What is the solution to stopping ref abuse? It is a very real problem. Listen to these facts:
In a detailed survey of over 17,000 referees conducted last year by the National Association of Sports Officials, 87% of respondents said that they had suffered from verbal abuse in their role as officials and 13% responded that they had been physically assaulted before, during, or after a game. That’s nearly one out of every seven officials. (The Guardian, April 16, 2018)
While many people in the youth sports world acknowledge that the abuse of referees is out of control, few seem willing to do anything to change it, and fewer still seem to care that many of the abused referees are still children.
To the parents and spectators of youth sports who feel the need to treat officials in this way, I would say, JUST STOP. You are setting an example of poor sportsmanship to the next generation and showing them that it’s okay to verbally abuse people you don’t agree with.
If you decide to stop, but still struggle to control your words, I’d like to give 3 simple steps that can help you break the habit of verbally abusing officials.
Step 1: Sit Down
Just because you stand does not mean you abuse refs, but if you are abusing refs when pacing the sidelines or standing close to the game, then the first step is to sit down. Relax. Enjoy the game without inserting yourself into it. You may have to force yourself to sit down, but in order to break the bad habit, you have to practice a good one. So start with finding a spot in the bleachers or bring your own chair and have a seat.
Step 2: Imagine the Ref is Your Child
If your child were officiating a little league or soccer game, would you talk to them as you talk to the refs in your child’s game?
The fact is that in youth soccer, for example, 72% of referees for leagues affiliated with the US Soccer Federation are 19 years of age or younger, and in some states those rates are even higher. In Kentucky, nearly 80% of referees are 18 or younger, while in Minnesota a staggering 69% are 14 or younger, with some referees as young as 11. (The Guardian, April 16, 2018)
It is amazing to think that this verbal abuse would be considered child abuse if someone were yelling at their kid like that in a school setting or a work setting.
And if the ref is older? Then imagine they are your brother or sister or best friend. Because that’s just what they are to someone. For some reason, spectators seem to forget that officials are mere humans, not robots who perform their duties. Don’t talk to them any different than you would if you were having a conversation with them face to face, at work, at home, or in the neighborhood.
Would you abuse them or insult them just because you don’t like the way they did something? Then don’t treat them that way just because they are 50 feet away from you!
Step 3: Remember Who’s Watching
I firmly believe that WHO you are as a person is the most important part of parenting. Because there’s a very strong chance that who you are is what your child will become.
They are watching, they hear you yelling abuse to the refs, and chances are pretty good that they will follow in your footsteps, at some point in their lives.
Before you shout that insult, ask yourself, “Would I want my child saying this?”
One More Solution to Ref Abuse
As suggested in the article from The Guardian, there is one more solution to the problem of referee abuse: “Ask parents and ask spectators to be a sports official for one year, and maybe we’ll have a cultural change.”
If you find yourself struggling with this or any other part of sports parenting, I can help. I’m a parenting coach and would love to give you a free introductory 30-minute coaching call. Schedule here.