By Randy Vogt
My college experience was studying at Parsons School of Design in Manhattan from 1980 to 1984 -- the same years as Ronald Reagan’s first term in the White House. Near Parsons was a renowned positive thinker, Norman Vincent Peale, who was completing his wonderful 52-year ministry as Pastor of the Marble Collegiate Church and who had authored the best-selling "The Power of Positive Thinking" decades before. I learned more from reading the title of Peale’s sermons on the church sign every week than I did in four years of studying at Parsons.
Which brings me to a recent observation about soccer coaches. I have refereed futsal games involving a particular Boys U-12 and Girls U-13 team during the past few years. As the futsal league is smaller than outdoor leagues, I have officiated these same teams in many games during the same season. It was annoying that the trainer of each team, who has each trained many top players and should know better, got down on his players very quickly. So much so that you could feel the tension of the players as the trainer criticized every poor pass or shot. He rarely complimented the players and I sensed the players lose their confidence and really get down on themselves. As the criticism continued, the opponents started to score and neither of these teams won a game yet they have good players. One of my officiating colleagues and I discussed how these teams would be much better served by the trainer staying positive instead.
And then something wonderful happened. One weekend, the trainer of each team did not show up. And the players were free to play without criticism. They possessed the ball, dribbled past opponents and their confidence grew. They were making plays that they were not able to do while being criticized. The Girls U-13 team wound up tying their opponents while the Boys-Under-12 team easily won their game. Particularly in the boys game, their parents were ecstatic at seeing their kids play the way they knew how and the replacement coaches were rather happy as well. It’s not as if the replacement coaches had the vast knowledge of the trainer but their much more positive attitude made the difference.
That trainer stayed away from the Boys U-12 team and they did well. Although they didn’t win every game, they were playing some very good soccer and the quality of play of their opponents increased as well. When the trainer was there, they lost 10-6, 11-5 and 11-8. When he wasn’t there, they won 15-6 and 8-6 plus lost 5-3 and 9-8.
I have mentioned coaches rather than refs as the success of a coach could be measured partly by how the team is doing through wins and losses. With refereeing, it’s more of an opinion of how good the ref is. But if coaches and kids’ parents all brought a positive attitude to youth soccer, the game would be much better for it. Just like the players on those two teams, inexperienced referees cannot do very well if every perceived mistake is criticized. Most refs quit within their first two years of officiating with verbal abuse by adults being the No. 1 reason for quitting.
So regarding that teenage ref without full control of the game, I would like you to think of that ref as if he or she was your child. Or that adult ref whose decisions could use a little work, consider that person as if he or she was a family member or your next-door neighbor. Chances are you would be less reluctant to criticize them in that case. It’s a professional deficiency if a hard-working ref is not doing very well but it’s a moral deficiency if you criticize the ref, especially in youth soccer. And you would not want your kids to see you when you’re not at your best.
When I was a teenager starting out, there were a couple of coaches who criticized me. But I stuck with it as, thankfully, there were many more coaches, players, referees and administrators who were much more positive and helped guide me. And what happened to the coaches who criticized me? Their kids stopped playing soccer so they stopped coaching. Yet the positive coaches who love to coach often go on to coach other parents’ kids long after their own kids stopped playing.
In my article two weeks ago, I wrote about “The Many Benefits of Refereeing.” I could have written about the negative aspects too but I would rather focus on the possibilities rather than the problems. I hope that in all our soccer games plus coaching and referee clinics this spring, we can remain positive as the game we love would be much better served by seeing the glass as half-full rather than half-empty.
(Randy Vogt has officiated over 8,000 games during the past three decades, from professional matches in front of thousands to 6-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 preventiveofficiating.com/)