As someone who has coached and officiated baseball, soccer and basketball since the late 1970’s, I thought Ron Kramer’s “Maine Voices” piece regarding youth sports reaching a potential tipping point due to a lack of qualified officials was relevant, eloquent and accurate. Those currently serving as referees and/or umpires will indeed “age out;” some, like me (and, I gather, Mr. Kramer) will do so sooner rather than later.

Re-stocking the officiating pool is indeed an issue, thanks largely to the all-too-often accurate perception that far too many involved “adults” cannot or will not behave appropriately, and routinely disrespect those officiating their children’s athletic contests.

In his essay Mr. Kramer suggests a series of tangible, eminently sensible steps that might help to alleviate the problem, including establishing a “zero tolerance” policy regarding bad behavior from parents, coaches and/or players; requiring all involved parties to sign an official code of conduct; establishing stiff (and enforceable) penalties for those who violate said code; and instituting more extensive training for officials regarding effectively dealing with sportsmanship issues.

I wholeheartedly endorse each of those proposals, but I’d like to respectfully add one more. I recommend the governing bodies of youth baseball, football, basketball, hockey, soccer and lacrosse require a year’s officiating experience of all prospective coaches (or assistant coaches) before they are allowed and/or licensed to mentor youngsters in whatever their sport of choice is.

For the past five years I have umpired Little League Baseball games in the town where I live, and the only thing I’ve heard from any spectator after (and often during) games has been, “Thank you.” I believe a big part of the reason for that civility is the local Little League strongly urging coaches to serve as umpires at games not involving their own teams. I know it’s worked for me; as a coach I can recall seeing questionable calls on numerous occasions, but knowing I’d be calling balls and strikes myself the next night initially kept me from lodging any protests(s), and before long gave me the ability to refrain from reacting negatively, outwardly or inwardly, to any and all calls made by an official. Behavior exhibited by coaches and parents will, for better and for worse, inevitably trickle down to the players. It’s also likely that behavior will be perpetuated, also for better or worse, by the young people observing it.

Here’s something else I’ve learned after over four decades of involvement with four different youth sports: In the long run, what matters most is the participants (primarily the players, but to a lesser extent the spectators as well) enjoying the experience, which makes staying positive of the utmost importance. Take it from someone who has coached both an undefeated high school soccer team and a winless basketball squad, and was a member of the 1966 Easton (CT) Little League champion Hawks: In the long run it really doesn’t matter who wins any particular tournament or league championship.


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