When I was coaching, I had a nine-year-old say to me, “Coach, if you don’t give me more playing time, I am going to take my skills elsewhere”. I responded, reminding him, everyone on the team played the same amount of time, 2 quarters, and that was why the travel roster was 10 players. He answered, “I deserve more playing time”. Which wasn’t true, but I added for emphasis, “everyone plays every game but playing time may change for playoffs and championships. He said, resolutely, “If I don’t get more playing time, I’ll have to take my skills elsewhere”. I said, “That’s your choice”.
I wasn’t wrong for resisting the demands of a nine-year-old, but over and over, I watch coaches, parents and referees give more for less. Kids bring bad skills and behavior to the court and often aren’t corrected. Some coaches even applaud bad behavior. I’ve called intentional fouls, which bordered on being flagrant, only to have the coach encourage the player to “do it again”. It’s no surprise that sportsmanship has deteriorated in favor of selfishness. It’s not okay when players do what they want without sanction. That’s not what basketball is all about. That’s where coaches, parents, and referees become important. Basketball is about attitude AND behavior, not one or the other. Great athletes aren’t de facto great people. A referee’s job is to make clear what kind of conduct is allowed in a game. A referee doesn’t balance the playing field, one team may be much better than the other, but a good referee makes sure the game isn’t filled with land mines; unfair situations that blow a game up.
There is nothing better than watching two evenly matched teams working hard for the win. Is it about skills and behavior in balance, not egos bigger than the game. The most important element for a referee may be fair and consistent foul calling. That includes calling technical fouls, and when appropriate, throwing a player or coach out of the game. It may mean that person will have to take his/her “skills” elsewhere, demonstrate what they’ve got in the next game if they do not understand they are not beyond than the rules and bigger than basketball.