Before you scream at a ref ...

By Donna Olmstead

Sometimes as I slouch down in my lawn chair watching my grandchildren's soccer games, I indulge in wishful thinking. Only skillful, focused players on the field. Only knowledgeable, supportive parents on the sidelines. Only coaches who remember the bottom line is character development and not just winning games. Only top-notch officials running the lines and the field. Never going to happen. Like I said - wishful thinking.

Not that I'm an expert on the soccer subject. But I have spent 32 years immersed in youth soccer. As the chauffer. As the team mom. As the team grandmother. And any other position that needed a warm body. Some knowledge of the game is bound to rub off after awhile.

Now my daughter and granddaughters are referees as well as players. And I'm seeing games from a whole new angle.

Sitting on the bleachers watching my 14-year-old granddaughter play at a Disney tournament recently, I got annoyed at our parents for criticizing the assistant referee's seeming inability to be in position to make good calls.

When the parents grew vocal enough for the AR to hear, I decided to muffle the criticism. Duct tape would have done the job, but I used something more personal - an incident that happened to my 16-year-old granddaughter Emily at a different game the day before.

Emily was running the line on the parents' side and they gave her a bad time about her offside calls. The coach even went to the center ref after the game and complained about her. Fortunately, the center ref had been paying attention and said Emily's calls had been correct. This is a tough situation for a young referee to handle, and probably why the attrition rate is so high.

When I told our parents about Emily's experience, they were indignant about anyone's criticizing Emily. After all, she's one of ours. We know her. We know she's conscientious and unbiased. She knows the game both as a player and a certified official. How dare those parents and coach give her a rough time?!

Then I pointed at the AR running our line and said, "She's somebody's Emily."

I know that, in the heat of competition, everyone forgets that the officials are somebody's Emily or Tom or Dave. Parents demand superhero officials. Which, in most cases, means officials that make only calls the parents agree with. And when most of the parents don't even know the difference between being offside or being in an offside position, that would be an impossible demand.

You couldn't pay me enough to take the abuse that soccer officials take. I'd probably take the field armed with a whistle and a small caliber handgun. And because I know that about myself, I stay on the sidelines. And try to encourage parents to send positive energy toward the field. And to try to help them remember that the every official is somebody's Emily.

(Florida resident Donna Olmstead has been involved in soccer through both her children and her grandchildren, as well as housing professional players and owning and running an indoor soccer facility. She is a freelance writer and spends weekends trying to remember which tournament she's supposed to be cheering at.)

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7 comments about "Before you scream at a ref ...".
  1. David Hardt, December 17, 2009 at 11:59 a.m.

    I agree completely. If a ref does make a mistake, if, even 3-4 per game, how many mis-touches do the players make? How many passes behind the player, out of bounds, over the touchline? Shots note quite on target? If the players and coaches made as few "errors' as the refs, it would be a very different looking game!

  2. Alex Kos, December 17, 2009 at 4:52 p.m.

    Good for you for sticking up of the junior AR. I like your approach as well. Hopefully those parents will remember your Emily at the next game when you are not around. It can be tough to break bad habits.

    I was struck by the term Team Grandmother. Never heard it before. I'm guessing you fulfill the same duties that a Team Mom would. I'm wondering if as a Team Grandmother you have a different type of relationship with the players than as a Team Mom? Please share your duties if there are any differences and your relationship with the players. Thanks.

  3. Austin Gomez, December 17, 2009 at 7:03 p.m.


    Parents are NOT Objective nor Knowledgeable about the 'nuances' of the Game of Soccer, such as Offside-scenarios or Foul/Misconduct differences, etcetera - etcetera - etcetera........................................

    Parents, who scream at the Referee Officials during a match, should/must be punished! Their PUNISHMENT must be that these same "soccer experts" (under the alias of the nomenclature, Parents) must "officiate" an entire Youth Soccer Match before these Parents will be allowed admittance to another Soccer contest as Spectators!


  4. Donna and Olmstead, December 18, 2009 at 8:16 a.m.

    Team Grandmother is a great position. I should have started here and skipped Team Mom altogether. The kids carry my chair. They ask if I want them to get anything for me from the refreshment stand. And they know that, while their parents will remember and talk to them about the mis-kick in front of the goal, I will congratulate them on "that great pass at midfield" and I will admire their throw-ins and overlaps. Life is too short to dwell on the shortcomings. I leave that up to their parents.

  5. Matthew Johnston, December 18, 2009 at 11:01 a.m.

    As a referee, I cannot agree more. I am in my 40's, so a parent complaining about my officiating (so long as it is not profane lanaguage) is something that goes in one year and out the other. However, I tend to have one ear listening to parents/coaches when I have teenagers or new assistant referees working with me.

    I want all parents to know and understand this one fact--if it were not for soccer referees, there would not be games for your children to play. There are only so many games that I can physically do in a weekend so we need young people, teenagers, to become referees and work games. Every year, I see teenage boys and girls undertake the process of becoming referees only to not spend more than one season working because parents and coaches (who often don't know the laws of the games themselves) abuse them for no reason.

    A referee is human and often a young human. They make mistakes, but I will tell you, after nearly 30 years of refereeing--even the teenagers get 95 percent of the calls right every time. You can have your opinion about the skill of the referee/AR but for heaven's sake--keep it to yourself.

  6. Frank Cebul, December 18, 2009 at 11:07 p.m.

    As a soccer referee in his 50's, I have thought a lot about this issue, especially since each of my 3 soccer-playing, 20-something year old children have steadfastly refused to even consider serving as a referee. As I never had the opportunity to play soccer as a child, I had to learn the game as I was watching them grow in the sport. With their vast playing experience my children and their peers would be expected to be very good at recognizing fouls. But, though a 50 yr old's life experiences gives him insights into people management to help control players, coaches, and parents, a teen does not have these skills and is easily intimidated. Thus, no interest in officiating.

    But I have also learned that refereeing is a very difficult job in which experience is the best teacher. Even after 8 yrs of officiating I continue to learn skills to improve my craft. Which brings me to the point that there is no way that any teen is going to be able to do a top quality job as a referee in a high level, competitive match. Perhaps it would be best to assign teen referees to lower level recreational games until they become very experienced and older, even into their 20's, before they are assigned premier, club, or other upper level competitions. That way they would gain enough competence and confidence to succeed.

    The other point is that coaches and parents need to understand that officiating, like most everything else in life, is necessarily subjective--not objective. Part of the value of sports is to teach our youth how to deal with life's disappointments. Whining about a call is counterproductive in this maturation process.

  7. Donna and Olmstead, December 19, 2009 at 6:33 a.m.

    I forgot to add that another function of being Team Granparents is to bring our motorhome to tournaments so the team can hang together and keep cool between games.

    Frank is right. Teen shouldn't ref' over their heads. Good thing there are a zillion games going on all the time here in Florida. Plenty of opportunities to gain experience.


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