By Randy Vogt
Here are some of the things I have learned in 35 years of refereeing:
* I have officiated many good players as well as a few good players who thought they were great and let everybody on the field know it. Such as the high school senior playing forward in a New Jersey college showcase who kept yelling, “I’m not getting good service!” The kids who keep telling others that they are “premier players.” The interesting aspect of this is I never heard another thing about any of these kids, not in college soccer and none of them every received a sniff of the pros. Sometimes becoming pro players were the kids in youth soccer who were very good players and always worked very hard. Jesus was right, “Those who exalt themselves shall be humbled, those who humble themselves shall be exalted.”
* Good teams that have one go-to player to score goals win games but rarely win championships as an opposing team or teams figure out a way to legally mark that player out of the game.
* There are unfortunately some youth coaches who are way too concerned about winning instead of developing their players’ skills and character. These coaches often teach gamesmanship instead of sportsmanship. The same coaches who yell at their players constantly often wind up yelling at the referee. Many of these coaches learn to settle down. The coaches who do not had enthusiastic players at under-9 and often wind up with no players at U-14 as the kids find something better to do than get yelled at. Sometimes it’s the club that forces out the coach as they grow tired of being fined by the Arbitration Committee for their coach’s misbehavior. But the coach who loves to coach and develop players often winds up taking a young team after their son’s or daughter’s team graduates.
* When I’m refereeing youth games and when there are positive coaches, the kids will be having fun and people sometimes come up to me at halftime or after the game and say that I am “the best referee we ever had.” It’s so nice to be a smiling ref in these games. Yet it could be just my very next game having to ref a team with a coach who is way too intense for youth soccer and I need to ask him or her to calm down just a few minutes into the match. That coach’s view of my refereeing is not nearly as pleasant as the people at the previous game.
* Regarding my points above, maybe the next Pele or Mia Hamm was on an under-9 team with a bad coach who turned off the kid to soccer. For me, this is the area for those concentrating on developing our national teams should be concerned about -- the very difficult mission of making sure that every kid has a good coach rather than banning high school play for the Development Academy players.
* Just as there are coaches who should not be coaching, there are referees who should not be officiating. You know the refs that I am writing about, such as those who are way out of shape, those who only think about officiating after they put their uniform on, those who do not attend referee clinics and those who somehow believe the game revolves around them. Leagues and referee associations that do not have a ref shortage should be much more willing to force out the bad referees while other groups need everybody as they have too many games to cover for the number of officials they have.
* One of the saddest parts of officiating is seeing a good, enthusiastic young ref with potential quit before he or she really develops. Perhaps life such as relationships, marriage, kids, job, etc., gets in the way or perhaps verbal abuse by adults much older than the ref ends an officiating career. I am one of those who started as a teen and obviously stuck with it but I’m definitely in the minority.
• I’ll Have Another Sport. My long-deceased grandfather, Peter Ruocco, and I were subjects of a 2009 New York Times article on horse racing. It was great that the article appeared on my mother’s birthday!
(Randy Vogt has officiated over 8,000 games during the past three decades, from professional matches in front of thousands to six-year-olds being cheered on by very enthusiastic parents. In "Preventive Officiating," he shares his wisdom gleaned from thousands of games and hundreds of clinics to help referees not only survive but thrive on the soccer field. You can visit the book’s website at http://www.preventiveofficiating.com/)