By Kate Nematollahi
Director, NAYS Education Programs
At a baseball game in Colorado this June, an umpire made a call that started an all-out brawl between fans. But it wasn’t at a Rockies’ game at Coors Field with professional athletes and umpires. It was a recreation game for 7-year-olds and the umpire was 13-years-old.
With events like that, it’s not hard to figure out why no one wants to officiate youth sports.
A Sports Illustrated writer called it - the latest edition of "Parents Acting Like Complete and Utter Fools While Embarrassing Themselves at a Youth Sports Event.”
Every now and then, extreme videos like this recent brawl go viral, everyone exclaims “this is crazy,” and then not much is done to prevent it from happening again.
But the state of Louisiana is trying a new approach to address the issue of fan behavior, specifically as it relates to officials. Today, Louisiana enacts a new legislation, formerly House Bill 184 now Act 355, that makes harassing a school or recreation athletic official a crime.
Criticizing an official's performance won’t just make parents look like “utter fools,” it could make them criminals with up to $500 in fines, up to 90 days in prison, 40 hours of community service work, and mandatory counseling. That’s right - anger management, abusive behavior intervention groups, or any other type of counseling deemed appropriate by the court.
Although I was surprised to read about this new law, I get it. I have played sports all my life and officiated for many years. Even volunteer recreational youth sports officials expect to be on the receiving end of “feedback” from coaches, players and fans. For the most part, it’s harmless and easy to brush off. We keep doing it because we love the game and we love to see kids learning to love the game as well. But sometimes it gets to the point where the constant criticism negatively affects the game way more than a questionable call ever would. Personally, as a youth basketball referee, I have even felt scared to walk to my car alone after a game because of the behavior of a parent.
The new Act was probably passed with concerns about officials’ safety in mind. Stopping verbal and non-verbal harassment could help prevent escalation to violence. But the true beneficiaries of the law will be the kids. With a safer, more positive sports environment, I imagine more people will be willing to officiate and more kids will stay in the game. I’ll be staying tuned to see the impact in Louisiana.
If this law does not exist in your state and you are looking for other tactics to combat violence in youth sports, take some time to explore the many resources offered by the National Alliance for Youth Sports. The training courses, membership tools, unique programs, guiding documents and many trusted resources provided by NAYS ensure quality youth sports experiences that are memorable for all the right reasons.Officiating Abuse Louisiana Youth Sports Law
National Alliance for Youth Sports, Inc
2050 Vista Parkway
West Palm Beach, Florida 33411
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