Archive for the ‘GAME OFFICIALS’ Category

GAME OFFICIALS: The Shortage of Refs and Umps Continues to Climb

An Update On the National Referee Shortage:

Abuse, Frustration, and Alarm

By Doug Abrams

Nearly every week brings another news article about youth league and interscholastic sports programs that struggle to maintain game schedules and promote player safety despite diminishing numbers of referees. In many communities from coast to coast, referee shortages worsen with each season.

The steady stream of news articles identifies various barriers that challenge efforts to replace seasoned officials who retire. Pay remains relatively low, for example. Family commitments may deflect potential recruits who are raising young children. Younger recruits may soon move away to pursue career opportunities elsewhere. Weekday afternoon games may interfere with full-time employment.

These barriers are real, but the news articles identify another barrier that stands out above the rest. Large numbers of new referees soon quit, frustrated by the incessant verbal, and sometimes physical, abuse routinely dished out by parents and coaches. In earlier columns, I explained why local sports programs feel alarm about the potential impact of acute referee shortages. http://www.askcoachwolff.com/2017/04/02/abusive-sports-parents-epidemic-finding-refs-officials-work-youth-games-continues/; http://www.askcoachwolff.com/2017/07/04/abusive-sports-parents-calculating-hidden-costs-kids-sports-programs/.

The earlier columns featured media commentary from across the nation. To provide an update with the fall sports season approaching, this column surveys some of the most recent news articles, ones that have appeared since early May. By now, these thoughtful articles recite a consistent formula — abuse, frustration, and alarm.

Abuse, Frustration, and Alarm

In the Journal Review (Crawfordsville, Ind.) just three weeks ago, writer Jim Johnson asked pointedly, “Are We Nearing Crisis Mode With a Shortage of Athletic Officials?” An Indiana high school activities association administrator told him that the “biggest issue is the way [referees are] treated . . . from coaches, players and parents.” Johnson sounded the alarm that unless civil, respectful treatment displaces abuse, “[t]he days when games are canceled or postponed because officials aren’t available could come sooner rather than later.”

“They’re Out! Umps, Refs Have Had Enough of Your Yelling.” Under this provocative Idaho Statesman headline, Michael Katz quotes a local volleyball commissioner who pinpoints mounting frustration at fan abuse: “Parents are getting worse. They are more mouthy, and they don’t care if they try to come down and get in [an official’s] face.” Katz says that “[a] few bad experiences . . . make it hard to sell someone on officiating a high school game, much less continuing at the youth level.”

The Washington Times’ Deron Snyder writes that parental and coaching “abuse is a major reason fewer young adults gravitate to officiating.” He says that “[a] nationwide shortage of high school referees is causing alarm for administrators.” “Organized sports,” Snyder warns, “would die without the men and women who don stripes or blue uniforms.”

Writing in the Daily Record (Wooster, Ohio), Mike Plant quotes a veteran local official who sounded the alarm about the potential impact of referee shortages on such sports as track and field, volleyball, and softball. “If we keep going at this pace, there won’t be any games in these sports because there won’t be any officials.”
Two recent Washington Post articles sum up the national portrait. Under the headline, “Verbal Abuse From Parents, Coaches is Causing a Referee Shortage in Youth Sports,” Nick Eilerson blames “a deeply cutthroat sports culture, one that often holds amateur referees to a professional standard.” Matt Bonesteel writes that more and more high school referees quit each year, frustrated by “parents and coaches screaming for your head while you do a job that isn’t exactly going to make anyone rich.”

Scheduling and Safety

What should youth sports advocates make of all this? Even casual observers grow alarmed when games are postponed, rescheduled, or even canceled for lack of available officials. Or when parents or coaches dish out abuse in front of their young athletes.

But another cause for alarm — heightened safety risks — can escape the untrained eye. Especially in contact and collision sports, chronic shortages of experienced officials summon alarm by increasing the risk of injury to players, including ones who compete by the rules. “To be effective for promoting safety,” says a recent medical study, a sport’s rules “must be enforced rigorously and consistently by referees and leagues.” Parents and coaches assume enforcement roles, but referees are the primary enforcers once the game starts. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports consensus among medical professionals that “[o]fficials controlling the physicality of the game . . . can . . . play significant roles in reducing contact injuries.”

This essential control can suffer when so many referees quit each year. Many replacement refs are simply not ready for the responsibilities cast on them. Without the premature departures of so many seasoned veterans, many of the replacements trying to control the game would not yet be on the field.

Most parents and coaches do not stoop to verbal or physical abuse of officials, but news articles uniformly point out the errant minority’s harmful influence. Actions have consequences. Parents and coaches often get the quality of officiating they deserve, and program vitality and player safety may depend on the outcome.

