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From Dawson's Desk: Grateful for Officials - Giving Thanks in 2021

Given the time of year, I wanted to first express my thanks to the officials who continue to honor their important role and their passion for sport, the coaches, athletes and parents who show respect and appreciation for officials, and all the leaders who are committed to helping turnaround deficits and perceptions. 

I promised a Part 2, which would delve deeper into three points I made in my last email, and here they are: 

  1. Negative attitude toward officials — When youth sports started to resume in the early spring of 2020, everyone was relieved and excited to have kids practicing and playing again. But who could be inside a facility was limited, and everyone had to have masks on, which made it harder to yell or loudly voice an opinion. Initially, there was a feeling of thankfulness. Unfortunately, that didn't last long. More people started to attend games and matches, and the negative culture we had been battling before was back. As parents and coaches and youth sports leaders, we must work harder to create a culture where our young athletes feel safe, and can compete and have fun. Each of us has a role to play, and what we say and do toward officials is making an impact on those around us — positive or negative is up to each and every one of us. I have been a basketball official for a long time, and it's a tough sport to officiate because there are a lot of judgement calls, and we don't have the benefit of video assistance. Mistakes are going to be made, things are going to happen. But show restraint and respect if you disagree with a call, and look for a teachable moment to share with your young athlete. Over the summer, I was assisting in the running of a baseball tournament, and there was a coach giving a young official a hard time between innings. I approached the man and said, 'Hey Coach, he's trying his best. Give him a little bit of leeway and don't get after him so much.' After the game, that coach came to me and said, 'I appreciate you saying that.' We can all get caught up in the heat of a moment, but we must think about what message we are sending to our young people.   
  2. More officials and mentors needed — It's a numbers game: More officials are quitting, and less officials are signing up. When games stopped during the COVID lockdown, many officials just decided not to return, either retiring or finding other sources of income. According to the National Association of Sports Officials survey, the average age of a football official is 56 years old. Once again, though, I think culture matters. I heard from many officials who just didn't want to put up with all the negativity and decided it wasn't worth all the trouble anymore. In addition, there are experienced officials working the college and high school games who simply don't want to deal with all the issues surrounding younger athletes. Not because of the young people but because of the older people. Those officials have organically mentored and helped newer, less experienced peers for many, many years. Though they got their start in youth sports, they no longer want anything to do with youth sports. But there's still a pipeline of athletes ending their playing careers and looking for ways to stay involved. Coaching is certainly an important path but so too is officiating. I hear so many people say how they want to "give back," and officiating can be a great option. Recruitment and retention will be a big focus of Tony Schrepfer, MYAS's new director of officiating, and Carolyn Derksen, our assistant director. And in the spirit of the season, I would like to reiterate how grateful I am to work alongside two experienced and positively passionate leaders in officiating! 
  3. Tournament and game organizers can't oversee and train — This isn't a criticism of tournament and game organizers; these leaders are among the hardest-working and passionate people in our community. But they are human, and there's only so much time in a day, especially since most of these people have full-time jobs and families! But the shortage of officials puts a lot of pressure on them. I remember jumping in to help a baseball tournament last year, and we were scrambling with assigners to make sure every game was covered. Seven days before the first game, I wasn't very confident that would happen. So how did the tournament leaders face this situation? Some officials had overcommitted, others had to cancel for a variety of reasons, and some just didn't confirm. Amazingly, we somehow pulled it off and had all 56 games covered. Ideally, though, we'd want these remarkable leaders to invest some time on culture and expectations, something I will address in my next correspondence.  

I hope these thoughts provide some perspective and insight on what MYAS is focusing on. But I also hope that you and your family enjoy Thanksgiving and take some time to reflect on all that we have to be grateful for. 

A safe and blessed Thanksgiving to you and your family! 

Dawson Blanck, MYAS Executive Director
Dawson Blanck, MYAS Executive Director
Youth Sports Done Right