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Advice to spectators

school of sport with TIM MIDDLETON

MANY parents love sport and go to watch school matches with great excitement and anticipation, longing for a victory and for their child to play a significant part in it — almost to the extent that the parents’ identity, let alone their child’s, is bound up in the result.

Others will go to watch school sporting fixtures to support their school, even if their child is not playing. Many become tremendously caught up in the action, willing the team to victory and wanting to play their part in it. As a result, how the referee performs becomes a key component in the spectators’ enjoyment.

Contrary to what some parents might think, school sporting fixtures are not organised for the entertainment of parents, but for the education of the children. Sport, including competitive sport, plays an integral part in the education of our children. However, parents themselves may need to be educated
further about how to participate in such school sporting events as their behaviour at such events teaches their children many lessons. There follows, therefore, some practical advice on how spectators should behave at sporting events before they rant on about the way referees perform.

Before we open our mouth and tell the referee what we know he is doing wrong, we do well to consider a number of important points. Firstly, we will obviously see things differently from the referee. He sees the play from a different angle from us. In addition, there may well be many bodies between him and the action. As we may be positioned higher up we will be able to see over bodies. As the referee is closer to the action and we will be further away, we will have a wider vision.

Secondly, the referee will be looking, at any one time, for a multitude of possible infringements; we are probably only looking for (our favourite) one.

Also, the referee will be looking at the ball, at the movement of both sets of players, at the next likely move, at his assistants, and more; we are only
watching the ball. The referee will be looking at infringements by both sides; we are only looking for bad decisions against our team. Interestingly we do not shout at the referee when our team benefits from a decision in our favour so we would do well not to shout at him when our team does not benefit.

Thirdly, the referee has taken the time to train, to learn, to be coached in refereeing; we have not (if we had, we would know better than to shout out at the referee) – which is strange if we believe we are so good at it. The referee has had the courage to accept the responsibility to referee; we have not. The referee will be appraised on his performance (by someone better qualified than us); we will not.

Fourthly, the referee will have run a great deal, as the game has gone on; we have been sitting on our backside. His judgment may be affected slightly by tiredness, but at least it is not fuelled by alcohol or by the laughter of friends around him. The referee has the grace not to tell us where we are wrong; so should we have the grace not to tell him. The referee is human and does make mistakes; so are we and so do we. We do not like our mistakes to be
highlighted (which may be demonstrated by the way we are reading this) so we do well not to highlight his. In doing so, we are actually becoming more of a public spectacle than the referee.

In closing we will do well to remember three final points: firstly, other people have actually not come to hear our opinion or our running commentary, but to watch the sport for themselves. Secondly, our opinion is actually not going to change anything so leave it aside. Thirdly, it’s a game! Neither our or our child’s or our school’s life or reputation or future depends on the result of the match. So we will do well to be quiet and concentrate rather on applauding positive play and encouraging healthy endeavour. We should sit back and allow the referee to do his job; we should encourage our child for his efforts more than for his successes; and above all, please, we must remember to thank the referee.

Sport needs more referees, for sure — official ones though, not armchair ones. Volunteer, please – or be quiet!

Tim Middleton is a former international hockey player and headmaster, currently serving as the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools. Email:

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