Lessons from the Referee

Posted: February 7, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

There will always be a disconnect between players and coaches….and referees.”

One more sports related post (at least for now!)  I spend a lot of time in a gym this time of year.  This past Saturday, having coached two games already, I was attempting to watch one of our high school teams and one of our junior high teams tackle undefeated teams at the same time on parallel courts.   Watching with me was a former standout college athlete with sons on each court.  And all around us was the buzz of complaining about a ref in the previous game.  The parents had plenty of evidence.  But it was his tempered wisdom in the quote above that stood out among the others.

I wrestle with how to think and feel about referees every season.  I appreciate the good ones.  A lot.  And pray for grace for the others.  Grace for them and grace for me.  I really do. I think they have a really important job in our culture as they choose how to model ultimate authority in a given situation.  Power trip or velvet brick….gracious teacher or earning a check?  Whether they serve…and how they play their role has a lot to do with how many young people learn about how to handle authority.

My younger brother was the head ref in a soccer league in high school, so I got to hear the yelling and the complaining that came in over the phone every Saturday.  The buck stops at the top.  Some people called every week.  Somehow, their child was always the one with the raw deal!

I refereed for my brother, so I knew first hand of the abuse that comes on the field as well. But I have also been on the other side (I won’t tell you how recently :-)), coaching in games where the official was lazy and rarely got into position, where I had to call a timeout to get my bleeding player out of the game, and where officials took retribution on fans who were rude by calling imaginary calls on their players.  I have been the ref who groaned inside when I saw particular parents arrive….and I have been the coach who realized that the game would be an uphill struggle well before the tip-off.  And I have been the coach who was chewed out by parents for not defending their sons and daughters against unfair calls.

My friend had a lot of pragmatic wisdom.  And the big picture is that a blown call mostly doesn’t matter…even in the pros…even when the ref decides the outcome of the game instead of the players.  But I still find myself wondering questions  like:

  • Where is it appropriate in life to fight for justice?
  • When should you offer grace to an authority that is obviously in over his/her head?
  • When should you turn the other cheek?
  • As a role model, am I teaching strength under control or a form of tolerance…..justice or self-righteousness?
  • What happens when I model allowing an injustice to stand?  What about when I offer grace in the midst of failure?
  • When does the game become bigger than the players?
  • Can I really compartmentalize my players from the game?

My questions go on and on….every season, every year for more than a quarter century.   My mom and dad had the courage to pull me out of sports completely for a year in middle school to help me gain some perspective on this issue.  I grew a ton that year.  But I still have questions.  The lessons of sport transcend the game.  And we never stop teaching theology.

I wish that I had internalized much younger that life is not fair….but God is good.  That is my default and yet, I struggle with passivity that seems to me no virtue, but compromise.  As you can see…there are few issues that matter much to me about which I feel more conflicted.

Does anybody feel my pain?  And how do you work through the issues of sport….and coaching….and refereeing?  Of justice and mercy?  Of being right and doing right?

Comments
  1. Scott Lewis says:

    Definitely feel your pain. My grandpa played minor league baseball back in the 40’s. He taught me to obey the rules. It’s the times when the rules are blatantly ignored or even changed that causes me to become most upset. I’ve seen players awarded bases citing, “safe for effort” and had a ref ignore a blatant foul because the score was lopsided. Refs and umpires should never make decisions based on the score. They should follow and enforce the rules. Not doing so brings discredit to sports and heated criticism from all involved. No advice here because I haven’t found any for myself yet.

    • A couple of weeks ago I had a ref call several fouls on me and then tell me after the game to not worry about it, I had done nothing wrong, he was just recognizing that there were “different levels of play going on.” That confused me a bit since the score was tied for most of the game, although we did end up winning by one. Very frustrating but I still think it’s better to just let bad refereeing go unless you have to step in to prevent things from getting violent.

      • halhamilton says:

        Glad I was thinking about this all week. I had a chance to visit with head ref in one league (a believer) about how refs model theology by their stewardship of power. And my son lost a close game where he was chewed on by the ref for listening to his coach when the ref wanted to say something to him…and where an opposing player played dirty, successfully thwarting a game-tieing play. “Dad, he pushed his fist into my stomach and was pulling on my arm!” “I know. I’m sorry. But before very long, it won’t matter at all who won this game. But the character he is forming, and the character you are forming is for life!”

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