Youth coaches, on-ice refs finding more ways to work together
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It’s a scene that repeats itself in rinks throughout Colorado and across the country.
A call is made — or not made — during a youth hockey game. The coach of the team on the receiving end of the call or non-call screams his disapproval, which often encourages the team’s parents and fans to join in the yelling.
The young teenage official who is the target of the abuse tries to diffuse the situation, but many times it’s to no avail.
“And after one season, a young, gung-ho official doesn’t want to officiate anymore,” said Brian Sutton, USA Hockey coach-in-chief for Colorado (pictured right).
Ron Groothedde, USA Hockey referee-in-chief for Colorado (pictured top), is concerned about the same problem, especially because hockey associations are losing as many as half of their new officials each season.
“It’s so much fun for a young official to whiz around the ice with the players while enforcing the rules. There’s no other hobby like it,” he said. “But some coaches and parents can suck the joy right out of it.”
It isn’t only young officials who get fed up with the behavior of coaches, Groothedde said.
“Let’s say you’ve been officiating for 25 or 30 years and you see yet another Bantam B or Midget C coach going postal about a perceived offside or a penalty that was missed,” he said. “You wonder, ‘Why am I doing this?”
Both Sutton and Groothedde want to put an end or at least slow down the quick exits of young officials. They have some solutions but first, they discussed the biggest problems.
“There’s an intimidation factor, really bullying, when an adult coach tries to impose his thoughts on a child who is officiating a game,” Sutton said.
“Adults forget these young officials are just kids. So many coaches have no self-control and they forget an official can make a mistake just like a player or coach.”
There’s nothing that can be done after a call is made, Sutton said, so a coach needs to calm down and keeping coaching otherwise he’s not helping his team.
Groothedde said for the most part, young officials have been taught to respect their elders so they have a difficult time dealing with an angry adult. It isn’t easy to impose a bench minor penalty or toss a coach from a game, he said.
“A young official isn’t mentally prepared to get into an argument with an adult,” he said.
Sutton and Groothedde both say the solution to the problems lie in communication and education.
On the ice, they suggest a calm discussion between a coach and official about a dispute after some time has passed, perhaps after several faceoffs, or even after the game so cooler heads prevail.
Off the ice, they think it would be a great idea if hockey associations schedule a pre-season meeting with coaches and veteran officials to talk about ways coaches and officials can work together during a game.
An even bigger need, both said, is for coaches to learn the rules, especially because they’re not the same at each level of competition.
“Most coaches think they know all the rules from watching NHL games,” Groothedde said.
— Steve Stein