 

Sources: Jim Johnson, Are We Nearing Crisis Mode With a Shortage of Athletic Officials?, Journal Review (Crawfordsville, Ind.), July 26, 2017; Michael Katz, They’re Out! Umps, Refs Have Had Enough Of Your Yelling, Idaho Statesman, June 12, 2017; Deron Snyder, Youth Sports Have Everything, Except People Who Want To Officiate Them, Washington Times, July 31, 2017; Mike Plant, Officials Wanted, Needed, Daily Record (Wooster, Ohio), June 25, 2017; Nick Eilerson, Verbal Abuse From Parents, Coaches Is Causing a Referee Shortage In Youth Sports, Washington Post, June 16, 2017; Matt Bonesteel, Are We Running Out of High School Referees?, Washington Post, May 19, 2017; Charles H. Tator et al., Spinal Injuries in Canadian Ice Hockey: An Update to 2005, 19 Clin. J. Sport Med. 451 (2009); Chris G. Kouteres & Andrew J.M. Gregory, Injuries in Youth Soccer, 125 Pediatrics 410 (Feb. 2010).

 

GAME OFFICIALS: Why It’s Essential to Keep Their Work in Mind

Respect for Officials

By Doug Abrams

Late last month, The Oklahoman carried a thoughtful op-ed article by Mike Whaley, the Director of Officials for the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association. The OSSAA is the membership organization that supervises and regulates the state’s interscholastic sports programs.

With the fall season approaching, Whaley reminded coaches, parents, and players to respect the referees and umpires who help assure the smooth operation of high school and middle school games. “As much as your team wants to win,” he wrote, “officials want to get the calls right. Make no mistake, officials miss calls, . . . but the vast majority of them I know approach every contest in an effort to work the ‘perfect game’”.

“In the world of secondary sports,” Whaley concluded, “athletics is education-based — the core value to the student-athlete is in the process not the outcome.”

Essential Cogs In the Machinery

Mike Whaley is right to urge respect for referees and umpires. Officials do sometimes miss calls because they, like the parents and coaches and players, are not professionals in the sport. Everyone makes mistakes. But for every missed call, officials make dozens of correct calls that only appear wrong to parents and coaches who do not understand the rules, do not see the action as closely as they think they do, or cannot overcome partisanship.

Responsibility brings accountability, so officials should expect periodic reviews by league authorities. But perfection cannot be the standard or the expectation. Leagues will be entitled to perfect referees when the players become perfect players, the coaches become perfect coaches, and the parents become perfect parents. Until that day of universal perfection dawns, fallible officials are a part of youth league and interscholastic sports.

As a youth hockey coach, I learned early that officials deserve respect because, like parents and coaches, they are essential cogs in the complex machinery that enables the young athletes to play. But I also sense that in many communities, persistent disrespect can jeopardize player safety by inducing many experienced referees and umpires to retire prematurely, worn down by the verbal and sometimes physical abuse they face during games.

The rest of this column discusses the sometimes hidden link between officials’ premature retirements and heightened risks to player safety, especially in contact and collision sports.

Premature Retirements

Earlier this year, the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer published an article by Tim Stevens, “Abusive Fans Make It Tougher to Recruit High School Sports Refs.” The article led with this troublesome forecast: “Irate high school sports fans . . . are heaping so much abuse on referees that it is becoming hard for North Carolina and other states to recruit new officials. . . .”

The media regularly reports about chronic referee shortages, not only in school sports, but also in many youth leagues from coast to coast. Among the officials I have known, most stepped forward not primarily for the relatively modest stipends they receive, but to remain active in the game while serving youth and their families. Most officials are family men and women with personal obligations and reputations. Most can find other constructive ways to participate in community life, free from persistent abuse dished out by other adults, often within sight and earshot of the officials’ own families.

Safety Risks

Why the link between chronic referee shortages and player safety? “To be effective for promoting safety,” says a recent medical study, a youth sport’s rules “must be enforced rigorously and consistently by referees and leagues.” Parents and coaches assume important enforcement roles, but referees are the primary enforcers once the game starts. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports consensus among sports medicine professionals that “[o]fficials controlling the physicality of the game . . . can . . . play significant roles in reducing contact injuries.”

This essential control suffers when so many veteran officials quit each year. Many replacement officials are simply not yet ready for the responsibilities cast on them. But for the premature departures of so many veterans, many of the replacements would not yet be on the field.

Because of the competitors’ size and speed, loss of game control seems particularly troublesome in contact and collision sports in high schools and middle schools, the levels that the OSSAA and other state activities associations supervise.  Most parents and coaches do not cross the line into verbal or physical abuse of officials, and most adults may deplore such abuse. But the majority’s disgust does not diminish the harmful influence of the errant minority who do cross. Leagues often get the quality of officiating that they deserve, and player safety may depend on the outcome.

Sources: Mike Whaley, OSSAA Official: Treat the Refs, Umps Right During This High School Sports Year, The Oklahoman, Aug. 24, 2016; Tim Stevens, Abusive Fans Make It Tougher to Recruit High School Sports Refs, Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, Mar. 27, 2016; Charles H. Tator et al., Spinal Injuries in Canadian Ice Hockey: An Update to 2005, Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, vol. 19, p.  451 (2009); Chris G. Kouteres & Andrew J.M. Gregory, Injuries in Youth Soccer, Pediatrics, vol. 125, p. 410 (Feb. 2010).