Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Why I Hate "Zero Tolerance" of Any Kind

So while my train of thought has been provoked by a specific incident in my youth soccer circles, I will use it to really answer (in part) the question that Mrs. Kicking Back asked me the other night on the couch when watching the Boston Celtics Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals, which was, what do I think is the hardest sport to referee?

My answer was, hands down, soccer, with a very close second being ice hockey.

Now to be sure, refereeing anything is challenging if done correctly. My (likely biased) answer comes from looking at the laws (rules) associated with each sport.

Soccer to me offers the most flexibility for the referee to work closely with the participants to help shape the outcome of the match. In other words, they can actively manage the match and its outcome, which is a wonderful thing.

Now, people don't come to a match to see the referee, no question, and the best referees will work to assure that is the case through their involvement. Refereeing legend and guru Wally Russell used to call it "painting yourself with invisible paint" before a match. You are there, but should not be seen.

Other sports (again excluding ice hockey) seem to be far more "referee-centric", and far more "rules-centric" than other sports. Soccer as we know has (17) Laws, and similarly, ice hockey has (10) Rules, yet baseball also has (10) Rules, yet is over 130 pages long! Gridiron football is similar with a nearly 250 page rule book.

Now some of this is genuine technical differences in the games, and some is in my opinion is overly mandating how a referee should deal with particular situations. In other words, there is little opinion referees can apply to some of these incidents, it is mandated in the rule.

Zero Tolerance (of anything) works in much the same way. While it has the specious beneficial effect of paving a path for a scenario that may be troublesome, or difficult to implement, it has the effect of failing to allow creative solutions to difficult situations.

I'll admit, I am of the ilk that chooses to blaze a path than follow one, which may very well be I enjoy refereeing soccer so much as it allows exactly that.

Now, with great power comes great responsibility, and the great opportunity to really screw things up. If I didn't want the risk though, I'd umpire baseball.

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