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As ref, you hear it all
by Mike Woitalla, October 4th, 2013 3:29PM

TAGS:  referees, youth boys, youth girls


By Mike Woitalla

"Why is it a goal kick when she kicked it out?" -- is what an 8-year-old asked me.

It’s amazing how many things can go through your mind in a couple of seconds. I actually had that “No TiVo!” jolt you get when watching TV in a hotel. And I contemplated several responses.

Change the call because she certainly seemed honest.

Ask the other girl whether it was true that she had touched the ball last.

I even thought about, “I probably messed up but I can’t change the call now. Let this be a lesson that life’s not always fair.”

Ultimately, I pointed again to the goal area and ran away.

This age group doesn't use ARs. I had been looking across the field for potential offside so my eyes were off the ball when it was kicked out. An honest mistake, but a preventable one.

Had I just waited before pointing to the goal area, the girl would have fetched the ball to take the corner kick and no one would have known I missed the play.

But this is within the first month of my returning to refereeing, which as a teenager long ago provided me with a good amount of spending money over four years.

Reffing now has been an especially intriguing experience. Humbling, for sure, as it reminds one how difficult it is for a ref to go through an entire game without making a mistake or two. But also because for years I’ve been a coach, on the other sideline pretty much out of earshot of the parental noise. As a ref, you hear it all -- from all coaches and all the parents.

And it’s as if the players are pieces in an adults’ chess game.

On the parent’s side, the obnoxious yelling -- “Shoot! … “Pass!” … “Take it!” … -- comes from both the dads and moms. If they think they’re just cheering they need to watch a video of themselves.

More than half the coaches do play-by-play instruction. Seriously -- they shout directions throughout the entire game.

The tolerance of the children blows my mind. What would you do if your boss hovered over your desk and told you how to handle every task?

To be clear, I’ve not had a single parent or coach scream or direct any criticism at me. Even if I had made an outrageous blunder I doubt any of the adults would have protested during the games I’ve done so far. They thank you before and after the game and the vibe I got was that they appreciate and respect refs.

But that it’s not their place to interfere in their children’s play escapes them. They’d probably claim good intentions, believing they’re encouraging and helping. If only they listened to themselves and thought about it.

For example, an 8-year-old goalkeeper bends down to block a hard shot and the ball bounces wide. She bats at the high ball that followed. She gets her hands on the next shot, but it’s too sharp for her to snag. An opponent scores on the rebound as the little keeper dives but only gets her fingertips on it.

The keeper’s father yells at her, as she sadly pulls the ball out of the net, “You gotta hold on to it!”

And once again I’m amazed at what children put up with on the soccer field.

(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, is co-author, with Tim Mulqueen, of The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper and co-author with Claudio Reyna of More Than Goals: The Journey from Backyard Games to World Cup Competition. Woitalla's youth soccer articles are archived at

  1. uffe gustafsson
    commented on: October 4, 2013 at 6:36 p.m.
    Mike you have secret weapon now, if parents and coaches know you might write about them you will have most orderly parents and coaches ever. Think many refs will sign up on games you have signed up to.LOL Kidding aside we see this at almost every game. Me included sometimes we parents need to do a self check. Today I will promise to be silent for the rest of our season on any mistake my daughter do and only cheer on good things. Thx for reminding us.
  1. R2 Dad
    commented on: October 4, 2013 at 11:43 p.m.
    one antidote: silent saturday.
  1. Heidi Marchesotti
    commented on: October 8, 2013 at 10:30 a.m.
    A great reminder. Thank you Mike.
  1. Paul Spacey
    commented on: October 9, 2013 at 3:57 p.m.
    Another great article Mike. I'm a fellow referee and also a coach; I am astounded at the things I hear parents saying to their kids from the sideline. Like you, I have had very few (in fact none that I can remember) bad experiences as a referee. I do think it helps that I communicate with players and the coaches and see the game from a slightly different perspective having experienced the game as a player, coach and referee. What parents forget is that players on the field are focused on the game. Firstly, they don't usually hear what is being screamed at them. Secondly, when they do, they will invariably ignore it anyway. Advice 101 for parents: Just let your kids play; if you want to help and offer advice, talk to them after the game.

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