Sometimes the harassment is funny. A fan will claim you got a rule wrong — when in fact, they got the rule wrong — or they’ll spout some new and creative verbal barb.
Most of the time, it’s demeaning. Coaches come out of the dugout to yell at you. Their assistants restrain them. Even former Green Bay Packers coach, Mike McCarthy, got busted for yelling at high school basketball refs. Meanwhile you’re just trying to do your best and make it fun for the kids.
But, in the worst cases, someone physically assaults the official. It happened to me back in March. A parent came out of the stands, while the ball was still in play, to grab and yell at me. He was escorted out of the building by a policeman. And then the coach of the ejected fan’s son blamed me for the fan’s behavior, saying he was right about how I missed a foul… It was a 14u travel basketball game. No scouts. No scholarships. It was supposed to be for fun.
What’s the Solution?
At Silbo, we’re experimenting with new ways to improve sportsmanship and decrease abuse.
(1) Implementing our Silbo Harassment Policy at each league. It’s part of our agreements. Our community of refs knows the policy and knows that both Silbo and the league will have their backs in an abusive situation.
(2) Teaching at preseason coaches and parents meetings. Some of our customers place a heavy emphasis on sportsmanship. One of our accredited mentors attends the league’s preseason meetings to educate fans and coaches on how to interact with officials, the way officials think, and how to act as role models for their athletes on handling polite public discourse and respecting authority.
(3) Referees write reviews of the league, its coaches, fans, and facilities at the end of each game. This empowers league administrators to get real-time feedback on their league and allows Silbo to receive dynamic alerts regarding abuse incidents. If necessary, we can then discuss the episode with administrators using contemporaneous notes filed by the officials.
The abuse issue won’t be solved overnight. It will require a culture change in amateur sports. It will require all of us — refs, coaches, parents, and fans — to work towards a common goal: better sportsmanship. As such, Silbo is making strides to decrease abuse, create a safer environment for officials, and a more enjoyable experience for everyone who loves sports.