Do More To Ensure The Safety Of Referees
By Kevin Hoffman, Managing Editor
We’re never going to agree with every call given by our sports referees. But schools and leagues still have a responsibility to ensure their safety and prevent unspeakable acts of violence that unfortunately are becoming more common.
Late last year in the Netherlands, at least four teenage boys allegedly attacked and killed a linesman following an amateur football match. The motive is unknown, but reports indicate the children are athletes involved in the same club where the 41-year-old linesman volunteered.
It’s not the first time we’ve heard something like this, and it won’t be the last. Sports officials consistently receive threats—some serious, most not—from coaches and players, to out-of-control parents and general fans. The question is whether you’re doing anything about it.
If you’re not, you should be. We all get angry with officials, but just like you they’re trying to stay involved with a sport they love, and they’re prone to errors—we all are. There isn’t one person on the planet who could flawlessly call a game at any level. If you believe otherwise, you’re fooling yourself.
But what do we do with our anger? For most of us that frustration quickly erodes and our lives go on. For other, it festers in their bones and manifests into something much nastier. There is no excuse for attacking a referee, but the competitive nature of sports partnered with the mental instability of a select few continues to make this an issue.
You can help thwart the violence with the simplest of gestures. And if your school doesn’t already embrace and enforce a policy that provides some level of protection, it’s something you must consider.
Start with education. Coaches, administrators, parents, players and fans all must understand that there is zero tolerance toward harassment of officials. That means if you’re a player, you’re finished. If you’re a parent, you will never sit in the stands again. This should be made clear in handbooks and preseason meetings to everyone involved with your program. You don’t want anyone committing embarrassing acts under your school’s flag because there’s no telling the ripple effect it will have across your program. Be clear, be precise and be stern in your message that second chances are not given.
The next step is to create a “buddy system,” designating members of your program (or security) to walk with referees to their cars following games. It might sound ridiculous, but this is when most assaults on referees take place. Many coaches institute a “cooling off period” where parents aren’t allowed to speak with them for a specific amount of time following a game, and the reason for the buddy system is the same. Parents and fans need time to collect themselves and think clearly. They’re more likely to confront a referee walking alone through the parking lot than they are with a small group.
Just be vigilant and, most importantly, have these discussions with your administrators. Referees look out for the well being of your players and your children, so the least you can do is return the favor by having their backs.
It doesn’t take much to stave off most altercations. These are lives we’re dealing with, and if a little education and policy is all it takes to prevent vicious attacks on referees, it’s well worth the effort.
To share your thoughts, experiences or school policies on protecting referees, please comment in the section below or send an email to Kevin Hoffman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Responses that include your name (first and last) and school could be published in an upcoming issue of Coach And Athletic Director.
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