One of my favorite stories in my new book took on surprising relevance recently. First here's the story:
Ali, aged 14, looked like Li’l Orphan Annie. Short, with a head full of curly red hair and freckles, she was refereeing a game of 12-year-old players. One of the coaches, a large middle-aged man, was persistently and angrily yelling from the sidelines about the calls she was making.
She calmly walked over to the coach, looked up at him and said, “Don’t you think you are taking this a bit too seriously?”
Abashed, he reddened, apologized, and was calm for the rest of the game.
Now, here's the more recent report involving a boys Under-16 futsal game, with a less happy ending:
Midway through the first half, a coach challenged the referee on an out-of-bounds call. It was a surprisingly loud outburst given that 1) the ball didn't cross the line entirely; 2) even if it had crossed the line, it was close enough that any reasonable coach or player would have given the referee the benefit of doubt; 3) nothing significant happened as a result of the call; and 4) this was a friendly match that had no bearing on the standings, playoffs, etc.
The coach yelled at the official for a good 10 seconds. The referee walked toward the coach and told him in very clear, authoritative way that he needed to be quiet. That seemed to anger the coach further, as he continued to talk at the referee in an animated way. The coach was provoking the referee and daring him. He kept saying something along the lines of, "Go ahead and throw me out; I'll take my team off the floor."
The referee calmly said, "I don't want to do that," but the guy wouldn't let it go, so the referee finally accommodated him by ejecting him from the game.
OK, all coaches have bad days, and who knows what was behind this incident. And, also, there may have been some other approach the referee could have taken to defuse the situation. But here's the truly sad part. In leaving, the coach also took the boys with him. He deprived them and the other team of the pleasure of playing their game.
Not satisfied with this, though, he also withdrew from the league several other teams of younger children that he was coaching or managing. In so doing, he deprived them all of the chance to compete in the end-of-season playoffs.
One team of younger players found out they were not playing only when they arrived in the gym. They were told to go home.
I happened to have been assigned to the Under-10 playoff game that would have occurred but for the coach's withdrawal. Even though the other boys won that game by forfeit, they were disappointed. They had really wanted to join in the fun of the competition. (So, we arranged a scrimmage, and they left happy, especially when the coach surprised them afterward with some donuts!)
I have learned over the years to try to look past a person's behavior on a particular day, to appreciate his or her contributions on many other days. This coach has been an exemplary teacher for the boys and loyal to them. He has many years ahead in which he will make many contributions to their development as players and young men. How he chooses to present this story, though, provides a new kind of challenge. I am confident that if he does so with true regret and humility, and as a learning experience for the boys, he will find even stronger support from them and their families.