Blue Strikes Back, or If My Whistle Could Talk

Real Talk:  I love what I do.  Sports’ officiating is not only a fun job, it’s an important job.  Whether the games are played by little kids, teenagers, or adult men/women, the officials play an important part in managing games that mean a lot to its participants.  They uphold the integrity of live competition. 

As a fan of sport, and a former participant as a youth and adult, I understand the fun, the passion and the intensity when competing.  Often part of the art and drama of sports is the give and take between players/coaches and officials.  Some try to bully officials.  Some are more cunning.  I welcome some give and take because it’s a part of the game.  I expect players to gripe a little in the heat of battle.  I expect coaches to try to ‘work’ me into giving them the next call to their advantage.  Games are as much psychological as they are physical.  You have to have thick skin in this business to be successful as a competitor or official.

 

Still, every once in a while I find it funny how some of the players and coaches I work with take the give and take a little too far.   Most good officials take a lot more than they give in the first place.  We can’t get caught up in too much conversation even as we try to respect dialogue.  There are times when the chatter I hear is ridiculous.  The verbal assaults can clearly get out of hand.

While doing men’s basketball game recently one team in particular whined and bitched throughout the entire contest.  Several comments were made not only questioning our abilities as referees, but also our character.  Two of their players ended up being tossed from the contest.  And even after the game they persisted to make excuses for the ass whoopin’ they just endured.

But what if the tables were turned?  What if there was actually equal access to criticize?

I posed this question to one the whining players who kept at us as my partner and I were changing to leave the gym.

“You know what?   I can do what you do.  But you can’t do what I do.  You’re not qualified to do my job.  But what if I in the course of the game could talk to you the way you talk to me.  What if I critiqued your every move on this court, your missed shots, turnovers, every time your man scored on you?  What if I walked up and down the court saying, ‘What a lousy pass that was?  Your defense is shit.  You can’t shoot so why do you continue to try?  Coach, your game plan sucks and you can’t coach worth a damn!  Hang it up!’  Believe me I see it every week!  It’s not like I don’t notice.  But you spend so much time critiquing my every call or no call.  He had no answer for that. 

I’m umpiring a youth fall baseball league in a well to do area.  Some of the kids on the teams are sons of St. Louis Cardinals, Rams or Blues players.  Some of them are pretty good while others not so.  Some of them are good kids who love to play the game.  Some think they are automatically following in their father’s athletic footsteps. 

 

Anyway, I’m behind the plate and this one kid has Albert Pujol’s stance down to the tee.  (Not Albert’s son) He’s posin’ it real good but refuses to swing unless the ball crosses the middle of the plate.  I’m calling corner strikes and he’s huffin’ and puffin’ openly showing off his disapproval.  Later towards the end of the game, one of his teammates ducks out of the way of a pitch on the inside corner of the plate like it’s a missile.  (STRIKE!)  He turns and shows his frustrations with some grunts and rumblings under his breath.  Then he barks, “Hey – where was that blue?”  My response,  “It was in the strike zone that’s where it was.  Besides that, you are up 17-2.  Swing the bat and stop ducking the ball like you’re scared.”  He struck out and that was that.  But what if I said what I really wanted  to say.  It would have been pretty much the same except I would have added.. ‘Smart ass lil fucka!  Now shut yo punk ass up before I take my belt off and whip ya right here at home plate!’ on the end of it.  Here he was 11 years old trying to ‘big time’ me in front of his teammates and the fans. 

Fortunately, for the most part I’m good at holding my tongue while managing the game professionally.  Every now and then I still lose my tempter.  I’m working on it.  But I bet for those kids/adults who act a fool, if officials can just have one contest where the talking was equal, they would choose their words much more carefully.

A Salute To Coaches

One of the most important names a man/woman can be called is, “coach.”  At first glance a coach merely looks like a guide or a teacher of sporting fundamentals, teamwork, competition and sportsmanship.  But often they are so much more.  They are mentors, and are often looked upon by players as people who can help them accomplish something important. 

I’ve followed and participated in sports all of my life in some form.  I’ve played for some coaches I adored and some I abhorred.  This had nothing to do with whether a coach was a hard liner or an encourager in terms of style.  I am talking about other areas that make the difference.  These are the two questions I ask of my coaches.

“Does Coach know anything about the sport he/she is trying to teach me? ”

“Is Coach in this for me or for him?”

I could always tell on the first day of practice what the answer to these questions were.  And that determined my experience on the team. 

A coach can have a tremendous amount of influence on a kid.  The right coach can get a player to do things he never imagined he could.  He can help the player to learn some terriffic lessons in navigating in life through sports.  On the other hand a coach can be a horrible influence and teach young people the total opposite of how to handle situations or themselves.  I have seen both sides of these.  And one thing I cannot tolerate to see is a coach who works with young people for the sake of his/her own ego and sense of glory.  One of the coolest thing to see is a coach who loves the kids he/she works with. 

As a basketball official, I see coaches all the time.  Many of them I’ve worked often. 

A case of knowing a coach is in it for the right reasons is one that I ran into recently at a tournement.  This guy is a two time Missouri High School Coach of the Year and won a state championship.  Certainly he is one of the most respected basketball coaches in the state.  His players go to Division 1 universities and some have gone to the NBA.  When I officiated one of his games recently I would have expected to see high school teens getting ready for the upcoming season.  What I saw instead was a group of 5th graders learn at the hands of one of the best.  From the tip off to the final buzzer this guy taught, instructed and encouraged his players to an easy victory.  His team was calm, seem to feel no pressure and really enjoyed themselves.  This wasn’t the first time I saw a coach who could coach pretty much anywhere he wanted take time for younger underdeveloped players.  Though I don’t care who wins the games I officiate, it felt good to see adults who understand the importance of taking time out for our youth – and who can handle this great responsibility correctly.  Some of these coaches are nuts and shouldn’t be around young people at all.  Most of them (even the ones that don’t seem to know anything about the game) are caring and compassionate towards our future leaders of society.

For everyone who takes time to coach and guide our youth the right way… I salute you!