Posted tagged ‘club sports’

The Troubling of Sports Officials

August 8, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  August 8, 2018

                          

It’s a situation that basketball game assignors started dealing with a few years ago: too many games and not enough referees to cover them safely and effectively. So a trend started! Games on heavy volume days began to be rescheduled…or, in a few cases, officials had to cover three games in one day…often at two different locations. 

It was a warning sign that most wanted to pretend wasn’t happening; that the number of people officiating basketball games was gradually decreasing while the number of games being played gradually had been increasing. A few people saw the impending crisis, but most went on like there wasn’t any problem. After all, how do you fix the part of the basketball game that is best seen but not heard. That is, officials long to run up and down a court where the participants with numbered uniforms play the game fairly and under control, to the point where a whistle rarely needs to be blown.

I still remember a girl’s varsity game I officiated several years ago at St. Mary’s High School in Colorado Springs. St. Mary’s was hosting Trinidad. Two excellent coaches, George Dasko and Mike Burkett, led their teams. I can even remember my officiating partners for that game: Rachel Martinez and Kevin Kizewski. We rarely had to blow our whistles in a contest that was well-played and close the whole way. I remember that, even with the ten minute halftime and the uncertainty of the outcome down to the last few seconds, the contest was finished in an hour. 

Unfortunately, most basketball games are not like that! And that hints at the problem. It gives us an inkling of why the number of people willing to put on a striped shirt, run up and down a court with a whistle in their mouth, and have their intelligence questioned is slipping.

I’ve been on both sides of the sidelines, wearing a black and white striped shirt inside the lines and a shirt and tie on the other side of it. I’ve asked coaches to stay in their “box” (the designated area in front of their team bench that runs now from the baseline to the 28-foot line) and also been the one standing in the box.

Sixteen years as a basketball official and twenty plus years as a basketball coach. After the 2017 high school basketball season I decided to hang up the striped shirt. I made that decision for several reasons. 

The first two were quite simple; I wasn’t getting any younger, and I enjoyed coaching much more than officiating. Two good reasons…except for the acknowledgment of my advancing age as an AARP member!

The other reasons, however, were troubling. 

Parents! How do you fix parents, specially parents of young athletes? In the increasing of games that need to be covered, youth basketball games are like a locust storm. In helping out our game assignor in the covering of some of these games I had to deal with parents that were belligerent, unrealistic, and obnoxious. One mom, who I asked to relocate from underneath one of the baskets to the side of the court because of her language during a 5th-6th grade game, told me she had paid admission to get in. Since I heard her urge her son (I’m assuming it was her son!) to kill one of the opposing players I moved her and informed her that we weren’t going to start the game again until she relocated. She had lost perspective! She forgot that this was a game that was being played by young boys and it was for their enjoyment, not for her “revenge on life” attitude!

How do you fix parents? I tell the parents of the players I coach to keep perspective on what it is we’re about. If anything needs to be said to an official I’ll say it, not them. 

In saying that let me also say that most parents are great! They understand that having their child’s team beat the archival is a great moment, but not life-defining. Finding a cure for cancer would be life-defining for the discoverer and the people helped by it. Being a community peacekeeper would be life-defining. Walking with a family through struggles and heartaches would be life-defining. Most parents understand that and help their adolescent athletes develop a balanced view on life.

Here’s another reason! The blurring of authority. That is, the minimizing of the respect for the ones blowing the whistles. The disrespect comes from fans, coaches, and players. For every coach with integrity like Mike Burkett there’s a coach on the other side of the fence who sees the referees as the enemies. In recent years the number of assaults on referees has increased. A recent basketball game between two club teams ended with players from one of teams physically attacking the officials. Physical assaults happen just as much at contests between teams of younger-aged players as they do with high school teams.

In other words, those wearing the striped shirts have become the targets to aim at for frustrated players, coaches, and fans. People have forgotten what the purposes are for there to be people wearing the stripes. Perhaps it’s simply a smaller arena example of how authority has become blurred in our culture. 

Ask public school teachers if changes have occurred in regards to the respect of their authority during their teaching career! 

Ask coaches about the attitudes of their athletes. Even though the size of the ball has remained the same the way they coach their players has to now contend with some attitude warts.

The examples of the abuse of authority has contributed to the disdain of authority. 

As a coach I keep perspective on how things are. Last year I coached two middle school basketball teams and a freshman team. The officials we had were often new officials who still make the same boneheaded decisions that I made in my first few years of refereeing. So I would tell my players that new officials need to start someplace, and we’re the place they usually start…so it is what it is! Let me be the one to ask them questions! My players saw that I wasn’t contentious or abrasive, but rather that those wearing the striped shirts and I each had a role and a purpose and we, in most situations, tried to work together to be participants of a great athletic contest. 

After all, if there aren’t any people to wear the stripes and officiate the games who will do it? 

The parents?????

Coaching a School Sports Team In a Club-Infatuated Culture

April 5, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            April 5, 2017

            

I love coaching basketball, especially middle-school basketball, but coaching a school team, no matter whether it is a middle school or a high school team, has changed in the past few years. Club teams have skewed the picture and the experience!

It started a few years ago when a mom was irate about the fact that her son did not make the school interscholastic team. She shouted, “He’s playing on the Gold Crown team!” (Gold Crown is the state-wide league for club teams in Colorado.) She thought that there was something wrong with the fact that he was a player on that club team, but didn’t make the school roster.

