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Parents and Youth Sport Officials Can Get Along

Treating Officials With Respect Is Key

Parental Abuse Of Youth Refs: A Big Problem

Unfortunately, parents are driving new referees out of the game in increasing numbers. This is bad for the game and for the kids who have had their self-esteem battered by abusive parents. The percentage of those who are trained and drop out of officiating [link to /alpha/news/survey_finds_spectator_abuse.shtml] within one year is staggering.

Young refs will often officiate at games of 8 and 10 year olds. Parents of children this age can be particularly merciless on the refs. All too often, they lose perspective on why their child is out there. They will yell and scream at every call.

The problem is often made worse by parents who do not know the rules specific to the age group of the children playing. For example:

  • In U-8 soccer the offside rule is not enforced. For a parent who knows a little about soccer, this can cause undue screaming about a rule that is not even being enforced!

  • In football it might be the rule that protects punters; or

  • In basketball it might be a "no press" rule.

It is sad when the parent's own ignorance of the rules drives them to abuse the young official.

Abusing Officials Usually Backfires

Too often, the parent on the sideline believes that if they attack the character of the referee, the referee will start to call the game for the people who are abusing him. In all of my contact with officials, whether at speaking engagements or in watching them officiate, I have yet to meet a ref who has changed a call because he was emotionally abused by a parent or coach.

Indeed, quite the opposite is true: the natural tendency of a ref is to make the call for the less abusive team when the call could go either way. If the abusive parent is trying to influence the ref to make calls for their team they have chosen the wrong way of doing it.

The only situation, in my experience, where the abusive strategy works is when the official (oftentimes a young one) becomes intimidated. An intimidated ref is even less likely to call a good game because he or she is afraid of making a mistake. An intimidated ref is likely to not make good calls and the bad taste the experience leaves is very likely to drive him or her from the game, if not the next game, then the one after that, or at the end of the season.

Treating Officials With Respect Is The Key

  • There is only one acceptable way to treat youth sports officials: with respect.
  • The coach sets the tone. When the coach understands the principle of mutual respect, he or she is more likely to be in control of his players and the parents. The parents will take the cues from the coach. If the coach is abusive, the parents are likely to follow suit and be abusive. If the coach does not tolerate this behavior, the parents will be better behaved.
  • If the coach goes out of the way to tell the official that he or she appreciates what the official is doing, then the contest will start off on a positive note. The coach should also let the official know before the game starts that the parents will control themselves and not be abusive. That way the official will know that the coach is in control of the sidelines and that he or she wants a positive environment for the young players, as well as for the official.

  • When mutual respect is established, the official will be better able to give his or her best in calling a good and fair contest. If parents are generally supportive of the official and he or she then hears someone question a call from the sidelines, he or she is more likely to pay attention to this type of problem on the field. The parents have gained credibility with the official because they have not complained about every call. Consequently, the official will think more about the last call to determine if it was in error.