Posted tagged ‘sportsmanship’

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?????

Grace-Filled Winning

January 15, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        January 15, 2018

                                        

Recently a high school women’s basketball team in our area was beaten by 94 points. They were missing a couple of their players that day, but other defeats this season have been lop-sided as well, just not in the same zip code as 94.

In my years as a coach I’ve been on both sides of the final score…on the left side of the  hyphen with a way larger number than my waist size…and on the right side of the hyphen with a digit that looks as embarrassed as a naked child in a grocery store.

One of the first games I coached was a YMCA Church League game for middle school boys. We lost 75-5 and my only player who could dribble and chew gum at the same time broke his wrist. That team struggled to score more than six points in any game for the rest of the season. One of our last games was against Bethlehem Lutheran, and their associate pastor, Noel Niemann, was also their coach. Noel knew what our team’s skill level was and he purposely had his players play a packed in 2-3 zone defense and allowed our players to shoot from the outside. They beat us 36-12, but my team was elated that the scoreboard had to use two digits to display our team’s score. That was in 1982 and I still remember Noel’s name, the score, and the sportsmanship.

I seldom see grace filter into sports these days. It’s seen as a sign of weakness. “After all,” say too many coaches, “we’ve practiced hard. Winning in a blowout is our just rewards for practicing hard!”

That argument carries only so far! Winning by a ton of points is usually fueled by a coach’s arrogance, blood-thirsty parents in the bleachers, or players who think it says something about how impressive their skill level is.

In most states high school athletes can choice into schools that ordinarily they would not be going to. Certain high schools are accumulating more than their fair share of the better players, while other schools are encountering cupboards that are bare. Mismatches are evident before the season even begins. And it will continue to be!

So whose responsibility is to be win with grace?

The opportunity to show grace begins with the coach. I use the word “opportunity” because it should be seen as such. Not a requirement, but rather a gift wrapped in the lesson of sportsmanship. Any sporting event is a venue for how we wish people would treat each other. Too often it is a place where the participants strut like peacocks and the observers say things they would not want their mothers, some already in the grave, to hear.

Grace in winning is an opportunity for a coach to teach his/her players a different lesson that is unrelated to the score. Not enough coaches seem to understand that so now there is this thing called “The Mercy Rule.” The name should be a stop sign, but, instead, it has just become a point in the game where one team is a certain number of points ahead of the other team…and mercy has gone out for coffee!

High school sports, and maybe even more than that, middle school sports, need more coaches who teach the skills of the game, but also the character that a person can have. It needs more coaches that can model for their players that winning is more than a good-looking number figure on the left side of the hyphen.

It needs more “Noel Niemann’s”!

The Rightness of The Moment, Not The Headline

November 5, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                November 5, 2017

                          

When Coach Jim Franklin ran like a madman towards the end zone at the end of his Penn State football team’s heartbreaking loss at Michigan State yesterday I, like most people who saw him sprinting, thought he was going to chastise the officials for some perceived blunder. When it turned out he was sprinting to catch some of his players who were heading to the locker room without shaking hands with the Spartan players it was reassuring that in the intensity of the contest someone whose job depends on winning still had the right perspective.

Even though the cameras caught his mad dash it was not something that had been orchestrated. It was simply the right thing to do, the correct decision made at a moment’s notice. The integrity of the decision was amplified considering the game had been interrupted by a weather delay of almost three and a half hours.

How many of us would have lost our cool if we had to wait to catch a delayed flight for three and a half hours? Raise your hand! Both of mine are pointing skyward.

There seem to be a lot of people who are willing to preach what is right in the moment when the cameras are rolling, or the press has a microphone stuck in front of their face, but the list gets a lot shorter of people who are willing to do the right thing in the heat of the moment.

Recently my wife, Carol, was at a high school volleyball game. Liberty High School was playing one of their arch rivals at the opponent’s gym. She heard and observed some actions- or, perhaps inactions- of a group of students of the host school. One young man had made a comment to one of the Liberty players on the court that had explicit sexual connotations to it. The group he was a part of included several young ladies. What Carol noticed was that not one of the female students was willing to do what was right at that moment. No one was willing to confront the young man with inappropriateness of his comment.

Yes, they were just high school students! High school students who have had it drilled into them in recent years about what sexual harassment and bullying is. Sometimes, however, all the knowledge in the world won’t cause someone to do what is right in the moment. Embarrassing someone causes cheap laughter and integrity never seeks to humiliate. It is too respectful for that.

