The Jr. NBA hopes a new initiative will help promote positive relations between referees, teams and parents, and encourage more people to become officials.
The NBA began its expansion of the Respect for the Game program to the Jr. NBA level last week as it debuted new features including a referee clinic in Denver, a parent forum in Chicago and a coaches forum with drills in Brooklyn, each of which was supported by the local NBA team.
“By bringing our best people from the NBA, we hope that there’s a curiosity from our parents and coaches and teens,” said Monty McCutchen, NBA vice president and head of referee development and training. “Any time we can get people to see these things on their own will allow them to be more receptive to the message that we have.”
There will be more than 60 total Respect for the Game events throughout the NBA calendar year.
“We’re going to teach them not only the mechanics and the rituals of our craft, and of our profession, but we’re going to teach them how to be a professional,” McCutchen said.
Last week, all 30 teams participated in events to encourage sportsmanship and positive values of playing sports for Jr. NBA Week.
Through these officiating clinics, the Jr. NBA hopes youth officials will get more development opportunities while helping participants and spectators learn to interact.
That’s necessary, McCutchen said, because more referees are hanging up the whistle early.
The National Federation of State High School Associations recently published an op-ed saying parental behavior is leading to a shortage of referees. When the NFHS received criticism from some, calling its language too harsh, the organization doubled down, writing “On the contrary, perhaps we should have been more direct.”
With more camera angles and larger national media coverage, it’s easier to scrutinize referees. McCutchen acknowledged some critique is fair, but he says that incorrect calls get more attention and the majority of calls are correct.
“There’s a passionate component to that. We understand that at local sports there’s a high level of passion for our local team,” he said.
“That passion can’t move itself into abject anger, vitriol, a focus on officiating that is unreasonable. Yes, officials make mistakes – no one is denying that — that being said, what we want to teach is officials are every bit as human as everyone else.”
More than 3,000 candidates are considered annually to be hired by the G League for 10 to 15 jobs, McCutchen said. About one in five of those will end up at the NBA level.
McCutchen hopes these clinics will encourage more people to become referees and that the lessons taught about better interactions with officials can trickle up to higher levels of the sport.
“Many officials don’t realize that major college officiating and NBA officiating and at the G League level, officiating is a viable career option,” he said. “We want to communicate that to all of our officials.”
As far as those actually playing and spectating at the youth level, he said, the lessons kids take out of simply participating can get lost when sportsmanship goes out the door.
“Obviously winning is always important, but there are other things to youth sports that are equally valuable,” McCutchen said. “I think that sometimes that gets lost at a much earlier level than it should.”