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“KILL THE UMP! – Everything you always wanted to know about the umpires, referees and officials but were too afraid to ask. Sports would not be sports without rules and regulations. These rules and regulations would not be worth a wooden nickel without well-trained people, dressed in their appropriate striped uniforms, who knew these rules and could consistently and fairly enforce them. If the rules of your sport weren’t fairly and consistently enforced, think of the chaos and anarchy that would result on the fields and in the stands. So let’s offer some heartfelt thanks to the refs, umps and game officials who, despite the fact that they are so well paid per game, (NOT!! We couldn’t even begin to afford to pay them what they are actually worth for all the abuse that goes with the job) still show up with their game faces on to do a dirty, thankless job. In this issue of The Mental Toughness Newsletter we will take a closer look at the often emotional topic of the referee, who is the coach’s, athlete’s, parents’ and fan’s favorite scapegoat. According to everyone in sports the refs are blind as bats, deaf as my mother-in-law, (she’s actually quite deaf) and dumb as rocks. On top of this they are as impartial and fair as a politician! If you doubt my words, go sit in the stands and listen to the fans and athletes’ parents going to town during any level game in any sport, anywhere in the world! So let’s get down and really kick some ref and ump butt! After all, they really deserve it! It’s their fault that we lost today!

ATHLETE’S LOCKER – “They make a ton of mistakes, but they’re never wrong”
PARENT’S CORNER – “Kill the ump!”
COACH’S OFFICE – “What do you do when the refs really are bad?”
DR. G’S TEACHING TALES – “Blurred vision”


“They make a ton of mistakes, but they are never wrong”

I’m sitting watching a girls 15 and under AAU basketball game recently and numerous times during this particular game, several players from one of the teams bitterly complained to the refs about their calls. For example in one situation, the ref appropriately called a backcourt violation on the same girl twice within a three-minute span. Each time she lost the ball, the girl gave the ref a funny look and then questioned the reasoning for his call. When the ref patiently pointed out where the girl had stepped back over the line, she shook her head as if to say to him, “what are you blind or just simply an idiot? I couldn’t possibly have done what you’re accusing me of.”

Also noteworthy was this team’s bench and their responses to what they thought were bad calls. Rather than simply cheering for their teammates and being involved with the game, they would yell their displeasure whenever the refs made a “mistake.” Apparently this was whenever the calls went against their team because they whined throughout the entire game. What really troubled me was that their coach didn’t once put a stop to this. I suppose that his non- intervention was in keeping with how this team was taught to play. They were overly aggressive and at times verbally abusive to their opponent. In fact, it seemed that their play crossed over the line of fair play into the “dirty” realm. Two examples: One flagrant foul the refs missed against this team occurred when one of their players, throwing the ball in on an out of bounds play, deliberately threw the ball directly into the face of the girl that was guarding her. She tried to make it look like she was attempting to pass to one of her teammates. She then sheepishly smiled and went “oops”, claiming that she was actually aiming for the player’s feet, not her face.

A second example occurred on another out of bounds play. X, the player throwing in the ball told her opponent who had been closely guarding her and frustrating her the entire game to “shut the ‘f’ up” and then she literally slapped her in the face! Just two plays previously this player had stolen the ball from X and obviously X didn’t like this. Inexplicably the refs missed this interaction, which took place right in front of a group of parents sitting near the sidelines.

In this particular game, the ref’s calls weren’t the problem. The game was ref’ed relatively fairly and rather accurately. The refs were patient with the players and went out of their way to teach as they made the calls. The real problem was this team’s attitude and their players’ reactions to the officials. These players were rude crybabies who did not know how to play the game!
When it comes to officiating in your sport, let me make one obvious fact very clear: When you are out on the ice, field or court, you are an athlete and nothing, but also you are expected to execute to the very best of your ability.

Plain and simple, your job as an athlete is to perform. As you do this, you are also expected to be a good sport and to not waste time or energy focusing on or complaining about the ref’s calls. Contrary to popular belief, or what you may see on TV, your job is NOT to evaluate or criticize the officials. You are an athlete and athletes are not judges, they are performers!