It brings in the first problem with club sports teams: the financial resources of some versus the lack of resources of others. Money opens doors…and the lack of money keeps doors closed. I remember growing up in a family where “discretionary funds” was a foreign term. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I discovered that “eating out” meant more than getting a few lawn chairs set up around the grill in the backyard.

I learned to play baseball with the neighborhood kids in the side yard of the Bookman’s house in Williamstown, West Virginia. I learned to play basketball at the outdoor basketball courts at the community park. My friends and I played on teams in the Williamstown summer baseball league and Saturday morning basketball program at the high school in the winter time. The cost was minimal because the town underwrote most of the costs.

That was a different time, I guess! Parents are now willing to shell out thousands of dollars for their son or daughter to play club hockey, club volleyball, club baseball, club soccer, club basketball, club lacrosse, Pop Warner football, or club softball.

But others can’t! Whereas many club teams do fundraising projects, like car washes or garage sales, it does not make their teams free. Thus, club sports teams in many ways are guilty of creating this two-tiered system of athletes- the haves and the have nots!

That ties into the next ripple effect. Many parents believe that if they are paying all that money for their child to be on the team then they have expectations that need to be met. The first expectation is that he/she will play. Playing time, in their eyes, is guaranteed. The second expectation is that their child will progress to the next level. In other words, many parents believe the money they shell out for their child’s club team is like a down payment for a future college scholarship. Their child’s love, or lack of love, for the game is of minimal concern. Never mind the fact that there is a good chance their child will be injured at some point along the line that will result in college no longer being an option; or the even better chance that he/she will become totally burned out and no longer interested in playing.

That brings in a problem that I as a school sports team coach now deal with. If a club team is mostly comprised of athletes who want to be offered college scholarships then it is important that they stand out on the court or on the field. They need to be noticed! To be noticed often gets translated into meaning a player has to stand out from his/her teammates. It becomes about him! It becomes about her! Connecticut women’s basketball coach Gino Auriemma sees this happening and he shakes his head. He says that when he goes to a club tournament he watches to see how a player relates to her teammates, and he watches to see what her demeanor is when she is on the bench. Is a player is so self-absorbed with her personal stats, and disengaged from her teammates she won’t someday be wearing a Connecticut uniform.

I find this “all about me” attitude filtering down into the middle school ranks. When I watched that interview with Auriemma it made me think about how I will build future teams that I coach, because some of the players I’ve coached, who also play club basketball and are very good players, don’t mesh very well into a team concept that believes it takes a team to experience success. If you don’t believe me just take notice next school year of all the high school players who transfer from one school to another! Many of them are willing to sit out half of a sports season because they think should be playing more.

And don’t get me started on the parents!

Making Grown-Ups Too Quickly

July 31, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                       July 31, 2015

                                         

As a high school basketball coach and a middle school football coach I am around adolescent athletes a good bit each week. I love relating to them, seeing them create life-long friendships with teammates, and improving on their skills and understanding of the sport they are competing in.

There is growing concern about a multitude of things related to middle school and high school sports. “Helicopter parents” is a new term that is used to describe parents who are always hovering over their children to make sure that the coaches are seeing that the next Peyton Manning is right there on their football field in a twelve year old body.

We also have the “transfer craze”, where athletes are changing schools because School A has a better team than School B, plus the attached thought process that says, “I’ll have a better chance of getting a college scholarship if I play for School A!”

      Helicopter parents spend unbelievable amounts of money to have Johnny play for a club basketball team, go to several basketball camps, and outfit him with gear that an NBA player would wear…because if Johnny is going to play for Kansas, or UConn, or UCLA someday he’d better get started now.

And so grade-school boys are treated like celebrities and middle school girls start walking with swaggers because their lives are consumed with playing a sport…one sport…year-round…too excess, but nothing is too excess in the eyes of their parents.

We cut out the years of their lives where they can just be kids, playing whiffle ball in the backyard with the neighbor kids, catching fireflies at night, and having a sleep-over in the home-made tent in the basement made out of bed sheets and blankets and propped up by chairs. We eliminate the need for kids to just be kids, like it’s a wasted period to be avoided like acne, and we rush them into being grown-ups who haven’t reached puberty yet.

But the tragedy in addition to that is that when you don’t let kids grow into their lives it’s like cutting off a body part that will hinder them in some way at some time. Johnny gets to his junior year in high school and is sick of his sport, and he’s angry with his parents for making him play it excessively. Brenda’s knees ache all the time to the point that Motrin is her best friend. Tim thinks he’s a loser simply because he is very athletic, and his parents have told him he should be with all the money they’ve spent on him over the years. Judy can’t stand being around her dad because all he ever talks to her about is volleyball.

A life rule that we just can’t seem to remember is everything in moderation! Excess does not lead to success! In fact, more often than not, excess is the curb on the road to sadness.

In a few days my wife and I are having a cook-out for all the girls I coached for five years in high school. We will talk about some of the games, and a couple of our opponents, but we will mostly talk about what is going on in their lives now, the meaningful team bonding experiences they had, and the former teammate that passed away a couple of months ago. It will be a gathering of young ladies who have moved on in life and are understanding that the most important things do not have to include a round 28.5 inche basketball!