Three Blind Mice

Hearing the words “Three blind mice”, “Zebras”, “Blue”, and “Striped clowns” conjures up images of youth sport events we are all familiar with. Officials are an integral part of every game and oftentimes their value is under appreciated. Officials are looked upon as the cause of a team losing, the cause of a disruption during the game and the cause of much grief to parents, coaches and players. None of this would be accurate. Officials “facilitate” a game, act as supporters and reinforce the values of a league. Perhaps the reason officials are held in such high contempt is because of what we learned from our parents and others while we were growing up.

It was common to hear parents yell out at officials with derogatory statements and hatred. Players were taught to yell out complaints in chants and coaches lived for the chance to kick dirt onto home plate to antagonize the officials. This has all reinforced the current behavior we see occurring in just about every adult and youth game. What then can be done to turn this around? Educational programs for coaches and parents can be a first step. Clearly there is a fondness or belief that it is ok to yell at officials and to encourage children to utter vile chants. This seems counter to what true sportsmanship is all about.

Sportsmanship is the recognition of athletic performance at any level purely for the performance itself. Coaches are not the sole determiners of what constitutes sportsmanship but rather are but one entity in the paradigm we call sport. Parents are so very crucial to sport and by default to the emergence of sportsmanship in their children. Officials likewise offer yet another avenue for creating an atmosphere that cherishes sportsmanship. The interaction between official and player is a teachable moment that has the potential if taken seriously to encourage sportsmanship, and breakdown any barriers to acceptance. The role of the official is more than blowing a whistle, throwing a flag or handing a ball to a player. The role of the official is to be an educator. One who teaches the game, not only to players but to coaches and parents as well. They facilitate a game. They control the tempo and keep in check the aggressiveness of players, coaches and parents that detract from enjoying a game.

So how do we go about demonstrating greater appreciation for officials? It starts with coaches, players and parents working together. Officials are part of the game. Let’s teach our children that officials should be respected and treated just as they treat their own coach. Coaches can reinforce this message by teaching players correct behavior at games and how to thank not only the opposing team but officials also at the end of the contest. Officials can do more to help their image by using the game as teachable moments when the need for a call is made. It will take the efforts of all involved in sport to change the poor attitude many have for officials. So next time you are at a game remember to call out and tell the official they are doing a good job. Sportsmanship dictates the value of every participant, every coach and every official. Be a true sport. Good job, Blue.

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