There are hundreds of soccer referee certification clinics held across the United States every year. Sadly, most refs passing these courses do not last two years with verbal abuse by the adults in youth soccer being the No. 1 reason for quitting.
In preparing this article, I recalled my first year of refereeing when I was 16 years old back in 1978, doing girls U-12 intramural games, which were 11 vs. 11 back then. And there was the coach of one of the teams who was around age 40 who had it out for me. I try not to dwell on the negative, yet nearly four decades later, I can still remember his name and a bit of what he did even though I don’t remember his team’s name or the color they wore.
Yes, I would be able to deal with him much better today with what I now know about managing situations and people but I was just starting out. So was he and he did not know much about soccer, even mistakenly calling a caution a “yellow ticket.” So with his complaints, the age group commissioner came to his team’s games. And that coach still complained about me after those games.
His coaching career soon ended and he did not affect me like too many adults affect new refs when they decide there are better ways to spend their weekends than being verbally abused. And you are reading this article right now because I continued refereeing.
Probably every new ref has a horror story about at least one adult who did not like the officiating, or even the ref personally, and was going to do what he or she could to get the point across.
So I believe we need to do more to support new referees and my idea is taken from Driver’s Ed. I know that when I am driving and see a Driver’s Ed sign on top of a car, I stay away from that car, knowing that it’s an inexperienced driver prone to mistakes. I believe other drivers do the same. And I can never recall a Driver’s Ed car ever being beeped at by another driver. Nor do I know of any Driver’s Ed student who has said, “Forget about getting a Driver’s License! The other drivers are absolutely crazy!”
Yet I routinely hear new refs say the adults in youth soccer are nuts! People at soccer fields would support new refs but these new officials need to be identified. So my proposal is in the first two years of officiating, the referee is given a gray shirt (as very few teams wear gray) with Referee Education written across the front of the shirt. They would wear this shirt to all games during the first two years of officiating.
Just as U.S. Soccer has gotten the word out about heading, concussions and build-out lines, it would get the word out that we need to support new referees. The rationale being that there is a shortage of soccer refs because too many refs quit and in order for your child’s game to continue to have a ref, we need to support all referees, particularly new refs who are just starting out just as your child probably is as a player.
Leagues would make it a point that any coach dismissed by a ref wearing a Referee Education shirt would face a penalty double that of the normal suspension. And those coaches cautioned (as coaches can be cautioned in recreational youth soccer games, contrary to the Laws of the Game) would get a phone call from the local club or league that the behavior is unacceptable with suspension to follow after another caution.
Coaches are responsible for the behavior of their team’s parents and would be cautioned or dismissed if the parents cannot be controlled as well.
I’ve found that the great majority of people at soccer games are very reasonable and believe they would support new referees when told but the refs need to be identified. I also think this is the way forward to get more new refs to continue officiating.
(Randy Vogt has officiated over 9,000 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 his book 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/)