The fact of the matter is that if you really want to play to your potential you have to stay in this role as performer. In order to accomplish this, you must discipline yourself to continually focus on what’s important and block out all the distractions around you. Perhaps one of the biggest distractions for any athlete is the officiating, especially when it goes against you and you feel that’s it’s questionable. Another sports fact of life: Officials make mistakes. Sometimes they make huge mistakes. Sometimes they make a ton of mistakes. Sometimes they even miss important calls. And sometimes, the officials are down right incompetent. It happens. That’s sports! In every walk of life sooner or later you’re going to run into one form of incompetence or another. Just as you can have bad coaches, so too can you have bad refs. It’s a fact! Deal with it!

However, as far as you’re concerned, the ref’s calls are actually irrelevant to your overall job as an athlete! You may not like the calls. You may think the calls are blatantly unfair. They may even make you feel like you’ve just been robbed! Regardless of all these feelings of yours, you still have to get on with the business of your job, to perform. Mentally you must therefore discipline yourself to completely block out the refs and their calls. In concentration terms, the officials are a huge uncontrollable or “UC.” That is, their calls are directly out of your control. There is absolutely nothing that you can do about them. Getting caught up in them will only take you out of your game and lead you to play poorly! As I’ve said in previous newsletters, concentrating on any uncontrollable will stress you out, undermine your confidence and send your performance down the proverbial tubes. Therefore your job mentally is to not let your concentration stay with any of the calls the refs make. If you find yourself getting upset with a bad call, remind yourself that it’s just a “UC” and then let it go and quickly return your focus back to the action of the game, match or race.


“Kill the ump!”

OK, so this is a 6:00 pm Little League game on a warm, late spring evening. It’s been a long, hard day of work. However just being outside with everything so green and in bloom makes you feel so much better already. You think to yourself that this is such a nice relaxing way to spend some quality after-work time with your kids and family. You rest easy knowing that the fate of the free world isn’t hanging in the balance with the outcome of this contest. After all, this is just a game played by little kids, 9 and 10 year olds. No doubt the kids have it right, for sure! There’s little Joey out in right field chasing a Monarch butterfly. Billy’s out in left, practicing his glove toss. And there’s Michael, your son’s best friend, chatting it up with a cute little red head in the stands. None of these kids could care less whether the ball is about to be pitched or not. It’s clear that this is all just for fun for them, right? Well we know it’s certainly not going to determine the success or failure of these kids later in life, right?

So help me out here just a little, will you? I’m a bit confused. Can you tell me why that guy over there, who looks to be at least 40, (going on 7) is standing up and raising his voice? Why is he turning so red in the face? I swear I can see the veins bulging out of his forehead. What is he getting so worked up over? Am I missing something important here? Why is he acting like such an obnoxious idiot?

Now I know he came to the field with a little boy and I’m sure he’s that kid’s dad. But, he hasn’t shut his mouth since the game began and listening to him is giving me a terrific headache, not to mention the fact that I am being overwhelmed with violent fantasies and impulses. He is beginning to ruin my evening. I just don’t get it! He’s complaining about the umpire’s calls in a little league game! A runner on his son’s team was called out trying to steal a base and he’s verbally assaulting the ump! Hello? This is not larger than life. This is just a game played by little boys. Are you for real or are you simply pulling all of our legs? You’re calling the ump blind? You think that last called strike “stunk” because it was way out of the strike zone, well below your kid’s knees? Yo! Aristotle! Is your little boy only a foot tall? Are you suffering from a severe case of hemorrhoids? Are you practicing for the Major Leagues or is there an even better reason that you are making a total fool of yourself and embarrassing your little boy? Have you ever wondered why no one ever sits next to you in the stands? May I suggest that you consider getting yourself a life?

Listen up parents! When you go to your children’s games do them, yourself and everyone around you a big favor. Cheer for the good plays on both sides of the field. Cheer for a good effort. Cheer for fair play and good sportsmanship. However, under NO circumstances whatsoever should you open your mouth and start criticizing the officiating. Even if you think that the refs are deaf, dumb and blind, you should keep your mouth shut and your comments to yourself! Truth be told, what you have to say to the officials is completely irrelevant, even if you think it’s brilliant and accurate.

