Blaming unruly parents for dwindling high school sports
As a youth lacrosse administrator with over 30 years of experience, I have seen adult attitudes and conduct lead to a decline in youth lacrosse participation and a lack of officials to oversee the matches.
If you are a sports fan, this should apply to you. Referees cut their teeth at youth level. Our local lacrosse councils provide extensive training and mentorship to prepare umpires to conduct fair and equal play. They are required to pass a written test and then a full on-the-job assessment. However, they are not, and should not be, trained in aggressive verbal attacks and threatening gestures from coaches and parents. The vulgar and foul language that is displayed in front of impressionable young children is simply disgusting. Indecency includes swearing, physical altercations between coaches where umpires have to intervene, and umpires being chased as they walk off the field by angry parents, all the way through a 9-year-old’s lacrosse game!
Who can blame a civil servant for wanting to resign after a few years? It’s not worth the money, time or aggravation they endure. Does this happen every game? Certainly not. Do officials make mistakes? Of course. But coaches and players too. All are human! When officials leave at the youth level, there will be a shortage of officials through high school and eventually college. Most officials get involved for the love of the game, being cursed and ridiculed naturally changes their perspective.
And, unfortunately, it doesn’t stop at the youth level. Go to any high school or college game and the parents expend more energy and focus on the referees than the game itself. I attended a college championship game on a recent weekend and the parents’ language and behavior towards the officials was an embarrassing display. Do parents understand that they are representing themselves, their child and the school their child is playing for? I don’t think they care. I spoke to the official who refereed the game afterwards and mentioned the horrible behavior of the fans. His response was “yes, as we walked off the field the fans were yelling at us. The school didn’t provide any security for the officials and it was intimidating.
This statement sums up the erosion of supporter behaviour: officials need security to leave a pitch!
What happened to us as a society that made us feel entitled to act in such an unacceptable way? What were once comments like “Come on, Ref”, have now evolved into comments and actions that would get you fired from a job – and in some cases arrested. Adults need to take responsibility for their actions and accept that when their child makes a mistake or fails to meet their expectations, it is not the referee’s fault! Understand that when a referee makes a call, it’s in real time without the luxury of replaying. And at the end of the day, understand that the referee probably knows the rules much better than you and always acts in the best interest of player safety.
So if you want good officials, shut up!
—Ruthie Lavelle, Baltimore
The author is commissioner of the Maryland Youth Lacrosse Association.
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