Bad Call

Whenever a sport involves a subjective judging, there will always be questionable scores handed out. Figure skating has provided us with an endless supply of examples. People who compete in the hunter divisions with their horses know this feeling all too well. When we play a sport that has an objective task (like scoring goals or hitting a bull’s eye), we think we’re pretty much safe from subjective opinion. That’s not always the case. Nearly every sport will have a referee, or an official of some kind that makes sure all the rules are followed. Sometimes, they mess it up. Badly.

Go ask Ben Scrivens, he can tell you exactly what I’m talking about. For those of you who are too wrapped up in the Stanley Cup Finals to pay attention to the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup Finals, last night, the Toronto Marlies suffered a heartbreaking overtime loss to the Norfolk Admirals, who now lead the 7 game series, 3-0. Here’s what happened.

Basically, the puck bounced off the wall, and in a fluke turn of events, slid into the goal. Furthermore, a couple of the Admirals players were undoubtedly off-side. While the AHL admits the goal shouldn’t have counted (read their statement here) it doesn’t change the fact that the Marlies are facing elimination. While nobody is harbouring any resentment towards him, I can pretty much guarantee that no one feels worse about this than Scrivens. The 25-year-old Cornell Alum played 12 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs this year, and tallied a respectable .903 Save Percentage, with a Goals Against Average of 3.13. During this Calder Cup run, he’s been as important to the Marlies as Tim Thomas was for the Bruins last playoff season.

So what to do now? While the Marlies’ circumstance looks quite grim, they still have a chance to make a comeback. First and foremost, they need to get over what happened with the misapplication of the rules, and then focus on the next game. It’s always easier said than done. Here are the two most important things you need to do if you find yourself the victim of unfair judging or poor refereeing.

Keep Your Mouth Shut (in Public)

“Am I allowed to swear?” – Ben Scrivens (Photo Credit – Jeffler via Instagram)

It’s completely understandable why an athlete would want to have a full scale Incredible Hulk moment, verbally chew out the referee, or throw milk crates – they shouldn’t. What has blown me away about Scrivens in this ordeal is how calm he’s been about the whole thing. In the video, he just skates off the ice in disbelief, and in his statements (read the one I did here) he basically called the situation a fluke and made no mention of the referees at all. The worst thing he’s allegedly said about the situation is “Am I allowed to swear?”

While I’m sure Scrivens has blown off plenty of steam about the poor refereeing (who could blame him?), he’s kept it out of the public eye. The mature way he’s maintained his composure must be impressing some of the coaching staff with the Toronto Leafs. Furthermore, any team interested in acquiring him in the future would probably value him behaving so calmly in the face of adversity. By keeping quiet and not calling out the referees, Scrivens is making himself look like an underdog/tragic hero, and everybody likes to see the underdog win.


Forget About It

While you should put on a brave face in public, I find venting about an unfair call helps. Its quite cathartic; but once you’ve had a chance to let off some steam about what happened – leave it at that. Stewing it over and over won’t make things better. Whatever you do, vent in private. While its perfectly valid to get these feelings off your chest, its important to do it where no outsiders can see it, and your words won’t be taken out of context.

When I was 15, competing at my first CET Regional Medal Final, I was blatantly ripped off in the flat phase, which has no jumping. I scored a 62 out of 100 – the biggest mistake in my routine was that my horse was perhaps a little too lively and my ride didn’t have the perfectly effortless look equitation judges look for. When my scores were announced my trainer at the time quietly muttered, “this is b******t,” and I had several other riders and trainers come up to me and tell me that I deserved a much higher score. On our way back home, I went on a rant about how unfair the day’s events had been. The combination of others acknowledging how unfair the scoring was, combined with the emotional purging of talking at someone about it (not to be confused with ‘talking to’ as my ranting was one-sided) helped me get over what had happened. Afterwards, I actually felt quite calm about the ordeal. I realized that there were still two phases left (both with jumps), and it is very common for riders who excel at the flat phase, to struggle in the jumping phases.

Releasing your frustrations can help you regain your mental calm for the next competition.

Picture a bottle of soda. The unfair scoring was like kicking it down a flight of stairs. The venting was opening the soda and letting it all shoot out. It could get a little messy, but its quickly over and all that is left in the bottle is some flat liquid; still with no fizz in it anymore. I think this is a good metaphor for the benefits of venting frustrations. You can’t focus on the upcoming tasks when you’re too busy fuming on the inside, ready to burst, over what happened. By releasing the frustrations, you can clear your mind and focus on what your next move should be.

Paul Dennis (who does not work with Scrivens or any of the Marlies as far as I know) is a former Development Coach for the Maple Leafs who has a PhD in Sport Psychology. He says that in a situation like this, “focusing on their strengths while maintaining a positive outlook will guarantee [the Marlies] a ‘chance’ to win game four.” I wrote about focusing on strengths earlier – you can read that here. Ultimately, letting go is an important process of getting ready for the next game. Dennis explains that “maintaining angry thoughts will impair performance going forward. Athletes can never change the past, but they can completely control how they will approach the future … Harbouring ill will toward an official who made an error in judgment is like cutting off your nose to spite your face.” I couldn’t agree more. Basically, hanging onto negativity provides you with another distraction you don’t need. If you’re too busy fuming over an unfair call, you’re not likely to pay attention to the game at hand.

If you find venting doesn’t work for you – or worse gets you more worked up – there are other ways to deal with it. I wrote a post on a similar note about coping with a crushing defeat (check it out here). The trick is to find something that works well for you. A friend of mine played hockey at an elite level, and he said he liked going for a fast drive on the highway with loud music to help him deal with his negative emotions. I would say that this is an athlete who gets over things by distracting himself from them. If you want to go back to the soda metaphor, it would be like letting the bottle sit for a while so you can open it without the contents spewing out everywhere. While I function better after I purge all the negativity by talking about it, I think as an athlete, and as a person, you need to think about what works for you, try it out, and see what happens. Some of it is trial and error – if it works, awesome. Keep doing it. If not, try something else.

For the hunter riders and athletes who participate in sports with subjective scoring, I have a quote from Bobbie Reber. A well know trainer from Langley, BC., who regularly judges hunters and equitation says, “it’s just one jerk’s opinion, and some days, that jerk is me.”

Happy Trails!

One comment

  1. Pingback: Welcome Back Oilers « sport psychology, analysis & opinion. horses & hockey a plenty

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