If you want to go to a professional sports game and verbally assault the officials join the

thousands of crazed fans and knock yourself out. Have a great time. However, when it comes to youth sports, middle school and even high school games keep your mouth shut! Your criticism of the refs is not constructive and will not change the nature of the game other than to tick the refs off. If you ride an official too hard during a game you may unconsciously set that ref up to make many more “bad” calls against your team. Furthermore, you risk really embarrassing yourself by getting thrown out of the game. More important, before you open your mouth to speak, think about your child! The reason that you are at the field, rink or courts is because of him/her. This is NOT about you. When you verbally trash the officials, the players on the other team or the opposing coaches you are embarrassing your kid, plain and simple. In doing that, you are also distracting him/her from properly focusing on the game.

Even if you’re lucky enough not to embarrass your child by your boorish behavior and attack on the refs, you will end up focusing your child-athlete on the bad calls. Since the officiating in any athletic contest is completely out of the athlete’s control, this kind of concentration will set your child up to perform poorly. Athletes who focus on uncontrollables usually end up falling apart under pressure. The best thing that you can do for your child is to encourage him/her NOT to focus on uncontrollables and certainly not to get caught up in the officiating. Want to know the best way to teach your child how to mentally stay away from what the refs are doing? Simple! Model it!

Enjoy the weather. Enjoy the game. Leave the refs alone. The refs get abused no matter what. No matter what decision they make, someone will always end up being unhappy. A good call for one team is a bad call for the other. Imagine having to deal with this no-win situation in your work environment. Better yet, imagine being at work and constantly having whatever you do criticized loudly and with an excess of emotion. How do you think you’d feel if you were continually blamed for a team’s or athlete’s loss? Right! You wouldn’t like it one bit! Have some sensitivity here for the ref and your child. Have a little empathy. Put yourself in the referee’s shoes. In fact, probably one of the most constructive things you can do for yourself is to do some volunteer ref’ing yourself. That would get you some sensitivity to the ref’s plight in no time.

Remember, it’s only a game that your children are playing out there, and in the larger scheme of things, it’s NEVER really that important! Furthermore, don’t forget that the refs are actually human beings, not too different from you. They have feelings, don’t particularly like being abused and are out there trying to do the best job possible. In the process they will, like you, inevitably make mistakes. Cut them some slack here. If you do, you’ll enjoy the game more and so will your kids!

Does your child struggle with repetitive performance problems? Does she consistently do better in practice than in competitions? Is she suffering from low self-confidence that doesn’t fit her athletic abilities? I can help! With my phone coaching service I can help your child get unstuck and back on track. Call me today at (413) 549-1085. Six sessions from slump to peak performance!


“What do you do when the refs really are bad?”

Let’s briefly go back to the last basketball season. I was volunteering my time working as a mental toughness coach for both the girls JV and Varsity programs in the local high school. Both teams were about to play at home against a next town rival. Before the first game, the JV coach approached me and told me that I should watch the officiating because I was about to see some of the worst ref’ing I’ve ever witnessed in my life. I chuckled a bit because I thought he was just joking. He said to me, “I kid you not! The two signed up for this game are unbelievably bad and whenever we play NoHo they rob us blind!”

I walked away from this conversation still chuckling to myself and wondering whether this was just normal coaching paranoia. When I had a similar conversation with the varsity coach and he basically repeated everything that the JV coach had said, I became puzzled. The varsity coach said that there has been a tradition beyond the rivalry between these two schools. It involved several of the refs who were said to show a clear favoritism for the NoHo teams. Again I thought to myself, “surely these guys are exaggerating. It can’t be that bad. After all, how could these refs get away with consistently calling unfair games?”

