From: Dr. Karissa Niehoff, executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations; Tom Keating, executive director of the Iowa High School Athletic Association; Jean Berger, executive director of the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union.
In Iowa and across the country, an unfortunate trend that needs to be addressed continues: the negative behavior of some coaches, parents, and fans at high school sporting events.
Far too often we see yelling, harassment, disrespect, and even physical assaults on high school umpires, umpires, and other officials during and after games. Often the harassment continues on social media. You may have witnessed it first hand – or even taken part in it yourself.
This behavior is not only unacceptable and embarrassing, but also has serious consequences for the future of university sports.
Currently, some states and some of our own communities are experiencing a critical shortage of high school officials. Reason number one? You guessed it: the behavior of coaches, parents and fans towards officials.
National official surveys report alarming statistics:
- 55% of officials say abuse from coaches, parents and fans is the top reason for their resignation.
- 59% don’t feel respected.
- 57% think that sportsmanship is getting worse.
- 84% feel unfairly treated by viewers.
- 46% have felt unsafe or fear for their safety because of the behavior of spectators, coaches, administrators or players.
Civil servants leave the profession faster than new ones enter. This is a serious concern for us. If things continue like this, games and competitions may be canceled due to a lack of officials.
Unfortunately, bad behavior at high school sporting events has become normal. It is almost expected that coaches, parents and fans will disregard the people who serve as officials. We believe that culture needs to change now.
Everyone involved in high school sports—parents, coaches, administrators, fans, and the media—needs to focus on supporting the student athletes who play the games and turn away from criticizing the people who run the competitions. We believe most fans are positive, and we encourage them to address the negative behavior of those around them, rather than ignore it. We must encourage those around us to remain respectful.
The bottom line is that there can be no high school sports without high school officials.
The NFHS is working with state higher education associations across the country to launch the statewide #BenchBadBehavior campaign. We will use the power of social media and other tools to educate everyone about the importance of good behavior at high school sporting events.
You can help by being a positive role model at your high school’s sporting events. And if you think you have what it takes to be a licensed officer, sign up today at https://www.iahsaa.org/officials/become-one, and help meet an urgent need here in Iowa.
This commentary was issued on behalf of the NFHS, IHSAA, and IGHSAU. It may be republished by member schools and media members.
Karissa Niehoff is executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).
Tom Keating is the executive director of the Iowa High School Athletic Association (IHSAA).
Jean Berger is the executive director of the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union (IGHSAU).