Category Archives: Sportsmanship

Where have all the officials gone?

There has been a decline in sports officials nationwide

If you’ve been thinking lately that it’s a tough time for officials in a number of sports including fastpitch softball, you’d be right. As this infographic from Ohio University demonstrates, the number of officials nationwide is on a steady decline.

That’s bad news for everyone involved in youth sports, because even though you may not always like their calls, and in some cases may think they are biased/blind/complete idiots, umpires and referees are still essential for competitive sports. You could play without them, I suppose, but if you’re counting on all the coaches and players to be completely honest about close calls you’re bound to be sorely disappointed.

Where are they all going? Well, like the rest of the workforce, older officials are retiring. Unfortunately, not enough people are stepping up to replace them. It seems that players who are either finishing or have finished their playing careers aren’t exactly stepping up to stay involved in softball by becoming umpires. Although there are some exceptions.

The opportunities to advance from high school to college officiating aren’t exactly abundant either, which may discourage some. The pay isn’t exactly great, the hours can be long and inconvenient, and so forth.

Then there is the issue of the hostile environment these days. More and more, youth sports contests are beginning to sound like political debates on Facebook. This has led more than 85% of current officials to “consider terminating their services if (the) environment worsens.”

What’s the consequence? According to the infographic, potentially it could mean fewer games, fewer opportunities at the lower levels in high school, and perhaps some sports being dropped altogether at some schools.

While the infographic doesn’t get into travel/club ball, fewer officials could mean even shorter games in an effort to cover the same number of games, or perhaps bringing in unqualified or untrained volunteers to pick up the slack. Yes, I know there are some bad umpires out there even with training, but the situation could get a whole lot worse.

So what’s the solution? I can think of a couple of things.

One is to be sure coaches, parents, and players treat officials with respect rather than imitating the bad behavior they see on TV. That not only gives current officials a reason to stay in it; it also encourages current players to stay in the game by officiating when their careers are done.

As part of that, coaches and players should shake the officials’ hands after every game – even if you think they blew a call that cost you the game. Just that act alone can mean a lot.

Stiffer penalties for those who verbally or especially physically abuse or threaten officials should be put in place and enforced vigorously. No official should ever have to wonder if he/she will be confronted by an angry coach or parent after a game.

Officiating organizations should also make an effort to reach out to high school and college players (and their parents, for that matter), encouraging them to sign up when they’re done playing. Sometimes all it takes is asking someone. They should do more than send an email. They should actually show up in person and present, in my opinion.

Those are just a few ideas I had. What about you? What do you think we can do to turn the tide and swell the ranks of quality officials?


The definition of sportsmanship – and class

This isn’t a fastpitch softball story, but it’s still one I found worth sharing because it demonstrates everything great about sports and what they teach you. Full disclosure: I am friends with Abbey D’Agostino’s uncle Tim and Aunt Janet Boivin so the story has a little extra impact for me.

If you haven’t heard, this happened during the women’s 5000 meter race at the Olympics. Everyone was running in a pack when Nikki (no relation to Hillary) Hamblin of New Zealand tripped, and the USA’s Abbey D’Agostino fell over her.

Understand that Abbey has waited a long time for this opportunity. If I recall correctly she just missed the cut for the 2012 Olympics while she was still in college, so making the team and having the opportunity to go for the gold was the fulfillment of a dream.

After falling like that, many runners would have just gotten up and tried to make up the time. That’s what being a competitor is supposedly all about. But Abbey saw that Nikki was hurt, and instead of taking off she stopped to help Nikki up off the ground and start running again.

Then, in an interesting turn, after both ran a few meters Abbey went down again. (Later we would discover she tore her ACL and meniscus when she fell originally. Nikki stopped to help her up, and the two of them proceeded to help each other finish the race. (Shades of Cool Runnings, eh?)

The other thing to understand is they weren’t friends before. They didn’t know each other at all. But they are bound together for life now.

We see a lot of negative things out there in the world. At softball parks we see all kinds of bad behavior from players, coaches, parents and fans. But this story is a reminder, on the biggest stage of all for most sports, of what it’s really all about.

If you’d like to learn more, here’s one of the many stories that have come out of this incident, complete with an interview of both runners.

Hopefully Abbey will be back on the track sooner rather than later and will have another shot at a medal. But if she never runs competitively again, she’s set an amazing standard for all athletes. Watch for the Disney movie in about five years. 🙂

What would Babe Ruth do?

This isn’t exactly fastpitch softball, but it does have to do with baseball — and it’s a really interesting article. My friend Ray Minchew sent it to me, so thanks, Ray.