I then promptly forgot about both of these conversations, as the JV game got under way. It was something about being a father now and watching my daughter play that distracted me from what the coaches had said about the officiating until the first call against our team. It was a phantom traveling call. Every basketball referee must learn both the basic calls of the game as well as the phantom ones. There are phantom charges, phantom over the back calls, phantom double dribbles, phantom stepping out of bounds, etc. I’m embarrassed to admit that despite my vast knowledge of the game I was rather ignorant about these phantom calls, so imagine my surprise when suddenly instead of having two points on a breakaway we’d turned the ball over and the other team had possession. Just a few minutes later it happened again, this time with a different player. She was bringing the ball up court, right in front of me when she was hit with a traveling call. Trust me there was no traveling to be found within fifty miles of this gym! Again, I felt stupid and inadequate that I didn’t understand the way these phantom calls worked. However, I want you to know that I’m a quick study so that by the time the fifth phantom turnover was called against us I was ready. I then understood that these two refs were either
unbelievably incompetent or terribly biased. Actually, truth be told, they were both!

Then there were the fouls! Oh my god, the “fouls!” 13 for us in the first half alone to 3 for our opponents! Charging was repeatedly called against our team despite the fact that the defensive player had not yet established position. Our players would get hacked and mugged taking shots and nothing was called. However, if the opponent went up for a shot and there was one of our players in her immediate air space, she was whistled for the violation. Speaking about whistles, the home crowd was going crazy with outrage as each of these calls came down. They expressed their anger quite vocally, deriding the refs using colorful words and phrases that I believe you’ve heard before.

I have to admit that I was experiencing a few of these rather primitive emotions myself. As a matter of fact, waves of anger kept washing over me. I began entertaining fantasies of the perfect comebacks for each of their terrible calls, “Are you blind enough to really think that was traveling or are you just a complete moron.” “Did you know that there is actually a basketball game being played here?” “Gee, I always thought there had to be actual contact before you could call a foul!” I let my emotions and these ridiculous comebacks dance around in my head but made sure that I kept my mouth firmly shut! It’s a good thing that there was a policeman at the game because the energy in the gym was getting progressively ugly.

At various points during the game I closely watched the JV coach. I am always interested in how coaches respond to this kind of adversity. Actually having to deal
with consistent bad calls puts you in a really tough “no-win” position as a coach. If you say nothing at all to the refs you give your team the impression that you either don’t care or are completely helpless. However, if you get too caught up in the bad calls and lose emotional control, you’ll ultimately lose control of your team. Furthermore, if you get too upset with and distracted by the officiating, pretty soon your athletes will be doing the same and focusing on the wrong things.

So throughout the game, if the calls were outrageous enough, the JV coach would stand up and challenge the refs, voicing his displeasure. However, for the most part he stayed in control and put most of his energy into trying to keep his players focused, composed and running their plays. He knew that if they started to get upset about the calls the game would slip away. Consequently, he continued to remind them that they had absolutely no control over the calls and that he expected them to keep their heads in the game and stay focused. He continually repeated to them. “Let me handle the officials. You guys handle the ball!” At one point, right after his halftime talk he came up to me and muttered under his breath so his players couldn’t hear, “What did I tell you? These two are outrageous!” Sadly, I had to now completely agree with him. With all due respect to the referee profession, these two refs were serious candidates for the Incompetence Hall of Fame-. They turned this game into a sophomoric movie, “Dumb and Dumber,” with one bad joke after another, where the refs played the leading roles and the girls were relegated to just walk-on parts. Basketball is supposed to be a showcase for the players, not the refs!

Our team did indeed lose the game, and you guessed it, it was a bad call that set up a final opportunity for the opponents to score. They were able to take advantage of it for a 2-point win. To be fair to the refs, some of their “creative calls” even went against the opponent, although nowhere near as many as were assessed to our team. After the game the girls felt angry and ripped off. There were tears and outrage in the locker room. The coach, however, wouldn’t let them go there. He explained to them that as long as the game has been played there have been situations of bad officiating. This was not the first time and it wouldn’t be the last time.

