5 Ways for Officials to Control the Game
Research on hockey violence has shown that coaches and parents strongly influence youngsters who play minor hockey by instilling aggressive attitudes. The closer a youth advances to the professional ranks, the more likely he will use tactics such as fighting and illegal stick-work. An obvious implication is that game officials, particularly referees, must take a more proactive role in curbing violence on the ice. In regard to this, some effective procedures for reducing the incidence of violence in minor hockey are reviewed below.
- On-ice officials should meet with team captains and coaches prior to the start of each match. This provides a direct opportunity for clarifying rules and establishing expectations regarding how the game will be played and what kinds of behaviors will not be tolerated. Sports like baseball and football have effectively used this approach for decades, but sometimes it is a neglected part of hockey protocol.
- Dialogue between officials and players should be encouraged. In the past, referees governed the sport with an iron fist and seldom put up with any verbal input. Indeed, referees typically issued misconduct penalties to players seeking clarification on a particular ruling. Keeping lines of communication open increases awareness and understanding of the rules, and it fosters greater internalization of moral/ethical values (sportsmanship) associated with fair play.
- Referees should be consistent in their interpretation of the rules and in assessing penalties to each team. A frequent complaint concerns referees failure to judge recurring infractions in exactly the same way. Consequently, some players feel that the referee will not penalize an opponent for committing a foul against them—so they retaliate. Additionally, in attempting to maintain the flow of the game, referees might tend to overlook initial violations. When this happens, they fall into the trap of having to deal with subsequent acts of retaliation and the potential escalation of aggression.
- The use of women referees should be supported. Sport psychology research indicates that players perceive women as less approving of hockey violence than men. Moreover, the trend toward using women referees contributes to breaking down gender-role stereotypes. Hockey aficionados are often surprised to find that women referees are often capable of skating as fast as men, and they understand the rules as well as men.
- On-ice officials should maintain an appropriately high level of physical fitness. Those who are overweight and struggle to keep pace with the speedier young athletes tend to find themselves out of position and unable to make proper calls on plays at the opposite end of the rink. When this occurs, the risk of missing initial illegal behaviors (for example, “cheap shots”) increases, thereby opening the door to more violence.
A final point of emphasis is warranted: Referees are responsible for implementing fair play policies and mediating disputes with players and coaches in a sensible manner. However, first and foremost, the obligation for sportsmanlike behavior rests squarely on players and coaches.
Editor’s Note: Thank you to Frank L. Smoll, Ph.D., for this article. Dr. Smoll is a sport psychologist at the University of Washington and co-director of the Youth Enrichment in Sports program. To see previews of his Mastery Approach to Coaching and Mastery Approach to Parenting in Sports DVDs, visit www.y-e-sports.com.
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