Unacceptable behavior at high school sporting events – it still happens

Unacceptable behavior at high school sporting events – it still happens. And much of this deplorable behavior continues to be directed at the thousands of individuals who volunteer to serve as match officials.

While many states have reported an increase in the number of people signing up to play high school sports — especially in the past few years of recovery from the pandemic — surviving the constant interrogation of phone calls, name-calling, profanity and even violent attacks exist. a challenge for new civil servants.

This should be EDUCATION BASED SPORT. Still, the NFHS has heard reports of coaches — and even student-athletes themselves — disrespecting officials on and off the field.

We must do better. We must do better. As the slogan of our Bench Bad Behavior campaign goes: Enough is enough.

One of our athletic directors was at a state basketball tournament a few weeks ago. The games were action packed, the skill level was excellent and the stands were packed. Two outstanding teams advanced to the championship game. The tournament was a great success – except for the behavior.

In high school sports, however, that is an unacceptable exception. Coaches and players in the last game were constantly at the referees asking questions. Does winning itself determine success in high school sports? The answer should be a resounding NO.

Since the NFHS began the Become an Official campaign about seven years ago, more than 125,000 people have applied to become a high school official. These are individuals who had the desire to give up time on weekday evenings and weekends – for little money – so that millions of high school students could play sports.

These individuals step up to give back to high school athletics. Do they answer every call properly every night? Absolutely not, just like coaches and student-athletes sometimes make mistakes.

High school sports should be different from the college and professional levels, where players and coaches tend to complain about almost every call. High school sports are also different from non-school youth travel teams, with an emphasis on individual performance and winning. While we would like the behavior of coaches and athletes at other levels to be better role models, the behavior in education-based high school sports should be different.

In a 2023 study by the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO), more than 35,000 officials who completed the survey indicated that while 40 percent of sportsmanship problems were caused by parents, 25 percent of behavioral problems were attributed to coaches. Not surprisingly, 50 percent of respondents said coaches are the group most responsible for improving sportsmanship.

Bingo. In high school sports, coaches set the stage for appropriate displays of sportsmanship and positive support for officials. When coaches speak to the referees during the game, the message to players and fans is that this type of behavior is acceptable. If coaches take the lead and show support for the officials, others will follow.

In that same survey, 68 percent of respondents said sportsmanship is deteriorating; six years earlier in a similar study, 57 percent indicated that their behavior worsened. And 72 percent of officials say they are treated unfairly by coaches. We are definitely going in the wrong direction.

This is extremely disappointing. We must do better. In high school sports, coaches must support the individuals who serve as officials – the people who make the games possible. The goal is for everyone to work together for the betterment of the eight million participants in high school sports.

Dr. Karissa L. Niehoff is in her sixth year as CEO of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) in Indianapolis, Indiana. She is the first woman to lead the national leadership organization for high school athletics and performing arts activities and the sixth full-time executive director of the NFHS. She previously served as executive director of the Connecticut Association of Schools-Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference for seven years.

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