The Death of a Referee: Make it an Hour of Silence

By Mike Woitalla

“The yells and insults from the sideline from the parents make kids more violent.”

-- Utah referee Pedro Lopez, the brother-in-law of 46-year-old referee Ricardo Portillo, who died last week after being punched by a 17-year-old goalkeeper.

In addition to working as an editor of Soccer America my whole adult life, I have been a player, fan, referee, youth coach and soccer dad. I love the sport. I even like the smell of my daughter’s shinguards, which my wife wants left on the porch. (Apparently I suffer from Proustian Phenomenon).

During the last decade I’ve grown even fonder of soccer because I’ve been involved in the youth game. Watching youngsters explore the joys of the sport is simply delightful and makes one appreciate soccer even more when watching it played brilliantly at the highest levels.

But there’s something about soccer -- all sports, in fact -- that I loathe. And it’s that, for some reason, it brings out behavior in adults that would not be tolerated in any other setting.

At the professional level, coaches wearing suits on the sideline throw tantrums that would embarrass a toddler’s parents. Adult fans sitting next to children in a stadium yell obscenities at the top of their lungs. (Just one example that really bothered me recently: In Azteca Stadium in March -- you probably heard this yourself if you watched it on TV – tens of thousands of fans chanting a horribly offensive slur at Brad Guzan each time he took a goal kick.)

But worst of all are the adults screaming from the sidelines at youth games. Whether it’s the coaches or the parents -- what on earth makes otherwise civilized people believe that it’s acceptable to invade children’s playtime in such a way?

One can’t imagine an adult screaming at children on a playground but this is tolerated when they’re playing soccer. If you think your kid unfairly got a bad grade, you might discuss it with the teacher -- but come into the classroom screaming and you may just get arrested. Yet usually well-mannered adults go raving mad at referees in front of children.

I watch many, many games, from youngsters in the park to the very top level with the world’s best referees. And I have discovered that the frequency at which referees make incorrect or questionable calls averages out about the same per game at every level. Why in the world would you expect a referee -- very often a teenager -- at the youth level to whistle a perfect game when the refs of the EPL, the World Cup, MLS, etc., can’t pull it off?

Besides, criticism from the parents and coaches is usually so biased, plus they’re generally not in a good spot to see the incident, that it’s very often wrong.

Our league, NorCal, has quite rightly called for a minute of silence before all the games this weekend.

I say, for the adults, let’s stay silent the entire game, every weekend. Sit back, relax, and relish the sights and sounds of children playing a wonderful sport. You'll find it's more enjoyable for everyone when there's no screaming.

(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, coaches youth soccer for East Bay United/Bay Oaks in Oakland, Calif. He is the co-author, with Tim Mulqueen, of The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper. Woitalla's youth soccer articles are archived at

7 comments about "The Death of a Referee: Make it an Hour of Silence".
  1. J david Cepicka, May 10, 2013 at 7:54 p.m.

    Mike- where I basically agree with what your saying. You don't consider that 99% of parents don't yell at refs even when their terrible. Quite frankly, I am surprised when I see a youth game that is well officiated. My 16 yr old daughter recently completed her class to ref and instructor admitted that refs don't show cards because of paperwork necessary when shown. Perhaps this is a bigger problem than parents? We all want our kids to win and succeed but more we want them safe...

  2. Ginger Peeler, May 10, 2013 at 9:10 p.m.

    Years ago, both my children played and reffed soccer when they were in their mid teens. We lived on northwest Arkansas at the time. My daughter usually worked with rereational 10 and under teams. After being ambushed and confronted by a very angry father after one of the games she called, she refused to do any more games. She had also reffed young teams when we lived in California. However there the league made sure all of their coaches kept their parents under control. My son took the referee class after we moved to Arkansas and he did very well. In fact he started lining for the adult Hispanic league. He did a couple games every weekend until an angry player started waving a gun around after a game. His anger was directed at the center ref, but my son never reffed another game.

  3. Kent James, May 10, 2013 at 9:38 p.m.

    Mike, great idea for the hour of silence from the parents. I hope it spreads widely. Though I have to disagree with your assessment that the same percentage of calls are bad at all levels. All referees make mistakes, miss calls, etc., but the pros miss fewer. At the youth level you can get some really bad refs. Of course, that is not a reason to yell at the ref. I've never seen a ref improve by being yelled at from the sidelines. And your assessment of the accuracy of the complaints from the sideline is right on; most parents have no idea what the rules are or how they should be applied.

  4. feliks fuksman, May 11, 2013 at 2:44 a.m.

    The only way the situation will improve is if the people in charge want to really do something about the terrible behavior; ban the person from attending the matches (I'm talking the local level games)...The higher level, coaches have to be accountable for their behavior, after all they set the example and people imitate them.

  5. Ivan Mark Radhakrishnan, May 13, 2013 at 5:31 a.m.

    IT IS NOW MURDER! Global-Football NEVER ADDRESSES anything properly under Joseph Sepp Blatter and his CRIMINALS and THIS IS MURDER. We got what we wanted.

  6. Donna and Olmstead, May 13, 2013 at 8:30 a.m.

    Well said, Mike. I hadn't thought about the behavior's being fairly well isolated to soccer fields. At least we hope it is. And I'm pretty sure it must have something to do with being outdoors, at a sporting event, and thinking that there won't be any penalties attached. But there should be.

    We were at an "ethnic" game in Detroit where the home team had to pay to have a police officer there because so many of the crowd "packed." It was scary, but our friend Neils Guldjberg was on the team in the Detroit Express's off season, so we went anyway.

  7. Alex Zarate, May 18, 2013 at 6:38 p.m.

    Great Article...
    I want to print it out and hand it out at games to people who display such...yet, I don't know that it would help...just last week my son played in our State Finals (San Marcos, TX) and one of our kids got clipped and landed badly...the other team's parents were screaming and complaining about the "bad" call from the referee... I had had it so I reminded them that there was a kid on the ground who was hurt...they didn't stop...

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