Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year – Again!

Some of you that have been following my blog know I have already had a post with this title – last December. Well I am not talking about the Christmas Holidays, I am talking about football season! This week was the opening of the NCAA football season. I love watching college football and for the first time ever I have a grandson (Nathan) that is playing Peewee Football. He is ten and this is his first year playing. I never played football. Our high school in Indiana was so small we did not have a football team. Well we did but it was the real football, or soccer as they call it here in the U.S. None of my sons played football as youth or in high school they played soccer and other sports. I officiate soccer, basketball and lacrosse, but not football, but I love watching it. I could have titled today’s blog “football and life’s lessons”. No matter what sport you participate in, or live vicariously through your children and grandchildren, there are lessons that help us get through all kinds of challenges in life.

This week Nathan and I went to the season opening game with Utah State University and Southern Utah University. The game was not fundamentally pretty. There were basically only two plays USU had that were exciting. They blocked an extra point attempt by SUU and ran that back for two points. Then with three minutes to go in the game SUU punted to USU and they ran 88 yards for a touch down and USU beat SUU 12-9. The same day (Thursday) the University of Utah beat Michigan in their opener and yesterday BYU beat Nebraska with a Hail Mary pass with 1 second left on the clock for a touch down to win it.

Yesterday, I took my grandson to his football game and the game before his was still playing when I came up with my chair. A fellow was sitting there with his family. His grandson was playing in that game. The fans were complaining about the referees. I said to the fellow that I knew the referees and they were some of the best. Two of them had been officials for 30 or more years. He joked that they probably had been making the same mistakes for that long too. He then said he had played football for years and also officiated it. I said then you know that officials are human and make mistakes and that the players needed to learn that lesson and we should not expect perfect games from the referees anymore than we expect the kids to play perfect. One of the things I try to teach players when talking to them is that referees sometimes make calls that change the out come of the game, we don’t like that especially if it was a bad call. But how many plays did they fail to execute properly that put them in the position where that one call changed the game?

As I waited for the game to end and Nathan’s game to begin, I continued to talk to the fellow next to me. He said he played football in High School in Utah and played against Merlin Olsen who played for Logan High. Merlin was three years older than this guy and he said the Logan quarterback would just tuck in behind Merlin and no one could stop him. He also played at BYU and would play against USU and Merlin Olsen. He was fun to talk to as long as I kept him off the subject of the referee of his grandson’s game.

Nathan lost his game 27-0 this week and last week Logan lost 27-6. Their first game they won 12-6 in overtime. The players, coaches and parents were so excited for that win and they were optimistic for the season. Now with two consecutive losses the mood was much more solemn than when they won. It will be interesting to see how the coaches talk to the players in their next practice. Last week after their first loss, they said that the other team worked harder and were better prepared, that they needed to work harder to be better prepared for the game this week. That might have been true, maybe not. We don’t what the other team did, probably they were just better and that is the way it is, especially at this age.

In sports there will always be a winner and a loser. Some think that it should not be that way, that everyone should be winners. I am not sure if that is the right thing. While we need to be proud of the youth, win or lose, if they did their best. In life there are winners and losers and sometimes not everyone plays fair. In sports we have referees enforce the rules to keep the game fair for both teams. Probably the judicial system is what is closest to sports officials. Judges are there to enforce the law and keep things fair. But even that does not work all the time the way we like it. But how we deal with losing a game can help us understand how we can turn what we think is a losing situation in life into something positive. Picking ourselves up after losing and working harder to gain the skills to win will also help us work harder at school, at work, and get along with our neighbors.

When I have been refereeing games, I have seen coaches that get in the faces of their players when they make a mistake. Some even swear at the players. I don’t think yelling and swearing at 10-13 year olds will do much good to encourage them to work harder. In fact, I don’t thing yelling and swearing works on any age group. I don’t know why some coaches, especially youth coaches, think that those tactics are effective. I guess that is what their coaches did and so they think that is what they need to do. Or that yelling at players and getting in their face will get them fired up to do better. It usually has the opposite effect. As a referee I want to yell at the coach and tell him how stupid he is, but that would only make me look foolish as well.

When we got in the car yesterday after their loss, Nathan started complaining about the referees. He knows I am a referee, in fact many times when we are at basketball games he will tell me that I should be refereeing the game because I would do much better than those refs are doing. It is nice to see he still believes in his grandpa. So he started complaining about the referees on his game. I reminded him that they were my friends and that they were some of the best officials around. They knew what they were doing, they knew the rules. He and his coaches might not like some of their calls, but they were doing their best just like the players were. He said that he wished that I refereed football. I said if I did he and his coaches would be yelling at me. He said “probably”!

I hope that Nathan and his teammates learn to love football, love to work hard, love to win and learn to lose with graciousness and respect for the other team. It is heart breaking to see the coaches and fans yelling at the officials. What example is that setting for these young players. I do love the enthusiasm of the parents for their children and even after the loss yesterday, they formed a victory tunnel for the players to run through after the game. I remember one youth soccer game that I officiated after the game the parents of one of the winning team formed a victory tunnel for their players. The players of the other team saw it and they immediately ran over to the other side and ran through the tunnel. The parents cheered them on just as loudly as they did for their children. What a great example, what sportsmanship and kindness to the other team.

Not long ago, I read about a women’s college softball team where a batter hit the ball over the fence but as she was rounding first base she injured herself and could not go on. The first and second base players picked her up and carried her around the other bases to home plate. Had she not been able to get to all bases, her home run hit would not have counted. But the opponents also knew that she deserved the home run and helped her get there. That is true selflessness – true sportsmanship. Something I hope we all can learn to exemplify.

It is truly the most wonderful time of year, whether our favorite teams win or lose we can learn from both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Let the games begin.

Your comments and questions are welcome.

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