Before I get started, I feel like I need to offer some Super Bowl thoughts.
1. The Commercials: As a dad, I really enjoyed the Dove Men’s commercial; the Budweiser puppy/horse/wolves ad made my wife cry; I’d have loved to have been in the Nationwide board room when they decided that was the commercial to go with; the Coke spot confused my 9 year old; and the Pete Rose Sketchers ad was my favorite. Seriously, he’s waited a long time; just let Pete in the HOF already.
2. Halftime: I realized that I’m getting old because (1) I was indifferent to Katy Perry although three little boys in the house loved it; (2) Is Lenny Kravitz still relevant? I was unaware of that if he is; and (3) my wife was all about Missy Elliot’s appearance. She found her 22 year old self in a hurry when Missy came out.
3. The Game: Regarding the fickleness of sports in general – if that last pass is completed, Pete Carroll is an aggressive genius, and Tom Brady is still regarded on the same rung as Elway, Kelly, etc. Because that pass was intercepted, Carroll is an idiot, and Brady is arguably the best ever, finally eclipsing Joe Montana.
With that out of the way – We have a huge problem on our hands in youth sports. We have an extreme shortage of officials.
I came across Crazy Hockey Dad a couple weeks ago. Unfortunately, there are plenty more where that came from: Wrestling Mom (go to the 4:00 mark), Football Dad, and more can be found with simple searches. Or click here. Or here for more on the same story..
It’s obviously not just parents, though; for examples of coaches yelling at officials, stop by almost any court/field/rink/diamond in the world.
Let’s get a couple specifics out of the way first:
1. It’s difficult to officiate. Officiating requires quick thinking, quick decision making, and the ability to move at the speed of the athletes being officiated…or at least as close as possible.
2. The higher the level, the better that officials get paid. (In North Dakota at a Class A school, basketball referees make the following wages per game: $70/varsity, $40.50/JV&C, $33.50/9th grade, and $28.50/middle school.)
3. The higher the level, the easier it can be to officiate the game: better player skill, more efficient movement, “cleaner” games, etc.
4. The higher the level, the more difficult it can be to officiate the game: higher stakes, more pressure, quicker players, etc
5. Officials start at the lower levels and work their way up to the higher levels – typically meaning that younger, less experienced officials are working the lower levels.
I can speak on this topic as an athletic director and as an official. I’ve refereed basketball games in the past, and I’m still umping baseball games. I’ve been fortunate enough to ump games from the Cal Ripken level up to NCAA D2, so I’ve seen plenty of different coaches, fans, and kids.
There are several realities within the athletic world that we’re facing because of our declining officials’ pool.
– Game pay for officials continues to climb. Our high school officials get paid really well. If I work a high school baseball double header, I’ll make $124 for about 3-4 hours of work (shorter or longer depending on the quality of play, of course). The couple dollars a game increase every year doesn’t translate into much for the officials per game on a year to year basis, but take that $2/game and multiply by all of our home games in two high schools and four middle schools. That’s a significant yearly increase for our game worker expenditures.
– We’ve had to reschedule games based on availability of officials. In fact, we’re currently exploring moving some of our middle school games to Wednesday nights to avoid the high school nights of Tuesday/Thursday because we can’t find middle school officials.
– I’ve had afternoons where I’ve sprinted out of the office at the end of the work day to ump some games for other schools in order to free up enough umpires for games in our district.
So what’s causing the shortage? I have a few ideas.
– Even though officials get paid well, it’s not enough money to justify listening to coaches and fans yell at their work for a couple hours. Imagine if your job consisted of strangers (or not!) coming to your desk during the day and loudly criticizing you. Not fun.
– Because of that, officials who have worked for a while decide they’re done putting up with the criticism, so they stop working. Younger officials often take so much abuse at the lower levels that they find another way to make a couple bucks where people won’t yell at them for an hour. Put that together, and tenured officials are getting out earlier while younger officials aren’t sticking around long enough to become good.
– Often, the criticism is meant to demean an official – as if the official is on a lower pedestal than the coach or the fan. In all reality, the officials are as necessary – if not more so – as coaches for a well run game.
– Coaches who think they need to “work the officials” make the whole game miserable. I’d like to see our coaches’ reactions if we had officials who tried to “work the coaches” for an entire game.
It’s a tough fix, but here are a handful of suggestions.
– You aren’t “working the officials”; you aren’t “advocating for your kids”; you aren’t “coaching for a call”. You’re annoying. That’s pretty much it. Worse than that, when coaches are whining, the kids and fans typically follow that example. I’ve posted about a great example of sideline demeanor in the past. (I’ll even admit that there’s a coach in our area who I won’t ump for because his obnoxious behavior is patterned by his players and his fans. There are enough other games for me to work so I’m able to actively avoid him. I’ve suggested to my colleagues that they do the same. The only way he’ll learn is for people to stop working for him.)
– Confession from an umpire – when you whine, I think it’s funny. I’d like to think that I’m a decent umpire, so I’m comfortable with how I work a game. Like anyone else in any other job, I’m not always on the top of my game; I make mistakes. When coaches start picking on those mistakes, I think it’s funny. As a knowledgeable baseball guy, I’d like to start questioning various player’s skill progression, some in-game play calling, etc. etc.
– More importantly, you should thank the officials. If we ever get to the point where we no longer have officials, the only way to play games will be for coaches to officiate. Have fun with that.
– Check out these suggestions from a past post. In particular, make sure to read #8.
– Confession from an umpire – when you yell, I laugh at you. A lot. In fact, many times when I’m meeting with my partner in between half innings, we’re sharing the dumb things we’ve heard shouted from the stands.
– More importantly, you should be thanking the officials. You don’t have to officiate because other people are doing it for you.
Basic summary: officials are out there working because they enjoy the game, enjoy the kids, and/or enjoy the exercise. I’ve umped for coaches I don’t particularly like, but I’ve never gone into a game planning on being biased. And, honestly, if there is a parent or coach that an official actively picks on, it’s probably because the parent or coach was an idiot in the past. Officials are serving their part of the game so the kids can perform their part. Just leave the stripes alone! In the meantime, look at what we’re paying officials to run around with the kids; now is as good a time as any to start getting involved!