He continued, “Perhaps, had the calls been better tonight we would’ve won quite easily. But you know, I don’t think that’s why we lost. We lost because we didn’t execute. No matter how bad the refs were, if we had focused on our job and executed the way we’re supposed to, we would have come out on top. We didn’t do that tonight. We let the calls rattle us and that can’t happen.

Look, the refs are a huge uncontrollable. As a player you can’t do anything about them. When you hang onto a bad call or get upset with the refs you’re hurting yourself and the team. This is the lesson I want you to take away from our game tonight. If you keep your concentration in the game, eventually things will go your way, even with such a big “ref handicap.” What I want you to demonstrate the next time you’re on a court with these refs is that you’re tougher then them. I want you to show them that regardless of how awful they can be, you will not let them rattle you. I want you to be respectful when they make a terrible call and then respond by picking up the level of your play. You see, the one thing that you can always control in these kinds of situations is how you handle all the things that you can’t control.”

I watched the girls positively respond to his message. After all, he was right. Nothing constructive can ever come out of angrily focusing on the refs.

I admired his self-control and composure. I knew that inside he was steaming about the game. I also knew that he was going to go to the league office and file another formal complaint. Several had already been filed through the years but unfortunately nothing had ever come of them. Antagonizing a ref during a game, regardless of how incompetent they may actually be will only put your team further behind the eight ball. Refs are human. When you angrily question their calls, some may experience this as a personal assault on their competence. Not too many people handle these kinds of attacks very well. A lot of refs will respond by calling even more violations against you. That’s their passive-aggressive way of getting even with you for questioning them.

Save yourself the aggravation. When you run into poor officiating don’t let it knock you off center. Like your athletes, you need to stay focused on the task at hand. You need to stay in the NOW and leave the bad calls behind you. You need to keep your athletes relaxed and properly focused. You won’t be able to do this if you’re having a meltdown over the officiating.


“Blurred Vision” – Author Unknown

A businessman was highly critical of his competitors’ storefront windows. “They are absolutely disgusting.” He claimed to all who’d listen. “They are covered with grime. There are fingerprints all over them. Why, they are the dirtiest windows in the entire town. In fact, someone should tell this shopkeeper just how bad they really are. They are a disgrace to our beautiful downtown.”

His fellow business people grew sick and tired of the man’s continual criticism and nitpicking comments about the windows. One day over coffee, the businessman carried the subject much too far. He went on and on, becoming more and more agitated in the process. He made comments about his competitors’ cleanliness and even intelligence. “How can someone running a business such as ours know what they are doing if they let their windows get so grimy and dirty. We must do something to correct this. Someone should tell him just how awful his storefront looks.”

Before leaving the coffee shop, however, a fellow storeowner had had enough. He got up enough courage to finally tell the complainer. “Perhaps you should get your own windows washed! Perhaps it is your windows that are the problem here and that’s why your neighbor’s windows appear so dirty!” The businessman was shocked into silence. He did not like hearing this kind of feedback and stomped out of the coffee shop in a fit of anger. However, when he returned to his store he took a closer look at his own windows and decided that even though he did not think them to be dirty, he would try to clean them anyway, just to prove his criticizer wrong. So he followed the advice that was given him and the next day at coffee, he exclaimed to all those listening, “I can’t believe it. As soon as I washed my windows, my competitor must have cleaned his too because now his are unbelievably shiny!”

Confucius once declared, “Don’t complain about the snow on your neighbor’s roof when your own doorstep is unclean.”

Do you have “blurred vision?” Are you really seeing your situation for what it is or just simply what you think it is? The fact of the matter is that your perceptions of the world are NOT the real world; they are simply your perceptions. As a consequence, they are colored by the “grit and grime” of your biases and past experiences. When you wear green tinted eye- glasses, everything that you look at takes on a greenish hue. When you see the ref making what you consider to be a “mistake” or bad call, is it really? Because you can’t always be sure, it’s better to give the other person the benefit of the doubt. When it comes to the ref, this means that you should save your energy and dignity, and not waste it focusing on the referee’s supposed shortcomings.

If you have a performance difficulty or you’re consistently underachieving, call me today. I can help!


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