Last fall, Minnesota Youth Athletic Services Executive Director Dan Klinkhammer wrote in the MYAS newsletter that BasketCases should be required reading.
“We have a local basketball referee - Derek Wolden - who has authored a book entitled “BasketCases.” He does a great job of showing how youth basketball parents can lower their blood pressure and keep their sanity. I read the book white sitting in my deer stand during deer hunting and the entire time I kept thinking, “Why didn’t somebody write this sooner. This book should be required reading for every coach and parent before their kids hit the court. Wolden does a great job explaining the rules and, more importantly, he explains how and why officials administer the rules the way they do. If making “BasketCases required reading for your coaches and parents will make a more enjoyable and understandable season, then do it.”
In the August edition of the newsletter, Dan wrote an outstanding column about “unintended consequences” of youth coaches who behavor poorly. I e-mailed Dan yesterday and received permission to reprint it here, because the more people who read it, the better. Dan brings up several good points. Please take five minutes. It will be well worth your time.
The term “unintended consequences” has been in the news a lot lately. It usually seems to have some sort of political connection but in my world, it relates to unsportsmanlike conduct. If you’ve read any of my articles over the last 20 years, you already know that unsportsmanlike conduct is my #1 pet peeve and I spend a lot of time harping about the need for better behavior. Regretfully, I have left out WHY I find unsportsmanlike behavior so extremely distasteful and it revolves around those unintended consequences that are the direct result of someone’s foolish and out of control actions.
Sports are packed full of emotion and I fully understand that there are times when a person finds it difficult to control those emotions. I have played, coached and officiated, so I’ve seen, heard and felt all of the emotions that they have experienced. Bad calls will always be part of the game. Erroneous rule interpretations by amateur officials will always be part of the game. Spontaneous reactions will always be part of the game and everyone will experience their fair share of frustration.
Every coach, player and parent should realize this before they ever take their respective positions on the field or court or in the bleachers. Everyone should have a plan for how they are going to react when that moment of choice arrives. Are you going to scream and yell at the officials or are you going to control your emotions and plead your case in a respectful and diplomatic manner? If you take the screaming and yelling approach, be prepared for all of the unintended consequences that will follow.
Frankly, I don’t feel much compassion for a coach who gets booted for verbal or physical abuse of the officials. I do, however, feel sorry for the people who are left in the wake of the coach’s tirade. The first victims of the unintended consequences are the players who witnessed their coach’s temper tantrum. The kids can look at the scenario and come to a number of possible conclusions including: 1) This must be the way to handle the situation and I’ll do it the same way when it’s my turn; 2) I am embarrassed to be on this team; or 3) I play ball to have fun and this just isn’t fun anymore. Yep - the kids are the first casualty of unsportsmanlike behavior. I can’t begin to count the number of kids I know who quit playing because their coaches were behaving like idiots on a regular basis.
Officials quitting is the next unintended consequence. When I was the Recreation Director in Pipestone and Winona, recruiting and retaining officials were my biggest challenges. If I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it a thousand times, “You can’t pay me enough to be an umpire or referee.” I used to recruit officials using several tactics. I’d beg them, shame them or dare them to do it! I didn’t have many problems retaining the grizzled veterans but it was like pulling teeth to get new officials hired. Most of them were players and they had already seen numerous unsportsmanlike incidents where rage and anger were directed at the officials. Not many people want to invite that kind of turmoil into their lives or relive those moments over and over again.
Think I’m exaggerating? There were several years in Winona when I lost 50% of my basketball referees before the season ended. They just got fed up with the constant bickering and disrespect that was being displayed on a daily basis. The unsportsmanlike conduct got so bad during one flag football season that I had to cancel the second half of the season because I didn’t have any officials who would work the games.
The parents also become victims of a coach’s unsportsmanlike behavior and usually react in one of two ways when the action between officials and their coach gets heated. They either join in the free for all or they hide their heads in shame and embarrassment. For those who like to join in the mayhem, I am always amused at how bold some of them are in the bleachers and how meek they become as soon as they are standing alone. Far too often, the parents who didn’t join in the fray end up making apologies to the officials, tournament administrators or the other team when their coach goes ballistic. Then they must have a heart to heart talk with their children to explain that their coach’s behavior was not the way to handle things and the parents don’t condone the coach’s unsportsmanlike approach to settling disagreements. Then those same concerned parents have to report their observations to the local youth sports association and the disciplinary process begins, which is no fun for anyone.
Another unintended consequence directly hits the core of any youth sport association - the Board members. When the actions of any coach, player or parent become so egregious that the matter requires Board attention, those volunteers start thinking twice about their involvement at the administrative level. Board members have the responsibility of recruiting, training and evaluating the individuals who are selected to coach their kids. They also have the responsibility of disciplining those coaches when they get out of line. Unfortunately, the coaches are their friends, neighbors, coworkers, relatives or local business owners. Not many of us want to be put into a situation where we can make more enemies than we already have. Not many of us want to fire a volunteer coach. Not many of us look forward to adding to the turmoil that we all deal with in our daily lives.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why people don’t raise their hands to serve on the Board. As testimony to that presumption, all I have to do is revert back to a recent conversation I had with a Board member from a north metro community who said, “I’ve been on the Board for four years and I’m tired of babysitting the kids, parents and coaches. I barely have enough time to handle the basics of what needs to be done and now I have to spend a ton of time dealing with the disciplinary process because one of our coaches doesn’t know when to shut his mouth. I guess it’s time to let someone else take over.”
So there you have it. Now you know why I’m so peeved about the unsportsmanlike behavior of some of our participants. Bad behavior goes much deeper than the coach being ejected from a game. Bad behavior messes with kids’ heads, becomes the #1 deterrent for hiring and retaining qualified officials, places the parents squarely between their kids and the coach, and makes Board members second-guess their volunteer involvement with the association. That is not a pretty picture by anyone’s standards, and it could all be eliminated if coaches would learn how to plead their case in an appropriate and respectful manner as opposed to yelling and screaming at the officials and refusing to leave the court or field once they have been ejected.
Everyone needs to remember that your behavior is a choice you make but you don’t have any control over the unintended consequences that will follow.