Many of you know that I do a lot of different things in my work life. Writer, photographer, jewelry and glass artisan are just a few of my occupations. But the ones I am best known for happen to all revolve around soccer. Over the years, I have been a player, coach, club and ODP administrator, board member and I am a soccer referee. But not just a referee. I am a referee, a referee instructor, mentor/assessor but primarily a referee assignor.
From August to November and again from mid-March to May, my life is all about finding the right referees to cover several hundred games each week. At this point in the spring, I am quite sure that people are tired of seeing emails and texts from me as I attempt to fill games with certified referees. They screen my calls to avoid listening to me try to talk them into one more game each weekend.
Why? Because in the state of Colorado, we have about 1500 less referees than we need to cover all the games played each week. These aren’t the games you will see on television but they are just as important to the players, parents and coaches who participate. And they deserve referees too. So every week, I, and my colleagues, do the best we can to make sure that every game possible has the best crew possible. It’s not an easy task but we have the experience, technology and dedication to keep forging ahead. Most of the time.
First and foremost, I love the beautiful game. I fell in love with it rather late in life – when two of my daughters wanted to play. I fell hard, learning everything I possibly could. I am sure my daughters hated the fact that I wanted to be part of the sport so much – probably more than they did at times. I watched, read, listened and helped in any way I could. And I played. It was that competitive rush I hadn’t felt since I stopped playing softball years before and it has a cerebral component, which is probably why I ended up as part of the referee program.
But about this time of year, I don’t like soccer very much. And simply, that’s because some people are ruining the game. They are sapping the spirit and joy from it. Unfortunately, As this ugliness is creeping into the game, it is chasing referees – especially youth referees – away by the hundreds each year.
There are thousands of games played along the I-25 corridor every Saturday and Sunday. Many of them – most of them, actually – have no problems at all. The players compete fairly and with skill, the coaches help the players succeed in doing their best, the referees do a super job keeping things safe, fair and fun and the spectators have a great time cheering for their teams. But something is happening more and more often that is a frightening trend. Adults are forgetting that this is just a game. Many spectators are behaving like these weekly games are the 7th game of the World Series or the Super Bowl and are completely out of control in how they jeer and harass opposing players and the officials working the games.
The majority of the officials working youth soccer games each week are youth players themselves. They attended classes, continuing education and give up their free time to earn a little money while enjoying the game from a different perspective. At the youngest age groups, as the players are learning so are the referees. So on any particular Saturday, the u9 game you watch has 8 year old players and 12 to 14 year old referees. These young referees are working hard to do the right thing. But they will make mistakes — just like the players do. It’s a game. They are all learning their roles. But spectators expect perfection – from the referees as well as their young players.
So when I have to deal with a Referee Abuse incident like the one from last weekend, I get angry. I get frustrated. And I wonder if what I do makes any difference at all. While, I can’t give specifics of the incident, let me talk in general terms about some of the issues in today’s game.
1) Referees working youth games may get paid but it’s definitely not enough. Just to begin working games in Colorado (and many other places) a new referee can easily spend over $200 between the class, registration and getting the uniform and equipment – all so they can go out and make $15/game working the middle of your player’s u9 game.
2) Referees are human – sometimes young humans. Treat them with respect. Anyone over the age of 12 can become a referee. In fact, the majority of the new referees certifying in 2014 were between the ages of 12 – 14. Too bad over one third of them won’t come back after their first season.
3) It’s a GAME! No one is going to remember the score, no one is going to get a college scholarship from playing in a u12 game on Saturday afternoon. How do I know? Because I have worked with college coaches, recruiters, national team coaches and administrators, talked with them and watched the process from the inside. So relax. Let the players learn to play the game because that’s all it is and it’s supposed to be FUN.
4) It’s a CONTACT sport. Players get hurt and it is not ALWAYS someone else’s fault. Sometimes injuries just happen. And just because the players make contact, there is not necessarily a foul involved. When a child is hurt on the field of play, first thing that happens usually is someone wants to blame someone else for it. That’s just not always the case. AND it’s especially not the referee’s fault when a player gets hurt. Referees are doing their very best to keep the game Fair, Safe and Fun. But that doesn’t necessarily mean your player can expect not to be touched during the game.
Before you yell about the “Offsides” or “Hand ball,”or start to berate the referee for his or her lack of knowledge, objectivity or vision, ask yourself if you would like for someone to yell at you while you are doing your job. Probably not. AND if that is a youth referee on the field, how would you feel if it was YOUR child in the middle of the game being yelled at by spectators just for doing a job.
And instead of going up to that referee after the game to tell them what a horrible job they did, or complaining to all the other parents about the “homer” refs, focus on what is really important. Your kid got to play in a game, They did some things well and some not so well. Most importantly, they had fun and if really lucky, there were orange slices at half time.
But if you insist on berating the referees, don’t be surprised when there aren’t any referees for your games. If spectators and coaches continue to harass and belittle referees, no one is going to want to work – no matter how much you pay them.
So do you really want to make a difference and improve the game, stop making excuses and take a class, learn what the Laws of the Game really are and step up to make a difference. Then maybe we will only be 1,499 referees short next week. That might just start to cover the gap left by the referees I lost after last week’s game incident.