Each one of us gets faced with a multiple of decisions that have two or more solutions. Many of those decisions also have a dividing line. Think a volleyball court with one side being right and the other side wrong. There are clear indications as to which side the ball- the decided on response- is on. None of us make all the right decisions, but over the course of a day, a week, a month it becomes clear who are the people who have integrity and who aren’t. Who are the ones who understand the right decision, the right thing to say, at that moment; and who are the ones who lack character and moral substance.

As a pastor I wish I could say that Christians have it all together, but, alas, I’ve met and seen too many people who confess to following Christ and have no integrity- people who stomp off towards the locker room when they don’t get their way.

Jim Franklin gets paid a lot of money to make right decisions, but they usually have to do with deciding when it’s a good time to blitz the quarterback or do a fake punt. His sprint to the end zone yesterday wasn’t what Penn State had in mind when they paid him to make the right decisions, and yet it was probably the best right decision he made all day.

The Sinful Nature of Tee Ball Parents

July 12, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           July 12, 2017

                          

I was at my granddaughter’s t-ball game last night. It was a calm event, appropriately applauded by parents and grandparents alike. The game’s highlight was when the first baseman actually caught the ball that was thrown to him. Other than that it was a time of watching six year olds more interested in the plane flying overhead than the baseball that just rolled by them on the ground, baseball caps turned backwards, and kids carrying mitts about half their height. Six year old t-ball is meant to be about learning, having fun, and getting the post-game snack. A kid can belt four home runs in the game, but if he misses the post-game snack he will go home totally devastated.

Then there are the other games! In Cortez, Colorado several parents got into a fight at a t-ball game. Video circulated from the event showing women going after one another, profanity thrown around like candy, and, ultimately, the police called with one parent cited! If this was an isolated situation we could just assign it to “Ripley’s Believe It or Not”, but unfortunately it isn’t just a blip on the screen. It happens quite often.

One team in my granddaughter’s age group has parents who follow the attitude of their children’s coach…a bit arrogant and cheering that is a bit over the top. One player who fell and went to the bench crying…as any six year old well-adjusted child would…was reprimanded by the coach who yelled at him that he had two minutes to get his act together.

Being a basketball official for sixteen years I remember having a mom removed from a sixth grade boy’s club game. She had been sitting along the baseline yelling to her son, “Kill him! Kill him!” When I had her removed she protested that she had paid to get in.

What is it about their son and daughter’s athletic contests that make parents become prime examples of human depravity? It seems to be the fertile ground from which their sinful nature grows like a weed. The Apostle Paul had it right when he wrote to the people of Galatia that “…the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” (Galatians 5:17)

     He goes on to clarify what the acts of the sinful nature are, and while not specifically naming “being a parent at a youth sporting event” he does list associated acts like “hatred, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, and dissensions.” Ahhh…yes, sounds like some of the ingredients of some sideline parents I’ve seen.

Last summer twenty adults got into a fight during a four and five year old tee ball game in Florida over a disputed call of the umpire’s. National youth sports organizations get calls weekly about parents or coaches…or both…who have gotten into fights at games.

Years ago we had a men’s team play in a church basketball league. I used to say that the teams would pray together before the game and pray together after the game…and play like we were demon-possessed during the game!

Let’s face it! Sports bring out the best in us…and the worst in us! Parents have a hard time keeping things in perspective. Winning is worshiped. Having character is devalued. It is no longer about enjoying the sport, it’s about annihilating the competition. Common sense has exited the ball park!

Some leagues have toyed with not allowing parents to attend. Others have gone to the extreme of not allowing parents to say anything, even cheering. Associations of sports officials are seeing decreasing numbers of referees. One of the main reasons given is the behavior of parents!

Going back to Paul and his instruction to the Galatians he contrasts what the “fruit of the Spirit” are with the previously mentioned acts of the sinful nature. That is, what are the evidences of someone being directed by the Spirit of God, as opposed to “that other me” that seems to emerge form time to time. In his list he mentions things like “joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.”

Just an idea! They may not get it, but it’s an idea! What if parents start receiving a list of positive elements, like those just mentioned; and another list of unacceptable behaviors and attitudes. Perhaps some of them would recognize the spiritual connection…and file a law suit, citing religious discrimination! But maybe, just maybe, some of them would have their dusty light bulbs click on that would tell them how things should be, and one playing field intended to be a place of play would regain some of its purpose.

 

The Elevation of Cheap Shots

September 7, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                   September 7, 2015

                                        

This past weekend a high school football official was blind-sided by one player and then speared by another during a game in Texas. Video footage of the incident quickly hit social media. A few moments before that two other players on the same team had been ejected. An investigation has been started.

