THE STRIKE ZONE
Sometimes Sports, Sometimes Sportsmanship
A recent conversation with an umpire colleague of mine revealed a story worthy of further dissection regarding poor sportsmanship. However, before we divulge into that story, there's a story within the story that is worthy of discussion.
Have you ever been in a situation filled with pressure to succeed? How about a situation where your decisions ultimately determine the success and failure of other people? And have any of these decisions been subconsciously influenced (or at least attempted at) by a large number of screaming people?
What I just described is the setting that sports officials face on a somewhat regular basis. It frequently ranges in intensity depending on so many factors, including sport, level, and importance, to name a few. But the general setting is the same across the board.
Imagine if one of the teams participating in a game is jockeying for calls to go their way. The players and coaches are constantly complaining, and the fans (who are probably somewhat clueless, but just go along with the norm) are not helping. How would you feel if you had to make calls in a split second (such as calling balls and strikes) knowing that any call you make, right or wrong, could draw the disapproval of a large number of people?
If you think the answer is to just "block it out," you're not human.
A lot of players and coaches (and even fans, to a degree) think that jockeying an official is the best way to influence calls to go their way during the course of a game. What they don't realize, however, is that jockeying does nothing more than make the official lose focus on what really matters: his job, which is to officiate the game.
As a disclaimer, I'm not saying that an athletic competition or the job done officiating said game is of the utmost importance in the grand context in life. But when you narrow the focus down to just the game, the job the official does to properly officiate the game is something that the official takes quite seriously.
Jockeying only distracts officials, causing their focus to leave the game and instead be divided between multiple parties, which could clearly influence whether or not the official gives his full attention to making the right calls. It may only appear to work because the calls made could be in favor of the jockeying team, even though they may be wrong.
In fact, many officials who have experience with certain teams or individuals known for this type of behavior will discuss this with their fellow officials prior to each contest in order to properly prepare and develop a game plan to make sure focus remains on the game. Experienced officials do the same thing prior to games of major importance, even if the teams aren't known for this poor behavior; it's surprising how a big game can bring the worst out of even the nicest people.
Some of these game plans that officials develop can be as simple as being aware of the jockeying from the first comment. If such a comment is heard, officials may immediately warn a team to stop it before it gets any worse. It's the ultimate win-win for the official: either the situation ends, or repeat offenders are usually justifiably ejected, which also ends the situation.
But is that enough? Sometimes, even the threat of jockeying is enough to divert focus from an official. If an official has to be prepared for the potential for jockeying, isn't that an act of removing focus from officiating the game? Shouldn't an official go into a game without having to worry about jockeying? That would be the most logical scenario with the hope of getting the best effort out of an official.
If you're a coach who constantly barks at officials, it may not even be enough to just stop! Word gets around quickly in the sports world. If you wonder why officials make mistakes in your games, perhaps it's because those officials were told to be on the lookout for your poor behavior. So your actions in a previous game are now coming back to bite you in a later game. It is the most ironic form of karma.
So the next time you're in the middle of a big game, give the official the benefit of the doubt. Your complaints over judgment calls that can't be changed are not going to make it better, nor affect the outcome. In fact, all it does it make it worse. Let the official keep his focus between the lines.
Baseball player, umpire, coach, fan; professional musician; founder, President & CEO of The OSIP Foundation, Inc.