You don’t have to sit at a community rink long to hear yelling.
On a good day, it’s cheers of encouragement from the stands or coaches trying to get the attention of overly enthusiastic players who don’t know their own limits.
We should all remain hopeful that the good days outweigh the bad ones, but increasingly, the bad are becoming the norm.
And it’s not yelling encouragement — it’s berating young officials, sometimes even older officials, about missed or made calls or something that happened in the game they disagree with.
A Cochrane coach was suspended just a few weeks ago for launching a profanity-laced tirade towards an official. A 50-year-old father in Quebec was recently charged with assault after he slapped a referee when his son was thrown out of the game following his third penalty.
Longtime WHL linesman and Central Alberta official Chad Huseby responded to the report of the most recent incident in a post on Twitter.
“This behaviour happens every weekend across the country. Just another example,” said Huseby, who also called attention to the incident where the Cochrane coach was suspended.
“Unfortunately, through lived experiences recently, people with the ability to make a change would rather “trust the process” and not call out this behaviour for what it is and eradicate it from the game.”
In another post, Huseby said ultimately, people are failing to focus on what’s important.
“More respect is needed and everyone needs to remember why we play. The kids,” he wrote.
Chad is a stand-up guy who knows more about officiating than anyone I know. When he calls attention to something, people need to pay attention. He is in rinks all across the province — has officiated the highest levels of hockey, both nationally and internationally.
I’ve wanted to write about this for a while, and Chad’s recent message struck me.
Watch almost every NHL game on TV nowadays, and you will see a close-up of the coach on the bench.
You can set your watch to that coach blowing up on the referee at some point and the announcers shrugging it off as an impassioned defence of the players.
That filters down to the players, too. You see them skating across the ice, red in the face, yelling at the official.
Kids see all this and think it’s okay. Coaches — young and old see it and think that’s how you have to act to motivate a team or be a great coach.
It manifests throughout the game at all levels because of the example set at the top level. Those people are role models, whether they want to be or not. And instead of their behaviour being condoned, it is celebrated as passion.
Unfortunately, that has a ripple effect, and we’re seeing it influence behaviour on a local level.
It seems like we allow this in the sports arena in the name of competitiveness and passion, and yet, in most other aspects of our lives, we recognize that more decorum and tact is needed to deal with people we disagree with or those who have slighted us.
In sports especially, the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes has been lost. These coaches don’t imagine what it must be like to be belittled in front of a crowd or a group of 13-year-old hockey players. They also don’t stop to think that official is somebody’s kid, just refereeing for the love of the game or to make a little bit of extra money.
It would be great if any parent or coach caught criticizing an official was sentenced to work a full weekend slate of games. Or at least one game with the stripped jersey on. I’m sure that would serve as a real slice of humble pie to anyone who is overtly critical of referees in a public setting.
Sports are a game — meant to be fun for kids to get some exercise and compete against their peers.
We need officials for those games, they are integral to the fabric of sport. Too often, we forget that those officials are someone’s kid. Even if it’s an adult official, they must mentor younger officials so the games can continue.
There is a certain element to developing a thick skin as an official, it comes with the territory. But the place we are in now has gone well beyond that.
Officials are no longer respected for their vital role they play in keeping the games alive.
I’ve seen first-hand how these tirades can alter the path of a young official. I was a baseball umpire for a short time in my teenage years but I grew tired of being yelled at by adults for making calls they didn’t like. I have also seen my fair share of refs get yelled at during my more than three decades playing hockey. I’ve even done it myself. It makes me embarrassed just thinking of how I must have made the officials feel in those moments.
This is as much a mea culpa as it is a call for all of us to be better around the rink. If not, the games we know and love won’t be able to continue in the way they’ve been enjoyed for so many years.
Byron Hackett is the Managing Editor of the Red Deer Advocate and Regional Editor for Black Press Media.