Remember, Itís Only a Game

Industry Viewpoint

By Jeff Rubin

It seems as though that you can't pick up a newspaper, watch the evening news or find an article on the Internet about some sort of rage-related incident that had recently occurred—whether it be in an ice rink; football, baseball or soccer field; basketball or tennis courts; highway or even in a school or private home.

These incidents are involving everyone from professional athletes all the way down to parents and even children. It crosses all ethnic lines and economic situations. Obviously the incidents range in severity, but they still are occurring. I have my theories on why they happen, but that isn't the intention of this article. I believe a book can be written on that topic alone.

From a sports perspective, there has been extensive work done by many organizations to get the word out about zero-tolerance and the guidelines for less-than-desirable behavior. There are posters you can place around your facility. Youth organizations hold meetings with parents and make them sign agreements of "good behavior."

This is great, but it isn't enough. I am discouraged with the process of how the message is sent out and who is in the middle when an incident should occur. The ice industry is unique in the respect that there is always a worker in the facility while games and even practices are going on. It seems the rink worker is often the one trying to restore order, or while trying to restore order, ends up as the other half of the disturbance. Where are those people who OK'd the posters to be printed and distributed when you need them?

I would love to see a representative from the organization conducting the practice or game at every event for all sports, from football and tennis to hockey and swimming, from individual practices and scrimmage games to scheduled games and tournaments. I don't live in a closet, so I know this is next to impossible.

So how do we help the situation, you ask? I'm not exactly sure. I run a skating facility—I'm no sports psychologist or a Dr. Phil. I don't have the desire to make you think I know all the answers, either. But I do know that whenever there is an important message to be delivered, it gets mass marketing. I am referring to campaigns such as "Don't Drink and Drive" or "Click it or Ticket." We see it on a daily basis for products like Coke and Pepsi. Why not for appropriate behavior?

Different campaigns may have different messages, but all have a common thread running through them: mass marketing. I like to think of it as "in-your-face" marketing.

In my facility, part of my in-your-face campaign was to post a parents' and spectators' code of conduct in a prominent spot in the facility as they enter. For the players, I posted a players' code of conduct in each locker room and an officials' code of conduct in the officials' room.

Does it work? I don't know. If it makes people talk about it, then maybe they will think about their own actions more and maybe think twice about acting out. Do they look at it once and never look at it again? If they don't ever look at it again, I don't care. Why? Because they have read it once out of curiosity and will remember they have seen it. They may say to another parent, "Hey, did you see that sign in the rink?" Or they may tell their friends or relatives about the sign. Whether they like the idea or not, they have read it and are talking about it. It's been in their faces.

The other strategy of the in-your-face campaign is what I have put in the ice since 2001. I came up with a catchphrase, "REMEMBER, IT'S ONLY A GAME," and I now see USA Hockey has started to use a similar phrase, "RELAX, IT'S JUST A GAME," which they have built a campaign around. The words may be different, but the message is the same. They have published and distributed posters and a even commercial using the phrase.

This is great! Are the posters enough? No! I don't think so. I think the words need to be more in your face. As I mentioned, I have put it into my ice. Literally. I put it in a spot where everyone can see it as they access the bleachers. I had people ask me why it was there when it was done for the first time. My response was, "It is to make people have a reality-check of why they are here." In my opinion, the 2-foot-high letters that are done freehand have been worth the 20 minutes it took to put in the ice.

I would like to make an appeal to all sports organizations from the pros all the way down to community practice facilities in all sports: Every sports facility should put either one of the phrases or something similar, you choose, directly on the playing surface for all to see as the sport is being played.

Let's get the zillion-dollar stadiums to place it on their fields and surfaces so it will receive national or worldwide exposure as all the major networks broadcast these events. Let it be part of their "commitment to community involvement" that they talk about. Let's get the NCAA to require it for all sports as well, so it can be seen during their events. Most importantly, it needs to be on the community level so high-school teams and youth organizations can see it every time they have a game or a practice. This also will force parents to see it as well. In your face.

The message doesn't have to be a certain size, but I felt that a 2-foot letter was large enough for people to see it with out wondering what it was. It can be any color as well. Place it in an area that it has the most visibility or the most in-your-face value. The biggest investment is the time it takes to write it out. Whether it is a mega-budget facility or a local community field, the more people who see it over and over, hopefully the more people will think of their actions before acting on emotions.

Please join me in getting the message out to the public. Let's be proactive not reactive to the rage problems we face day in and day out. Athletes have their own emotions to work through playing their sport; they don't need their own or some other parent or spectator telling them what they would have done differently. A reminder for the athlete is a good thing. For the parents and spectators, it's again that in-your-face reminder that what happens on the field needs to stay on the field. Everyone needs to conduct his or herself in the proper manner to, from and during games and practices. No amount of screaming, yelling, or fighting will change the outcome of the event.

Let's work together to make the sports community a better place. Keeping a positive outlook on sports during games and practices will achieve a positive experience for all involved in the activity.

Whether we make our living from sports, play for recreation or have kids involved, please, "REMEMBER, IT'S ONLY A GAME."



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jeff Rubin is the rink manager of O'Brien Ice Arena in Woburn, Mass., as well as a member of the board of directors of the North East Ice Skating Managers Association. He can be reached at obrienrink@comcast.net.




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