Just shut your mouth and play!

Just shut your mouth and play!


By Bud Boughton

I guess I’m just ‘old school,’ but back in my day any of the coaches I played for would have benched me in a heartbeat if I ever disrespected an official or did any trash talking.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure that is the case today.    

As a youth sports official in hockey and lacrosse, I now find myself giving out more conduct warnings and calling more unsportsmanlike conduct penalties than I have ever called before in my 10-plus years as a youth sports official.

Is it the kids’ fault? Well, in part, it is. After all, it is their behavior – they should be held responsible for their actions. But much of the negative behavior I see is often the result of a coach or parents who loudly complain every time a penalty is called on their team. Clearly that can, and will, impact the attitudes and the behavior of their young athletes. But regardless, it is extremely disappointing to see some of the behavior that I am seeing from some of these young athletes as young as 12 years old who argue a call when it is made or bad mouth an official when they believe there was a missed call.

And what is it with the trash talking? At the high school level, it is the worst I have ever seen it! Being rude and talking trash in an attempt to intimidate an opposing player is just flat out unsportsmanlike and disrespectful. There is no justification for this behavior.   

Sports in America today are very much a microcosm of our society. Much of the rude and ugly behavior we see every day – like our lack of respect and civility for one another (which is rampant on social media) – is now commonplace in sports at all levels. Couple that with the overriding emphasis on winning in youth sports (gee, I wonder where that came from?) and it is easy to see why practicing good sportsmanship has gone by the wayside.

It was some time ago, but I remember watching two ESPN analysts debating who the best trash talkers were in the NBA. Is that what we’ve come to? Really? Now, we are going to rate and actually elevate trash talking as though it is a skill like three-point shooting or rebounding?  What are our kids (grandkids in my case) supposed to think when they hear this on ESPN?  


So, if you are a young athlete competing in any sport, I want to give you some advice that I believe could make you a better athlete and definitely will make you a better person: just shut your mouth and play. There is no need to trash talk an opposing player, nor should you ever be disrespectful or talk back to an official. Just keep your mouth shut and let your actions on the field of play speak for who you are.

Good players don’t have to tell anyone how good they are; their actions speak loud enough to get the message across. Always be a person of integrity and character on and off the field. Learning to be that kind of person is really what the youth sports experience is supposed to be all about.    

As for you coaches and moms and dads, here’s some advice that might be helpful for you, as well: Support your kids in their youth sports endeavors but get over the stigma that their athletic ability and prowess, along with their team’s win-loss record, is a direct reflection of who your son or daughter is and who you are as a coach or a team parent. This is youth sports and really, it’s NOT about you. It’s supposed to be about the kids. Let them play and enjoy the experience! 

My point in writing this blog is let’s re-think our priorities in our youth sports programs and make sure we put “teaching good sportsmanship and having fun” at the very top of the list. Sure, you’re going to play to win. I understand that. But compete with an attitude of gratitude and remember that your opponent on the field is just that, your opponent. They are NOT the enemy. In fact, they are in many ways just like you and your teammates. 

And remember this. Whether you realize it or not, one of the highest priorities those officials have in any youth sports contest is to do their very best to keep your kids safe. What could be more important than that? 

Harold “Bud” Boughton is an assistant college football coach and a certified official with USA Hockey and US Lacrosse. A former senior executive, he is the author of three books, including Coaching is Teaching at its Best! For more information visit his website at www.budboughton.com.

Coaching Parenting Trash Talking Behavior Respect Officiating

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