SportsEvents Magazine

AUG 2015

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August 2015 44 t YOUTH Sports Concerned about what she witnessed at a recent competition, a mother in California who did not want to be identified asked, "Is there a way to raise the bar in sports where referees are concerned?" Her situation involved a game in which a young athlete in her family was playing. Even though the play got rougher and rougher, the young referee was not calling any fouls. To make matters worse, she said, no efforts were made by the older officials to stop the rough play or advise the younger referee. "I stood in disbelief while more experienced referees stood and watched the injuries mount," she said, adding that they waited to call the less experienced ref out on the missed calls after the match. In another example of letting rough play go too far, Dr. Alan Goldberg's Competitive Advantage blog tells the story of a youth hockey team that was falling behind in a 12 and Under game and "began to play extremely physically, and dirty, checking from behind, slamming kids into the boards after the whistle, mak- ing lewd comments and clearly going after the opposing players instead of the puck." While the referees called more than 45 minor infractions, they let the dangerous play continue, ignoring complaints from the other team's coaches and parents. Eventually, one player was checked hard, head first into the boards and did not get up for several minutes. Again, no penalty was called. Concerned about the safety of his players, the coach of the injured player pulled his team off the ice with five minutes remaining in regulation play, forfeiting the game. A national study shows it's not uncom- mon for kids to get hurt as a result of rough play in sports. According to "Changing the Culture of Youth Sports," a report issued in August 2014 by Safe Kids Worldwide, 33 percent of young athletes report being injured as a result of "dirty play" from an opponent. Within this group, 19 percent said they suffered a sprained ankle, 13 percent said they experienced a concussion or head injury and 13 percent reported a broken or fractured bone as a result of dirty play. While the report addresses many causes of sports injuries, one of its six major rec- ommendations is specifically directed at officials: "Put an end to dirty play and rule-breaking. Call fouls that could cause injuries." Who Is Responsible? Dr. Bill Roberts, a past president of the American College of Sports Medicine, who serves on the leadership board of the National Youth Sports Health and Safety Institute, said injury prevention in sports starts with players respecting the rules and showing respect for other players. He said coaches have a responsibility to teach safe play and respect for the rules. "Coaches can improve game safety by promptly responding to players who break the rules, especially flagrant violations that have undue injury potential, with immedi- ate instruction and benching of the offend- ing players," Roberts said. "Just because an infraction is not called by an official during game play does not mean the rule was not broken." The next safety layer, he said, is defined and implemented by the game officials. "The referees are taught the rules of the game and that the rules are there to protect the players," Roberts said. "If a player breaks the rules, whether intention- ally or inadvertently, other players can get hurt, and it's the referee's job to put a stop to this by enforcing the rules." Roberts said parents must also learn the rules of the game and understand the intent of the rules. "The actions of parents and support of the game officials set the tone of every game. While every call by an official will not be correct, mistakes are distributed evenly across the game." Challenges Referees Face According to Roberts, nearly all youth sports programs require referees to under- go training before officiating a game. However, there are several levels of certifi- cation, for officials and referees of youth sports tend to be quite young and at the lowest level of certification, which can lead to inconsistencies in how games are called and controlled, he said. Having refereed hockey, coached soccer, and observed soccer referees as a sideline official, Roberts has noticed that the age of a referee can often be a factor in con- tentious youth sports situations. "Quite often, the referees are not much older than the kids playing the game," he said. "However, the coaches and parents are adults and typically quite a bit older than the referee, and this can add to the problems of a referee having authority over a situation." Additionally, in considering the respon- sibilities of youth sports officials, it's important to understand their role in keep- Referees' Role In Keeping Kids Safe On The Field By Marcia Bradford Call it, Ref!

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