The article was written Bill James, the guru behind The Baseball Abstract — that statistical analysis that once was looked down upon by the baseball Powers That Be but now is the Bible, or at least the law book, of the sport. But this time he’s not talking about statistics; he’s talking about all the gnashing of teeth over the use of steroid and how they’ve affected the record books.

As he looks at the current troubles, he harkens back to Babe Ruth and what he was like. I mean, you have to love an article that starts like this:

“First of all, I have absolutely no doubt that, had steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs existed during Babe Ruth’s career, Babe Ruth would not only have used them, he would have used more of them than Barry Bonds. I don’t understand how anyone can be confused about this. The central theme of Babe Ruth’s life, which is the fulcrum of virtually every anecdote and every event of his career, is that Babe Ruth firmly believed that the rules did not apply to Babe Ruth.”

Yet while he starts with a baseball premise, the always thoughtful James expands his premise to look at America as a whole and how we are really a nation of scofflaws at heart. We love our independence, and our right to do whatever we darn so please whenever we darn so please.

There’s more to it, but I can’t really do it justice her. Follow the link above and give it a look. It will make you smile and think at the same time.

The measure of a good teammate

So how far would you (or your daughter) go to be a good and caring teammate? Not to mention a good friend? I found out something the other day that really struck me as an example of what being a teammate is all about.

We were in what turned out to be our last game at Northern Nationals. It was a 1-1 game at that point, so the head coach and I agreed we were going to stay with what was working. That meant three of our players were probably not going to get into that game unless something changed.

Along about the bottom of the fifth, our defense came in off the field. The second hitter due up was Kaitlin. When the first hitter went to bat, I was informed by someone else on the team that she had run to the bathroom, which was not far from the field. The first hitter went down quickly, and Kaitlin hadn’t returned yet. So I looked down the bench and called for a pinch hitter (Erin) to take her place. I felt bad about it, but we were under time pressure and needed to get a hitter up. The pinch hitter, by the way, was a girl who had broken her nose a couple of weeks before and was finally cleared to play for this tournament.

Kaitlin came back as Erin was walking to the plate. There was a question on whether we could put Kaitlin in after all, but the sub had already been reported so we decided to leave her there. Erin got her at bat and we re-entered Kaitlin.

A couple of days ago I was talking to Kaitlin’s father when he let me in on a little secret. Kaitlin didn’t have to go to the bathroom, he said. She chose to go there so Erin would get a chance to bat.

That impressed me — giving up her last at-bat in our final tournament so a friend could get into the game. Of course I wish she would’ve just come to one of the coaches and offered it rather than running off to the bathroom. Still, it demonstrated a lot of character to make that sacrifice.

So many kids today are self-focused. We have a very narcissitic society. But Kaitlin put the feelings and interests of someone else ahead of her own. She set an example that others can learn from, and showed what being a member of a team is really all about. My hat’s off to her!

Another great story of softball sportsmanship

A friend of mine turned me on to this story today. I think it’s one that everyone involved in our sport of fastpitch softball should read, because it’s both a positive message and the epitome of what sports can be when we take egos out of it.

The basic story is about a top-level high school softball team that had a game scheduled against an underprivileged school that was just starting a softball program. It had all the makings of a horrible blowout. But instead, the coach of the top-level school made a decision to take it in another direction. I don’t want to say more because I don’t want to give away such a heartwarming story. But it’s definitely worth a read.

Here in the Northern suburbs of Chicago there’s a team that’s very similar to the have-nots. They have very little budget, the families can’t afford good equipment or private lessons, and most of the girls have never played fastpitch softball before they step onto the varsity field. Most games end with them being run ruled by a huge score in the minimum amount of innings. Several area coaches use those games to help their kids pad their stats, and they proudly report the scores and how they got there as if it was a great accomplishment.

I hope some of our local high school coaches read this story and get an idea of something else they can do the next time their team meets the have-nots. The whole sport would be better for it.

Great example of sportsmanship

Here’s a great example of coaches who understand that there’s more to life (and sports) than pummeling your opponents and running up your stats. It’s not from fastpitch softball, it’s from football, but I think the lesson here applies.

Essentially, two high school teams were playing. One was winning 46-0. The coach with 0 went to the other coach and asked if his team would allow a player with Down’s Syndrome who had suited up for every game but never played to score a touchdown. The coach with 46 agreed to give up his shutout on the last play to make it happen.

One kid got the thrill of a lifetime. But a whole lot of other kids got a lesson in sportsmanship and class. Kudos to both teams.

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