Youth hockey official shortage could partly be blamed on parents

Many industries are seeing a labor shortage in the latter days of the pandemic – and that includes youth sports.

Some hockey leagues in the D.C. region say they’re postponing games simply because there aren’t enough referees.

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According to at least one local commissioner, dozens of youth games are being postponed across the region.

Local league officials say two key factors are contributing to the lack of referees – older referees or those who’ve moved haven’t returned to the ice, and also the younger, less experienced referees are under substantial pressure from parents, especially during the pandemic. Some of these less experienced referees have walked away.

"It’s not something that we want to take out on the referees. These referees aren’t professionals, The kids aren’t professionals yet, no one’s in the NHL here, so we’re trying to hold everyone to the same standard and trying to get everyone to understand that this is a learning process for everyone," said Chesapeake Bay Hockey League Commissioner Tom Crosson.

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The Southeastern Hockey Officials Association provides referees for the youth leagues in the region. They say they’re down to 40% of the number of referees they had before the pandemic.  Some games are also being officiated with one fewer referee than normal for a given league.

"It’s not to say that parents and coaches and their behavior is the exclusive reason. I think it was a compounding factor, as we’ve seen across officiating organizations, it’s a compounding factor for the last five maybe ten years of frustrations in the officiating community among parents, coaches everything we talked about, and I think it hit a mark with the COVID pandemic," said Chris Dietz with the Southeast Hockey Officials Association.

Explosions of rage have become prevalent on social media during the pandemic – whether it’s at youth sports contests, grocery stores or airplanes.

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A Kaiser Permanente psychiatrist, Dr. Lauren Grawert, says the pandemic is part of the pressure cooker creating these outbursts.

"In the midst of the pandemic and COVID-19, people are under a lot more daily stress  in general. So when you take general stressful situations, be it maybe a hockey game, be it your kid’s not winning. Um, then the way you might normally react under stress is different," Grawert said.

Leagues that talked to FOX 5 say the clubs themselves have been responsive to trying to mitigate these issues.