Lanes & Incentives

I have a good friend who likes to ask thoughtful questions. One of his favorites is “What’s something you’ve changed your mind about, or think about differently than you might have 3-5 years ago. While many of us could come up with some interesting answers, I turned the question back around on him. His answer was, “I no longer ask why something is the way it is, or why people act the way they do,” he said. “I ask what are the incentives?” The point is if we understand the incentives (or disincentives) we typically have the answer to “why?”

As a follow-up to last week’s post about the shortage of officials, many parents speculated on why there’s a shortage? One of the most common comments received reflected on parents and their conduct. In far too many cases, parents’ conduct acts as a disincentive. In fact, Dr. Karissa L. Niehoff, chief executive officer of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHSA) in Indianapolis, Indiana, commented “the shortage of officials continues to be a major issue across the country – and more supportive parents who are encouraging their sons and daughters from the stands rather than questioning the officials’ calls would go a long way toward retaining more individuals to officiate contests.”

Speaking of incentives, I think it’s clear, no one goes into officiating high school sports for the paycheck. In most cases, volunteers are looking for ways to give back to sports and programs that meant so much in their own youth and early adult development. Such mental/emotional capital born of purpose, gratitude, and a desire to pay forward the support offered by predecessors years or even decades before, is the real incentive.

Unfortunately, such incentives can be drowned out by those who in moments of emotion, forget the limits of their perspective, eyesight, and angel of view, and are compelled to criticize and amplify the criticisms launched by others. I don’t mean to suggest there’s never a bad call, but it’s important to remember high school officials are doing their best, volunteering more time than you’d expect, and really are trying to get it right.

When I find myself stuck in traffic, I’ve been known to shift lanes left or right in the hopes of making a little more progress than if I had just sat still. My wife, whose patience is far more a virtue than my own, will sometimes whisper, “stay in your lane…” Though sometimes easier said than done, I know she’s right….

We are all emotionally invested in our children and the sports they/we love. When we combine the two, it is often challenging to inhibit our emotions. However, if the goal is for the children’s development, experience, and fun, we need officials and need them to want to come back. Once again borrowing the highway analogy, if we think of the lanes as Coaching, Playing, Officiating, and Supporting.  We’d probably all do best to follow my wife’s advice, pick a lane and stay in it… And while we’re at it, take a moment to say thanks to an official. Without them, we’d have no game to enjoy in the first place.

Coach Rich Alercio is available to discuss coaching philosophy, X’s & O’s, or teach his O-Line “techniques in the trenches.” Contact Coach at and share with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for supporting this blog and joining our conversations, and as always, thanks for your time!   

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