Friday, September 25, 2015

Part of the school day

For several years, I've had the pleasure of expanding my role as referee of youth league soccer games to officiate in high school games.  Although covering some of the same age groups, there is a different feel to these school games.  School loyalties are different from town team loyalties.  Coaches are more often professional and paid rather than being volunteer parents.

One of the things drilled into the referees is that the matches are "part of the school day." We're told that the main value of the athletic endeavors is that they are part of the curriculum. The coaches, we are advised, have a teaching role, just like in the classroom. Indeed, many of the coaches are classroom teachers, too, during the previous hours in the day.  Our job is to defer to these teachers in matters of deportment and discipline (while of course officiating the game in a fair manner and one which helps ensure the safety of the teenagers.)

So, what happens to all that when the coach loses it?  When, in the excitement and stress of the match, he or she feels that calls are not going their way and when he or she loudly and persistently dissents from the calls made by the referees.

In youth soccer matches, the established ethic is that the coach shall not dissent, in word or deed, from the calls made by the referee.  Indeed, a coach can be disciplined--and even ejected--for doing so to excess.  Not so in the high school matches (except in very extreme cases.)  When the yelling begins, you maintain your composure as a referee and just continue to do your best.

I don't have a problem with that.  I personally have taken a lot more heat as a public official and CEO than I get from the sidelines of a soccer match.  I've had hundreds of people screaming at me in public meetings, death threats from aggrieved parties, not to mention really nasty commentators in the media.  I've learned to breathe deeply and go on.

No, the problem I have relates to the setting: The game is supposed to be part of the school day. The coach's role is that of a teacher.  What possible lesson is being taught to the students when the coach engages in obnoxious and disrespectful behavior to uniformed officials who main job is to use their judgment to maintain a fair and safe environment?  Who is there to remind the coaches that the circumstances of the game should not overtake their roles as mentors and role models for the children?


Peter Kokolski said...

Insightful commentary as always Paul. My question in such a case quickly becomes, Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

While I fully agree with you that coaches of this ilk indeed deserve great deference and are there as an extension of the school day and serve in a dual capacity as teacher (of athletics) and role model, for me, there is a limit to the license I provide.

While my personal bar is very high in such a case, personal, provocative, and persistent dissent by word or action should be dealt with so as to not allow "the next referee" from having to deal with same or teach the student athletes the behavior is not acceptable. There is no harm in my opinion of dealing appropriately with any individual who corrupts what we all (coaches, players, and referees) work to protect, up to and including dismissal.

That said, sending a coach is not always the best course of action as Rule 3 in the MIAA handbook states that if there is no other "adult school representative" the match terminated and a forfeit declared. (

It's a careful balance, as we all know, and as you state, one that may require swallowing hard at times so as to not unjustly punish all the very student athletes we are serving due to the acts of one individual.

Paul Levy said...

Exactly, with regard to the last point: It's for the kids after all!

Chris D Mitchell said...

From Facebook:

I have witnessed this with a women's high school lacrosse coach. Our school got a terrible reputation because of the screeching attacks upon the officials. The ladies on the team were embarrassed. The disrespect was also directed toward the players.

Barry Carol said...

If obnoxious behavior by a coach loses reputation for the school and / or its players, perhaps it's time for the principal to get involved and make it clear to the coach that such behavior is not only unacceptable, it won't be tolerated if it continues.

Anonymous said...

This is true in America: no respect for any one who does authority. There is no ability to restrain themselves into disagreeing in a respectful, polite, adult manner. Everything is brute force.

We had baseball games here that went into fights, cops had to called out. I don't think I'd want my kids in that mess.

pheski said...

I think that teacher-coaches should be held to the same standards as any coach in any setting, and that students should see their teacher-coaches admonished or disciplined by the referee for inappropriate behavior.

What better way for the teachers to model both appropriate behavior and accountability to situation-specific standards.

If a school group takes a trip to an art museum, the students and teachers are expected to follow museum rules, like not touching the art work. The MOMA would certainly not delegate its responsibility to protect its artwork to random teachers (or parents) leading a group of students around the museum.

Carole said...

Good or not so good of a coach, we always expected our sons to show respect, and strongly encouraged them to come to us with any and all problems, concerns they were unhappy with. ( teamwork taught at home, first and foremost )
My sons will tell you their father was the best coach they ever had, and their jr. high and high school coaches could of learned a lot from him about true sportsmanship and integrity.
And it's completely embarrassing when the parents act obnoxious in front of the kids, setting poor examples of being good and positive role models for them.
Kudos to the kids who show more wisdom and maturity, than some of our so called grown ups do !!!!

Anonymous said...

Many high school sports associations will impose fines on member schools for bad behavior by coaches, players, or spectators. I would think the athletic director for the school would be a resource to deal with a coach when the behavior is at or over the line of acceptability. That athletic director is certainly part of the school administration while the coach may be a walk-on (non-teacher). That athletic director will get to explain to the principal and possibly to the school board why their school had to pay the fine and/or accept the penalty in the standings for their team. Wouldn't your assigner know who the athletic director is for each of the schools involved in matches you work as a referee?

Paul Levy said...

Yes, for sure.