Too much investment, lack of emotional regulation leading to parents' abuse of hockey refs, says psychologist
There isn't one answer to the question as to why reported abuse of hockey officials is trending upward in Newfoundland and Labrador this year, says one sports psychologist, but he does have a theory.
David Hancock, an associate professor of sports psychology at Memorial University and owner of A Focused Mind Sports Consulting, told CBC News Friday he believes part of the problem is because parents are far more invested in sports now than five, 10 or 15 years ago.
"That investment might be money but it also is time. And I think the more we get parents feeling like they are truly invested in their children's sport, the more when something goes wrong with that investment they feel entitled to make some sort of comment," Hancock said.
On Thursday, Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador's referee in chief, Ed Flood, told CBC News reported instances of abuse toward referees is higher this season compared to last year and it's a problem being felt across the entire province.
Hancock, who has been a referee himself for the last 25 years, said the issue with parents likely doesn't stop there.
"You could probably talk with minor sport organizations and find more email complaints from parents about how things are run or their kid is not being treated how they think they should be," he said.
"I think a lot of it probably ties into that investment piece. That's probably a big trigger and then it's just a lack of emotional regulation from the parents to be able to realize that 'OK, I wouldn't yell at the person at the restaurant for messing up my order … so why am I yelling because someone might have made a bad call in a sports game?'"
Hancock said it's that inability to regulate emotions that causes problems.
He pointed to a recent game that he was officiating as an example.
He said a U13 player was beginning to yell at referees after a whistle, and when Hancock turned to tell the player to settle down, the player apologized. On the flip side, a similar incident with a coach only caused the coach to become more irate, Hancock said.
"He just escalated more. If a 13-year-old can understand that emotional regulation and lose his temper real quick but then realize they were in the wrong, then parents, and adults and coaches should be able to do the same thing," he said.
In December, Hancock hosted a workshop in Toronto with sport partners and the idea of using workplace safety legislation as a means to address officiating abuse came up.
"In theory, you could make the argument that if officials are being paid by these minor sport associations then they're employees and they should have a safe work place," he said.
"They talked about using some of that legislation to make sure that organizations are actively protecting their officials."
That could involve organizational representatives being at games to remove parents or organizations tracking the incidents and increasing bans and suspensions for coaches and parents who continue to violate the rules, he said.
Regardless of how the process looks, Hancock said there needs to be meaningful intervention from organizations in order for the culture to change.
But, he said, it will take more than one incident before people begin to catch on.
"I wouldn't say it's as simple as knocking over the one domino. The analogy might be more like tipping over a pop machine where it might take a few attempts to get it going back and forth before you make the real change," said Hancock.
"It make take a little bit more effort than just a few incidents but that's the kind of meaningful change that we need to see."