Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Referees Get Respect

In the past I have posted somewhat critical looks at local referees. I wanted to be sure to say something positive about that part of the sport when I saw it. This was made easy by our participation in the 2011 Alberta Open in Calgary in March.

Usually, with 7 divisions of play and 3 or 4 pools of games at one time, referee action can vary greatly. This was the first year where I felt the level of officiating exceeded the level of play from start to finish at the U12, U14 and even U16 levels. Sure, there were crazy situations in some games where parents, coaches and players saw things much differently than the referee. But, that is just sport and it can be expected at any time. Even at the U18 level the referees for the most part were totally in synch with the level of play.

There is a reason for that and I want to talk about it so people hear me say positive things about referees and so anyone looking for ideas can maybe see a way to make progress. First of all you need to understand that Calgary in particular has many regular league water polo games during the year. This is supported by league games in Alberta with other cities and clubs. These league games force a need for referee development and it is made possible by strong leadership.

Leadership comes in different ways in Alberta, probably most clearly the referee support comes from Mike Dykman. He is a referee leader that shows authority, fairness and civility while still being totally relaxed and approachable. This is modeled for all young referees emerging from the playing ranks. Even if Mike is not in charge, which he seems always to be, all the referees know who he is and how he conducts himself. That is the solid footing to begin a training program of mentorship.

With a role model it is possible to set expectations for young referees and they will see the desired outcome. This also allows coaches to see where the referees are going and to know that there is a model being pursued. It prevents the common problem of referees being developed 1 or 2 at a time and toward different ends ie a competitive stream, a community stream, a youth stream, a masters stream. These new referees all acted a similar way and what really stood out was how they smiled and interacted with others. In 2011 referees were relaxed and professional.

That may seem like a small thing, them being relaxed and professional, but it is not. I was so impressed with how they acted that a "bad" call I didn't agree with was never considered an attempt to "screw" my team so it kept me from showing players I was upset, because I wasn't (at least not at officials). For a coach to go a whole tournament with that view of referees is really nice.

It is interesting that we went 2 years between the 2009 Alberta Open and the 2011 event and with that gap there was a quiet evolution of referees in Alberta. I say "quiet" because we didn't see it outside as it was in their leagues. That is the key thing in consistent officiating - REGULAR GAMES at a set standard where performance is standardized. That simply can never be done with a stand alone tournament in a community 2 or 3 times per season.

Once again we see Leadership, Regular Games and Mentorship as keys to sport success. Surprisingly it is not in a discussion about athlete development but it does impact that part of sport in a very direct way.


  1. I've only met Mike Dykman a couple of times, but I could tell that he would be a great person to have in charge of officials development. He was approachable, friendly, knowledgeable, and professional.

    He did not need to resort to bullying or screaming like a lunatic to assert his authority. He earns respect by treating others with respect. Whereas certain others demand respect solely based on wearing a white shirt, while showing none to anyone else.

    The example set at the top is important. It can be the difference between a good culture where there is growth and cooperation, and a hostile one full of insults and shouting matches.

    Calgary and Alberta do have a big advantage over the rest of the prairies based on the number of participants, number of games played, and the talent that national team centralization in Calgary brings to them.

    We'll always be playing catchup, but the catalyst for getting more regular games and mentorship opportunities for those outside of Alberta would be good leadership. Despite good intentions of those involved, that isn't being delivered at present. And I have absolutely no idea how to fix it.

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