Reacting to Blown Calls When Coaching Youth Football
On June 3rd Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Gallarraga was one out from throwing a perfect game when a ground ball hit by Jason Donald went for a single on the 27th out. The problem was Donald was mistakenly called safe at first base by umpire Jim Joyce, replays showed the runner was out. This would have been just the 21st perfect game in Major League history, obviously this is a big deal.
To the credit of all involved, umpire Joyce tearfully and immediately, admitted his mistake publicly. Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski did not ask MLB to reverse the call. The next day Tigers manager Jim Leyland did not invoke his privilege of allowing Joyce to sit out umpiring the next days game. Leyland took it even a step further by having Gallarraga bring out the lineup card to Joyce the very next day. Gallarraga did not blame Joyce for the mistaken call that would have landed him a spot in baseball history and took the high road during the entire episode. How easily this mistake could have spiraled into a big grudge fest.
In youth football ALL of us have been the victims of poor officiating, it happens. Over the long haul most of the time it evens out, but that doesn’t bring back some of those games that really hurt. I will never forget our League Title game in 2006, we were in overtime and just needed to score and make our extra point to win the game. We were on a 31 game win streak. In second and 8 to go for the winning score, our running back ran an off-tackle play that looked like he was going to score on. At the very last moment a desperate linebacker reached out and clearly grabbed the facemask of our running back. He did this with such force that our running back did a complete flip, with the defenders hand clearly still holding onto the mask through the entire flip, think violent horsecollar, but by the facemask. The defender then slapped both hands around his helmet in exasperation, because he assumed like everyone in the stadium that a penalty would be called and we would have the ball at the 1 with a first and goal. Even though the referee was standing less than 2 yards from the play and was looking right at it, he chose to keep the flag in his back pocket. The play looked much like the above picture of Husker Heisman winner Eric Crouch being blatantly facemasked against Kansas State to the point his helmet turned completely around, you guessed it, no penalty was called on this play as well. It happens.
The film from the game CLEARLY showed our back being violently face masked. Our back grabbed his own facemask and put his helmet back in place, shocked not to see a penalty flag, but he said nothing. To our parents and coaches credit, we didn’t say anything about it then or even after the game. On 4th down we were stopped at the 6 inch line by a wall of tacklers as our running back chose to try and cut up under a perfectly executed sweep play. It has always been our mantra that no game is ever determined by referees. If we execute well and do what we know we can do, a game should never come down to one play. Earlier in that very game we had an apparent touchdown called back on a holding call and we fumbled on a play where we had a first down inside the opponents 20 yard line.
We never got an apology or had anyone admit a mistake was made like what Mr Joyce did. While the referee had an incredible view of the runner and tackler, we didn’t fault him, everyone makes mistakes. If you don’t think so, try refereeing a game yourself, it is something all coaches should do at least once. I always make sure to have a referees shirt and whistle in my trunk in case of emergencies and have been pressed into refereeing several games where my own teams were not playing. Trust me when I say, it is a lot harder than it looks and it’s easy to miss things on every play. While I’m not a fan of the bully referee who never admits when he is wrong, or seems to play favorites, those types are few and far between. The majority of the guys that referee are just like anyone else in the real world, they like kids and are trying to earn a few extra dollars for their families.
Take a lesson from MLB, forgive and forget, offer grace and move on. Make sure your kids and team treasures every snap, teach them to not allow a game to come down to a single call. Teach the players to respect the referee even when he is in error. When you are coaching youth football, your kids, team and your personal sanity will be better served in the long run if you take this approach.
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