Humor is such a good way to diffuse tension—you dear reader know this. But remembering how and when this works is often a struggle. So here’s a little story for us to remember.
The other day I was at my youngest son’s soccer game, he was playing his usual position of keeper and doing well (A proud papa has to get the shouts out on his son when he can). The halves are normally 30 minutes. The referee working was running a good game and sounded the whistle indicating the end of the half. It felt a little short, but I don’t keep track of time and I try not to watch the score all that much. Some of the other parents on the sideline mentioned that it felt short, but we weren’t worried about it. A few moments later the teams were headed back onto the field. The referee came over to explain to the parents what had happened. This is where his humor shone.
He told us that he had a watch malfunction and had mistakenly set his watch for 25 minutes, or forgotten to start it, or something like that. He apologized for the error and then said he was going to have them finish the half. He then said, “I thought it best to give them the five minutes rather than try to refund you all for five minutes of playing time.” He showed a half smile and let go a small chuckle. The sideline parents laughed as well. I thought it was a pretty clever way to get himself out of that one—not that there was much to get out of.
No one was really worried or upset about the situation, just momentarily confused as to why the kids had set back to the field so quickly. He could have not made the little quip and the game would have resumed, halftime happened and no one would have worries one way or another. But if you want to think of this as a value-add, and you should, it’s perfect. The smiles he got, that reaction of levity, will make his life a lot easier. Parents at youth sports can be pretty intense (hence why I try not to keep score), and having the parents think you’re funny, clever, will help shield him from some undue yelling. Also, this all started with him admitting his error and being forthright with us. In so doing, he created a connection with us and then reinforced that connection with a little joke. But perhaps most importantly the humor reinforced his reaching out to us, to respect that we were due some sort of explanation. He took a few moments, told us the info we needed, made a little joke, and went on about the game. It didn’t take much time and the pleasant feeling everyone had was more than worth it. It was just the right amount of humor at the right time.
Humor doesn’t have to take center stage all the time, and more often it should just highlight and punctuate our interactions. This referee knew exactly what to do and did it well. I invite you to try and see how you can be more like our soccer referee the next time you’re in a situation that humor might be helpful.