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The Best Seat in the House:    officials' roles in youth sport

Geoff Robertson

9 September 2015


Numerous times I have been asked, ‘Is baseball losing or keeping young players?’ or, ‘Are they enjoying the sport?’


At times I wonder whether or not our sport is fun for youngsters for now it has become so competitive, especially at a younger age.


Many factors can cause the young to become disinterested in sports. There are so many ‘fun things’, video games and the like, that are not as competitive as sport. That competitiveness can cause disinterest.


However, and thankfully, many youth sports situations have a positive impact in playing a vital role in youth accepting responsibility, developing self-esteem and learning team concepts.


As officials we play a significant role in developing youths through sports in the way we handle situations and people in youth games as it has an impact on positive or negative participation. Officials can be part of the solution.


Following are some examples where officials can assist in youth development.


1.     Poorly trained coaches and supervisors/organisers. Conduct meetings for coaches, parents and others regarding the rules and umpiring philosophy. The more they know about the game and how it should be played, the fewer problems exist.


2.     Over emphasis on winning and competitiveness. There are few worse things than a win at all costs coach in youth sports. If they are approachable, gently remind them that they are there for the youth and the sport (even if they are not) If it persists bring it to the leagues attention and if that fails then maybe it is a problem with the entire league. This would probably be doubtful, but if it is so then assess the reality of officiating in another league that provides a more positive atmosphere.


3.     Mismatches between children’s’ expectations and reality. Too much pressure on children equals less fun. Keep things fairly light hearted at times. Adjust to the age group and level that you are umpiring and humour at times can ease tension.


4.     Poor examples of parents, coaches and administrators. Liaise with league officials to ensure that there are rules established that effectively deal with unruly parents and coaches. If coaches, parents and others are screaming at the officials, how can a 10-year-old be expected to show respect?


5.     Difference between youth sport coaching and non youth sport coaching (attempting to coach youth sports in a similar manner as senior ‘A’ ball, or National. That goes for officials too. There is a difference between youth officiating and non-youth officiating. Think about the manner in which you address them and the way that you handle yourself during then game. As an official, you can set an example of how to remain calm and how to effectively communicate with people. If you are a screamer then you will have the same effect as a loud-mouthed coach.


6.     Parents attempting to live vicariously through the efforts of their children. Encourage parents at opportune times to get more involved in the process. As officials we should constantly search for new officiating recruits. Encourage parents to give officiating a try. At best, the adult will like it and make a positive contribution. Or, the adult will try it, quit, but a have a new-found respect for the officials. A better atmosphere results, meaning a better experience for all involved.


7.     Over officious officials.

Some years ago there was a young player, (under 12), visiting our office. As a conversation point I asked what he liked about umpires. He gave it some thought and replied, “When they don’t turn up”.


This of course astounded me somewhat but definitely required some follow up. So I asked him why was that so and he said that when an umpire didn’t turn up his brother would umpire.


After investigating further I ascertained that his brother was fifteen years old and that he wasn’t a better umpire but simply that he felt more intimidated by an adult when they umpired.


Just by their size alone and the wearing of a uniform usually brings immediate respect but if handled the wrong way can be intimidating.


So how do we handle this? Some things to avoid at this level maybe?

Keep a cool head, never raise your voice

Keep the “show pony”  out of this level, no need to use emphasised mechanics in calling balls and strikes, especially strike three, also safes and outs, especially the banger play. If you use these, save them for senior ball.


The important things is for all participants to enjoy the game.

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