrator when a student section started chanting, “I’m blind. I’m deaf. I want to be a ref.”

I commented, “I guess we know who isn’t winning the sportsmanship award.” The administrator didn’t find the behavior amusing, and he or a school administrator put an end to the chant as I recall.

The NFHS article “Officials Tiring of Unruly Behavior by Parents, Other Fans,” concluded by saying “Most of the 7.9 million participants in high school sports are on the fields and courts every day to have fun and compete as a team with their classmates, and the 300,000-plus officials assist in that process. Now, if parents – and all other fans – would let the players play and the officials officiate!”

At its best, sports are supposed to build character. Unfortunately, it often just builds characters.