To tackle match behaviour, the NFHS says sport needs to be more formative and less performative

— In December, the NC High School Athletic Association voted to raise officials’ salaries in an attempt to address a critical shortage of sports officials in North Carolina.

This is not a problem localized to North Carolina though, it has been a national trend for years.

On Tuesday, the National Federation of State High School Associations, the national governing body for high school sports, held a news conference to discuss the problem at the national level, particularly when it comes to the behavior of fans, coaches and players at games.

Last year, the NFHS held a consortium of stakeholders from youth to university levels to help tackle the problem after the organization revealed that 50,000 officials across the country had left the profession. On Tuesday, the NFHS announced that it will host a second consortium next week.

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NFHS Executive Director Dr. Karissa Niehoff said it’s important to point out that the officiating shortage isn’t just a high school problem — it extends to all levels of sports.

“This all starts at the youth sports level,” Niehoff said, explaining that young officials often start out in youth sports, but when they’re mistreated by parents and coaches, they’re driven away from officiating.

Barry Mano, president of the National Association of Sports Officials, called on sports organizations to “draw a line in the sand” and show that certain behaviors are not allowed.

According to the NFHS, that line is starting to recede. Some state associations have begun considering consequences for unruly fans, including a potential 365-day ban for spectators who behave inappropriately at games. Some youth sports organizations have approached the NFHS about co-branding a new “Bad Behavior on the Bench” campaign the organization is launching. This could mean that parents and athletes will hear consistent messages about behavior from youth sports to high school sports.

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We know that the behavior of fans, coaches and athletes is the main concern of officials. In fact, a poll conducted by the NCHSAA last year found that more than half of North Carolina officials had considered quitting in the previous two-year period, with bad behavior being the top reason. The vast majority of officials said today’s behavior is worse than ever.

Niehoff said this is a product of the institution of sport becoming less formative and more performative.

Next week, the consortium will take some of the lessons from the first event and make recommendations for state associations, schools, media and security to improve the climate around sports.

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