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As officials, we unfortunately know that emotions run high in sports and every official must understand how to react appropriately when someone at the game goes over the top. We shouldn’t take actual physical or extreme verbal abuse, period, but as much as we’d like it to be so, it is not realistic to have zero tolerance for comments.

It happens and we need to be realistic about who we’re going to shut down and when. How to properly deal with all of the personalities at a game is one of the most difficult things to teach new officials. Not that all veterans are skilled at it, either.

Though each official draws individual boundaries of acceptance and there may be guidelines to follow from your league or governing body, in practice not everyone gets the same amount of leniency. There is a certain hierarchy and some people or groups of people get a “longer leash” than others.

For a detailed guide to handling tough situations, make sure to get the free download The Ultimate Guide To Managing Coaches, Players & Fans.

Remember, absolutely no physical abuse or extreme verbal abuse should be tolerated from any group.

1. SPECTATORS

Fans feel it’s their right (if not their duty) to harass the officials, or at least comment on their rulings. Acknowledging them only heightens their level of abuse.

A fan using profanity at a youth game shouldn’t be tolerated at all, but at higher levels it’s up to the official’s judgment on what to ignore. If a fan is using extreme profanity or racially offensive terms towards a participant, have the fan removed from the premises immediately. There’s a proper method in doing so.

  • Do not say anything to the fan.
  • Stop the game and approach the game administrator (sometimes the home head coach if there is not another present). Explain to the game administrator that a particular fan is to be ejected for using improper language.
  • Let the game administrator handle the ejection. That’s what a game administrator is for; it’s not your job to notify and escort fans from the premises, except in some youth league situations where a policy may place responsibility for crowd behavior on the officials.
  • Delay the game until the problem is rectified and consider sending teams to their benches during the interruption.

Have game administrators remove fans who throw objects on the floor. Consider a warning first (from the game administrator), then ejection. At higher levels of play, it has almost become trendy for fans to throw small objects on the floor. If something is thrown on the floor, stop the game and have the game administrator issue the warning. If thrown directly at an official or an opponent, have the game administrator eject the offender immediately. If the offender can’t be found in the crowd, consider removing the fans from the section that objects came from. Though you’ll probably be most lenient with fans, take a no tolerance stance when it comes to players’ or officials’ safety.

2. HEAD COACHES

Because of the nature of their job, a few are going to create conflict for officials. Use preventive officiating whenever you can and put up with a bit more from them than you would other participants. Because they are ultimately responsible for all the players and assistants on their team, creating a working dialogue with them can help with issues all down the line. Work with them on their behavior until their behavior becomes a distraction, then use the full range of warnings from nonverbal to formal and ultimately ejection.

3. PLAYERS

It’s true that for the most part, people come to games to see the players play. While that doesn’t give a player free rein to address officials however they want, it does mean officials should do whatever they can with preventive officiating to keep them in the game. If all else fails, penalize, then go to the coach. Starting players get a bit more leeway than reserves, and especially team captains who are designated to represent their teammates as long as their dialogue with you is respectful.

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4. ASSISTANT COACHES

This group gets very little leeway. Assistants are there to coach players and that’s it. If you find it beneficial, you can try to use assistants as a control mechanism to help with players, the head coach and others, but only as a last resort if other methods have failed. Any issues with assistants should be addressed with the head coach.

 5. BENCH PERSONNEL

Other people on the bench (reserve players, trainers, team managers, etc.) receive minimal to no tolerance. They have a job to do (root for their team, take care of players, etc.) and it does not include commenting on the officiating. When it happens, go directly to the head coach and tell the coach about the problem. More often than not, the coach will fully support you because the last thing the coach wants is a penalty because of other bench personnel.

6. AUXILIARY PERSONNEL

Often, scorers and timers are from the home school. Some can get caught up being a fan and create problems for officials. Remind them before the game that they are an important part of the officiating team and neutrality is important. Most of the time you won’t have problems.

However, when a person at the scorer’s table makes unnecessary comments or improper gestures, take care of it immediately. You’ve got two choices: Deal with the offender directly or ask the game administrator to deal with it. If you’ve got a good game administrator, go that route. If you deal with it on your own, remind the offender that he is a part of the officiating team and that being a fan while in that role is inappropriate.

If improper conduct (cheerleading, ridiculing opponents, inaccurate performance of their jobs or barbs aimed at you) continues, have the game administrator remove the offender immediately. Your job is tough enough; you don’t have to tolerate unsportsmanlike behavior from administrative personnel too.

 7. CHEERLEADERS & MASCOTS

Deal with them this way: As close to zero tolerance as you can get. At more competitive levels, cheerleaders (male and female) may be more vocal about the officiating. Their job of firing up the crowd should not include berating officials. Again, use the game administrator and consider one warning. A second offense: Have them removed. Of course, if a mascot or cheerleader approaches you directly on the field or court with foul words of any kind, take charge then and there. Eject the offender and assess the appropriate penalties. The game needs players, coaches and officials a lot more than it needs mouthy cheerleaders.

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Note: This article is archival in nature. Rules, interpretations, mechanics, philosophies and other information may or may not be correct for the current year.

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