Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Be nice to referees!

Part of the American experience of sports is the competition between two teams. And, of course, there is the all important role of the fans. In football, they are often called the “twelfth man.” A third element to the game, referees, have been viewed almost as a necessary evil, rather more like weather than something to be hated outright. 

To attend a recreational league game of almost any sort these days is like walking into an exercise in exaggeration and excess. Parents, coaches, and players are increasingly vocal from the sidelines when, really, there isn’t that much to yell about. I actually give a speech to our travel parents before the first tournament of the year telling them that the referees are there to serve a valuable function on the field. And they do their best. Well, most of the time.

In every game of every sport it is possible to point out missed calls and calls that went the wrong way. Every parent feels the referee is against their team. Unfortunately, some parents are completely happy to tell the referee exactly what he did wrong and how much of an idiot he is. I’ve been at games where the parents have been downright ferocious, carrying on and yelling at referees (some of whom are half their age and aren’t yet old enough to vote). 

There are several major problems with this. 

First, most of the time, the referee DOES make the right call. No, I am not kidding. The biggest problem with the calls are that they are against YOUR team or, worse, YOUR kid! I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had a parent come up to me after a game to complain about a call against his or her son only to have me say, “Yep, he slashed him. No question about it.”

Second, this is a rec league. Do you really think the refs are playing favorites? WHY? Think about it. Try to picture a ref saying, “I really want THIS group of ten year-olds to win today instead of THAT group.” That’s non-sensical.

Third, many of our rec league referees are new. They are testing the waters as a referee, seeing how they like it. It’s stressful, they are performing new duties, and they are constantly being screamed at by 30 sets of parents who sound, to be honest, insane. They are doing the best they can do. If they are good, they will be equally good for both teams. If they are bad, they will be equally bad. 

Let’s get this out in the open now. Refs miss calls. But I am willing to bet that they miss them just about equally. You just don’t notice it when it is against your kid. 

Be quiet and let the kids play. I am certain that for every time your son got slashed without a penalty being called is more than offset by the number of times he crosschecked a player but didn’t get called. It happens. To both sides.

Lately, however, I’ve heard the referees in lacrosse games referred to as the “eleventh man.” Sadly, this is NOT because they are perceived to be impartial, fair and evenhanded. Quite the contrary, very often it is alleged that the referees are unabashedly biased against one team or another. 

Is it true? Sure. It does happen. But it isn’t common. In the rec league format, it is almost never seen. Most of the referees are not friends with the players or even the coaches. Many of the referees are new and young. What we DO see is the result of inexperienced referees making bad calls. In other cases, we’ve seen referees being badgered and, I would argue, bullied by the crowd in to making calls that they didn’t really see or didn’t personally believe were infractions. You can always tell when this happens because the ref almost never knows the number of the player who committed the foul and/or there is a huge lapse in time as the fumbling referee tries to apply a rule to an infraction that he didn’t really observe in the first place.