Help Sports Kids Cope with Bad Calls from Ref 

Help Sports Kids Cope with Bad Calls from Ref

Emotional Outbursts Lead to a Loss of Focus?

You can’t take emotions out of the game. By nature, we are emotional beings. However, when young athletes don’t reel in their emotions, they will intensify, and their performance will decline rapidly.

For example, Mary S. is a high school basketball player. After a referee gave her two questionable fouls early in the first quarter, she quickly became angry. She felt the referee was singling her out and not calling fouls on defenders covering her.

She lost her focus and turned the ball over three times afterward, leading to scores from the opposing team. In an act of frustration, she committed a hard foul on a player on a breakaway at the end of the quarter, and her coach pulled her from the game.

She wasn’t able to find her rhythm for the rest of the game due to her inability to regain control of her emotions.

Runaway emotions hurt kids’ performance in several ways:

Negative thoughts and negative emotions go hand in hand. Thoughts such as “This official has something against me” intensify negative emotions.

  • When sports kids are bothered by bad calls, they lose their focus. Instead of focusing on performance cues, they’re angry about past calls.
  • Intense emotions cause anxiety and heightened physical arousal. Athletes’ breathing becomes shallow, their heart beats rapidly, their muscles become tight and their energy level declines.
  • When young athletes feel officials are being unfair or singling them out, they will expect additional bad calls. As a result, they will likely play cautiously for the remainder of the competition.

Kids will make an increased number of uncharacteristic mistakes. Their technical game is thrown off, and their performance spirals downward quickly.

Managing emotions is an essential mental skill for athletes. When kids brush off bad calls and keep their emotions in check, they will be able to maintain their poise, redirect their thoughts, regain their focus and perform at a high level.

In a 108-100 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, Toronto Raptors’ Fred VanVleet was upset after receiving a technical foul. After the game, during which the Raptors were called for 23 fouls, VanVleet voiced his displeasure with the officiating.

“You come out tonight, you’re competing pretty hard, third quarter, I get a tech, [it] changes the whole dynamic of the game, changes the whole flow of the game,” he said.

In the postgame press conference, VanVleet criticized the NBA’s officiating and believes he has become the target of one referee in particular.

“On most nights, out of the three (referees), there’s one or two that just [mess up] the game, and it’s been like that a couple of games in a row,” he said.

One bad call doesn’t mess up the game. Kids’ reaction to the call messes up their mindset and performance. 

When kids learn to manage their emotions, they can refocus their attention on the game and perform like they do when calm.

Sports kids should stay in the moment and not dwell on the call. They can do this by refocusing when they notice their mind is in the past.

Kids can also take a few deep breaths from their abdomen and add self-talk, telling themselves, “It’s behind me, move on” or “That’s in the past, let’s go.”

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We’re certain that, as a parent, you want to help your child develop confidence and discipline in sports and life. And as a sports parent, you’d love for your children to reach their potential in sports. But encouraging your child to strive for greatness without pressuring them can be a challenge.

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