Accusations began flying about what the official had done to precipitate such an attack, as if it made the actions justified. From the video it is apparent that the backsode collision was not an “oops” moment. In fact, it looks like the two players planned the attack and carried it out to perfection.

A few years ago at a high school basketball game in our area a parent bit one of the officials as he was leaving the court. Recently a soccer official of a men’s recreation league game…let me say that again…a men’s recreation league game, was killed as a result of being attacked a over-the-hill soccer player.

Having refereed high school basketball for thirteen years I know that the people in stripes don’t do it for the money. In our area a varsity game official gets $52. That $52 has been preceded by meetings, referee camps, clinics, rules meetings, and area meetings. Put all that together and it comes to a little less than minimum wage.

Some people argue that where there is competition there inevitably will be high emotions and intense reactions. Once again we rack up the list of excuses for people to act like lunatics.

I play hoop still, at sixty-one…and a half…at the local YMCA at 6:00 in the morning. Almost all of us have to go to work afterwards, but there have been a few guys who think it is the difference between life and death.

There’s been a few guys who have been ushered out of the gym. Our sarcastic sides tell those who have lost their grip on reality that there is are calls for them in the lobby from the Nuggets front office.

But then there are those who play for the fun of it, for the recreation, and laughter. Most of us know that we are has-beens or never-was’s…and we are okay with that. We go home to families who live us despite our lack of having a left hand and being a step slow on defense.

People need to be more like Mayberry, pretend that Floyd has a basketball court behind his barber shop or football field across the street.

When two high school players plan a team attack against a man with a whistle looking the other way it’s time to step back and ask ourselves what is going on?

A Passion for Good Sportsmanship

February 14, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                        February 14, 2013

 

 

I was at the Air Force Academy basketball game last night where they hosted UNLV. This is my second year being a season ticket holder for Falcon home games, and I love it! Getting season tickets is a little easier here than it is for Duke, Kansas, Michigan State, or North Carolina. A year ago when I went to get them about two weeks before the season opener I was surprised to discover that our seats are in the fourth row in between the Air Force bench and the scorer’s table. Evidently there aren’t that many season ticket holders.

This year the Falcons are gathering more and more fans since they are doing well. Let me tell you, there were a lot of open seats around us for the Western State and Regis games back in November, than there are now.

Last night as Air Force pulled off a great win against the Runnin’ Rebels I was taken back by the obnoxious comments by some of the fans around me. Why do grown adults think that it’s okay to scream “You suck!” at players visiting from another university. When an official makes a call that goes against the home team, even if it is suspect, why should people express their rage with such hate and venom? It wasn’t cadets that were screaming obscenities, but it was fans of an institution that raises the call of integrity, honor, and service.

And the thing is it seems to be getting worse! At a recent high school game where the team I help coach was getting beat pretty bad, a couple of adults were screaming in the otherwise quiet gym as one of our players was shooting free throws. Not students, mind you! Adults! I’m even assuming they were parents, but can not confirm that. All I know for sure, is that it was two middle-aged women sitting in the top row cat-calling. Their team was up by 30! Our team was feeling deflated enough as it was, but to have two middle-aged women cat-calling…sad!

I don’t understand schools raising money to fight cancer by having students wear pink, or coaches wear tennis shoes, promote it with announcements…and then when the game starts hurl expletives at players and officials.

There seems to be a growing passion for obnoxiousness in sports. And it isn’t restricted to spectators by any means. Players and coaches have often signed on to act like jerks as well. The number of technical fouls for players taunting has risen substantially.

There needs to be a passion for good sportsmanship. It needs to grab hold of our athletic commitment and fuel the approach to the game.

The integrity of the game and the fun of simply playing the game must trump any desire to humiliate the opponent.

The passion for good sportsmanship must be one of the foundational principles for any competitive situation. It must be a non-negotiable!

Recently I had a situation where of my players had a momentary heated encounter with a player from the other team. I used it as a teachable moment to express my belief that our attitude and actions must not be compromised simply because of differing attitudes and actions of others.

Spiritually speaking, my commitment to Jesus does not get thrown into the backseat simply because I encounter a situation where our culture says it is appropriate to do what suits me. My commitment stays as the main thing.

As a Christian who coaches I understand that if I compromise my principles it communicates to my players that its okay for them to compromise theirs as well.

Bottom line, a passion for good sportsmanship must be rooted within us. Sadly, it is becoming so unusual these days that I think more and more people don’t know what it is or what it looks like.