Athletics Veterans, ArbiterSports on How to Retain Officials Amid Rocky Sportsmanship Experiences

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Originally published by AthleticBusiness, Tabatha Wethal Sep 27, 2022
referee officiating sports

Never underestimate the power of a bad example, says Kevin Dustin, director of Athletics and Recreation at Lake Community College in Utah. Even if that example is yourself from years ago.

“I’m supposed to be the game administrator, and next thing you know, I’m waving my hands in the air and shaking my head when I thought it was a bad call,” Dustin explained during a guest appearance in a recent (free) webinar hosted by ArbiterSports and Athletic Business. “And I remember looking to … the official, and he looked at me as if to say, ‘You’ve got to help here. You can’t be the guy that everybody sees waving your arms or rolling your eyes.’ ”

Dustin was joined by longtime coach, teacher and administrator Darryl Nance on the webinar — “How Sportsmanship is Impacting the Shortage of Officials” — which offers lessons on and solutions for the related dearths of good sportsmanship and available officials.

Dustin says that critical to keeping games viable is keeping the officials you do have on board. “Retention is the key to keeping this thing going,” he says. “We’ve already talked about the fact that the pipeline isn’t going to fill up fast enough, so we better retain the ones we have.”

Taming bad sportsmanship

During the live event, Dustin and Nance offered lessons from their experiences on what worked and what didn’t when attempting to tame wild crowds, players and parents.

One solution, an element fully in the control of every coach reading and listening, is keeping their own behavior positive or neutral. “Believe me, I was a foot-stomper in my day — but if the coach is dramatic and always on the officials from the get-go, it won’t be long before the fans in the stands and the players will do the same thing,” Dustin says. “Fan behavior and student-athlete behavior is often a reflection of the coach’s behavior. Those of us who have been on rules committees … that’s a conversation we have quite a bit, about ‘What can we do with coaches to have them role model good behavior?’ Because everybody reacts to it.”

Put the whistle in your mouth and listen

ArbiterSports president and CEO Kyle Ford says part of the company’s mission to make life easier for athletic departments to do their work (not paperwork) is listening to the professionals, such as Dustin and Nance, who need and use the company’s solutions. “It helps to hear from them,” Ford says. “So it becomes less our perspective, our perception of what is working for them and what’s not, and comes right from them directly on what they need.” He explains a concept borrowed from a trading firm that encouraged brokers to hear more of what their clients had to say by putting a whistle in their own mouth during the conversation, a tactic that seems particularly apropos to discussions about sportsmanship and officiating. “Put the whistle in your mouth,” Ford says. “Just listen.”

The ‘Blow Pop Athletic Director’

There are many ways to skin a cat, and as unpleasant as it can be, there are some creative ways to keep the air positive while letting fans who need to calm down know who they are. Says Darryl Nance, who served 29 years as a coach and teacher, and 22 as an athletics administrator, “I had a friend in Oklahoma, he was called the ‘Blow Pop AD.’ He used to keep Blow Pop suckers in his pocket. And he said, ‘You know, at a basketball game, people getting rowdy, you’ll walk up to them and hand them the Blow Pop.’ He said, ‘You do that once or twice, they get the message, they’ll calm down.’ You better have the personality to handle that, and this guy did. But you know, I just think it’s proactive and leading, instead of letting it become a problem later.”