I refereed an eighth-grade tournament recently in Overland Park. I’ve refereed a very long time. My friends wonder why I’m not better at it. I wonder why I still consider them friends.
During the tournament a fan punched a referee. I was in another gym so I didn’t see the punch. However, I saw the bloody aftermath.
I’m confident that Dr. Naismith (an ordained minister and medical doctor) did not have this in mind when he invented the great game of basketball in 1891. He certainly did not have such behavior in mind for a tournament involving children. If we adults — parents, coaches, fans, refs and sport administrators — kept in mind how much youth sports gives to our children we’d be meeting and greeting on the court rather than, no doubt, arguing in court.
We would see sports as a tool that helps us raise our children. We would see that it gives our children lifelong friendships, coordination, health, pride in achievement (“Hey Grandpa, I used that crossover dribble I’ve been working on.”). It teaches respect for officials, equipment, facilities and for opponents (“Wow! Double overtime — that team was good.”). It teaches time management (“You mean I have to practice AND do my homework?”). It teaches teamwork and that there are no small parts. It teaches a willingness to prepare to do your very best, to work on and focus on things you can control. It teaches that you cannot control the bad bounces a ball takes, nor how a referee sees a certain play, but you can control what and how you practice and compete.
With all these positives flowing to our children, we should want them to play sports as long as they can. Forever. We adults should never do anything to cause those little ones to quit sports. Nothing. No embarrassment. No chirping at the refs, coaches or opponents. And certainly, no violence. We should turn those little ones loose to enjoy the game. Get out of their way. Let them feel they can hardly wait to get back to playing it. Let our children have the space to fall in love with the game. Don’t do anything to cause them to dislike it and quit.
I like to think that Dr. Naismith wanted us to play his game as hard as we can, within the 13 rules that he established, but under an umbrella of sportsmanship. As important as winning is, he didn’t make it the end all, be all. Part of his 13th rule reads, “In case of a draw the game may, by agreement of the captains, be continued…”
It MAY continue. There doesn’t have to be a winner. To play hard is to win. To play hard, within the rules, in a sportsmanlike manner is to raise good young men and women. We adults need to get out of the way and let youth sports help us raise our children.