by Ryan Krzykowski

An update on the 8th grade football season:

For the past four weeks we have begun each Monday practice with a short lesson, video and discussion on a relevant topic that speaks to the character traits we are encouraging players to develop.  Humility, friendship and devotion were the first three.  This week, we talked about respect.  Specifically, respect for game officials.

In speaking to the team, I acknowledged that sometimes I disagree with the calls officials make, and there are a variety of reasons why.  Sometimes they appear to see things that didn’t actually happen.  Sometimes, they are technically making the right call, but the context of the game dictates that maybe that call didn’t need to be made.  Granted, that’s just my opinion in those instances.  And sometimes they just flat out miss something that really did happen. (I greatly appreciate it when officials admit they didn’t see something, rather than pretend that they are infallible).

All that said, for all their imperfection, the officials get things right the vast majority of the time.  I wanted to impress that upon our team.  Additionally, I made the often overlooked point that without officials present, there won’t be a game to play.  The reality is that no matter what you think of the job they are doing, we have to at the very least respect the fact that these women and men show up for little pay so that our kids can play.

I then read the team this article from that appeared a few years ago.  Steve Wulf basically makes many of these same points about refs, umpires and officials, urging us all to back off and let them call the game.  Wulf also references a tragic situation from April, 2013, in which a soccer ref in Utah died after being punched by a 17-year old goalie.  Clearly no game is worth that, to say the least.

Finally, I asked the players to imagine that in 15 or 20 years they are coaching a team.  Doesn’t matter what level or what sport, and in their opinion the officiating is poor.  I asked them to think, and then write about how they plan to handle that.  Here’s a sampling of their responses:

  • I would tell my team members that officials are human too and everyone makes mistakes.
  • I would talk it out nicely and ask why he made the call, and then tell him my reasons.
  • I would calmly speak to the referee and ask him what he saw on the play.
  • For a while, I would just let it go and see if it gets better.  If it doesn’t then I might say a little something but not much.

I realize that none of these responses is especially earth-shattering.  But for 13 year old boys, it’s another case of planting seeds in their developing minds that will hopefully yield something meaningful in time.  There is little doubt that many, if not most of them will end up coaching something at some point.  There is equally little doubt that they will disagree with an official’s calls at some point in their coaching experience.  This is not about being accepting of incompetent officiating, but rather a lesson in handling disagreements in a way that is measured, self-controlled and respectful.

It would be interesting to see an official berate a coach who made a wrong decision or who clearly is in over his head and doesn’t really know how to coach his/her sport.  Of course that would probably never happen.  Then why does it happen the other way around?  How great will it be if the young men we are working with now can help their children have a more enjoyable sports experience by teaching and demonstrating respect to all, including officials?