Refs and control issues

I coached junior high football for a few years. That was an experience.

There were a few aspects of junior high football that were a challenge. Junior high boys were a big one; when practice shuts down because a rabbit ran past the goal posts, that’s a bit frustrating. But another big frustration was referees.

Any sports fan knows that referees can be frustrating from time to time (unless they’re a Packers fan-they don’t know what its like to have calls go against them). But junior high football referees can be particularly difficult. 

First off, I’m one to give refs a bit of slack – they’re trying (usually). But for someone to be reffing a junior high football game usually means they fall into 1 of 3 categories: 

1) They’re very bored.
2) They’re very new to reffing.
3) They’re an employee of the school hosting the game and were contractually obligated to say yes when “asked” to ref a junior high football game. 

The refs in category 1 usually were fine. The refs in category 2 were often easy enough to deal with because when they’d make a mistake they would at least be willing to talk about it because they weren’t jaded by idiot junior high football coaches that constantly yelled at them about everything for years. Category 3 was the one that tended to be a real difficulty.

Any time I was in a position to ref or oversee a game and I had a connection to one of the teams, I would tell them they would be frustrated with me because I was going to be particularly hard on them in order to ensure I wasn’t biased against the other team—if a call was 50-50, it was going to go against them.

Not everyone shares my approach.

I had a couple of run-ins with school employee refs. One crew gave my team multiple 15 yard personal fouls in a game that we were dominating (we were really good, the other team really wasn’t), before sending a letter to my Athletic Director calling me the “dirtiest, most unethical coach” they had ever seen (even though my second half play-calling was ‘dive left’, ‘dive right’, ‘dive left’, etc). I asked the AD to convey to the other school that Reverend Whitman apologized for any misunderstand.

There was another game where the school employee refs were consistently calling penalties against us while missing some very obvious penalties against the other team. I did a little coach-barking at the refs a few times, but I never lost my cool, I didn’t throw anything, and I went out of my way to be positive and humorous with the refs. We lost a close game that I thought we should have won.

After the game one of the JV coaches sat next to me on the bus home and we talked about the game. He noticed the refs favoring the other team as well, and he asked me how I had kept my cool when there were so many obvious missed calls.

My answer was this: I focus on the things I can control, and I don’t worry about the things I can’t. I can control my team (well…as much as you can control junior high boys). I can control my play calls. I can control my attitude. I can’t control the refs. Yelling at them isn’t going to help; they’ll just get mad and it’ll get worse. So I’ll point things out, I’ll try to develop a rapport with them, but I’m not going to lose it because it will not only be counterproductive to the game, that isn’t what I want to be teaching my boys.

That’s a lesson I’ve learned the hard way. I’ve had my moments where I’ve flown off the handle over things that just didn’t matter or were out of my control. I’ve gotten worked up about things I couldn’t do anything about. I’ve been there, I’ve regretted it later, and I’ve dealt with the consequences.

Life is full of moments where things are out of our control. Those moments can lead to stress, anxiety, and frustration, and often justifiably so. But we’ll be better off when we can focus on what we can control, and when we can let go of things that are out of our control. Ultimately, God’s got everything, so what do we have to worry about? We aren’t judged by our outcomes, we’re judged by out faithfulness.

Am I doing what God has called me to do, the way He would want me to do it? If so, it doesn’t matter what happens, I’m right where I should be.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:12-14

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