A Ref's View: Parents say the strangest things

In my last article, “Kids Say the Darndest Things,” I wrote about how I am recovering from a torn medial meniscus in my right knee and started reffing again, going slowly at first by doing U-9 games on a small field as these games involve less running than matches on a big field. There was a wonderful innocence with these young players.

Yet there can be problems with a couple of these kids where whistling a few fouls and smiling is just not enough for the ref to do. For example, you will find 1% or 2% of young players who have real social issues and are more interested in pushing other kids than playing soccer.

If somebody is causing an issue, the ref could cheat his or her position to stay near the problem player or coach, which is easier to do on a smaller field.

For example, if there is a dissenting coach, the referee can cheat positioning so the ref is closer to the coach and sometimes has a similar angle and view. This reduces the possibility of two people having two very different interpretations of a situation based on two very different views. Plus, if the ref is near the coach, it would be difficult for the coach to dissent without the ref hearing it and dealing with it -- because a dissenting coach, if ignored, will most likely lead to a loss of game control.

Parents who take these games way too seriously can be issues too and they are the dark cloud that hang over this age group. I was refereeing a boys U-9 game in a tournament and one of the parents approached me before this round-robin game and said, “Ref, this game is for first place so could we switch with other teams to a better field?’

The grass field was as good as could be expected after a day of rain with just a little mud by one touchline at midfield and, not one field was better than the others at this school. That comment was my clue that who wins this game is very important to those at the field and, sadly, I had to be much more of an enforcer at this boys U-9 game, all because of the parents’ poor attitude.

The innocence of those other U-9 games were completely lost in this one. There were many fouls in the game and the comments made by the so-called adults during the match were rather sad. Their over-exuberant remarks stopped after they realized that I was not paying attention to what they were saying and was ignoring when they pointed in their team’s direction when the ball went over the touchline.

I officiated four small-sided championship games during this time and, thankfully, this was the only one where the parents acted quite privileged.

Let me conclude this article with a word of warning. I was reffing these small-sided games as I was recovering from an injury and could not yet cover a game on a large field. Generally, the newest refs are assigned small-sided games in the youngest age groups, which works fine. They don’t work fine with overenthusiastic parents and the game mentioned would have been too much for a new ref to work. It’s nice for your son (or daughter) to win a trophy but it’s much better to be a good role model.

We lose most refs in their first two years of officiating with the comments from the adults in youth soccer being the number one reason for quitting. There is no way to be positive about this as the parents at that game are ref-killers.

(Randy Vogt, the author of "Preventive Officiating," has officiated more than 10,000 games.)

9 comments about "A Ref's View: Parents say the strangest things".
  1. Ginger Peeler, June 30, 2018 at 10:39 a.m.

    Thanks for this, Randy. It’s imperative that leagues and the coaches understand that soccer is NOT like baseball and basketball where fans are free to heckle the referees. That info MUST then be passed on to the parents before any games are played. When my kids played in San Diego and my daughter was also a junior ref, most parents were really good about treating the referees with respect. Sometimes a parent would misbehave, ignore the coach, and berate the ref...but that was usually at the traveling team games with adult referees. 

  2. Ginger Peeler, June 30, 2018 at 11:18 a.m.

    It was completely different when we moved to Arkansas. Arkansans were used to yelling at refs and soccer was a “new” sport in the area. After reffing a boys’ U-9 team, my daughter was singled out and accosted by an angry father screaming at her. Fortunately, she was rescued by some adults nearby. But that was her last game as a referee. My son was centering the high school jv girl’s team when he was 16. They loved him and he was very good. He also lined the Hispanic league’s games. Again, he was recognized as being very good. This was before Oklahoma City and 9-11...most folks drove pickups with rifle racks in the cabs, with rifles. Apparently, some guys watching the game at the field had a disagreement and one of them flashed a gun. My son said an adult yelled for him to get down and take cover. He did. After everything settled down, he came home.  And that was the end of his career as a referee.  I admire folks who ref. It often seems to be a thankless job. I’ve been trying to follow Geiger and Maruffo at the Cup, but, where I could find the referees’ upcoming assignments in 2014, I’ve had little success finding that info this year. 

  3. Randy Vogt replied, July 1, 2018 at 6:37 a.m.

    Thansk very much, Ginger!! The referee assignments are under Match Facts on the FIFA website after you click on each individual game. Yet it appears that the info is only there the day of the game. Sander Van Roekel from the Netherlands is the ref of Russia-Spain and Hernan Maidana of Argentina is the ref of Croatia-Denmark today. Our MLS officials have done well so I expect that they will be assigned more games at this World Cup.

  4. Wooden Ships replied, July 1, 2018 at 10:03 a.m.

    Ginger, you’re children’s experience reffing has I’m sure happened to thousands of youth. I fondly remember a time, where not only parents, but coaches were mostly mute. That was the norm. It takes principled and courageous, coaches, facility and league/tournament officials to model appropriate behavior and also to level sanctions against irrational behavior. I’m not aware of a national, ongoing campaign, to reverse this problem. Hope you’re continuing to heal Randy, soccer can’t afford to be without you.

  5. Ginger Peeler, July 1, 2018 at 9:56 a.m.

    Fantastic!! Thank you, Randy! I think the info was released 24 hours in advance in 2014, but I may be misremembering. No doubt it’s better for all concerned to publish the info on the day of. Thanks, again!

  6. Randy Vogt, July 1, 2018 at 11:57 a.m.

    Well, it would be nice if I could read the FIFA website. I gave Ginger the AR1 of today's games instead of the ref. The crew for the Russia-Spain game is from the Netherlands with Bjorn Kuipers as the ref and the crew for Croatia-Denmark is from Argentina with Nestor Pitana as the ref.

  7. uffe gustafsson, July 1, 2018 at 10:03 p.m.

    In the end of the year the assigner have a get together at a pub and we all share our stories from the season.
    its amazing to hear of bad coaches and miss behaving parents. The one you rarely hear is players behaving badly. It’s always the sidelines.
    you be amazed the stuff that gets told.
    why anyone of us go out every weekend and at times you have your whole weekend destroyed by either a coach or a group of parents giving you a really hard time. We have one game each season dedicated to silence from side lines, wish it was every game, and I know the players hate the sideline noice, they told me over and over that they don’t like it.
    coaches as well parent noice.

  8. uffe gustafsson, July 1, 2018 at 10:06 p.m.

    Final note it’s always the coach that sets the tune for the team. Loud coach loud parents.

  9. Ben Myers, July 1, 2018 at 11:35 p.m.

    Yes, the coach sets the tone, but only if he/she is respected by the parents.  We have several clubs in our area with a broad ethnic mix.  Pity the poor coach who is an Anglo with ethnic players whose parents "know" the game of soccer.  Some coaches, especially inexperienced ones, can do very little to restrain the parents' mouths, even after explaining to them about good parental behavior.

    One friend mine, still a working referee, often says (not directly to parents, though) that a kid's Division 1 soccer scholarship does not depend on the outcome of an Under 9 match. 

    Going a bit further, I would like to compel newish soccer parents to see a video, not yet produced, explaining the very very small odds that their 8- or 9-year-old will actually get a soccer sports scholarship.  The best they can often hope for is some sort of more general college grant money for overall student excellence, academic and sports, and maybe a college offer because the school in question needs a keeper or a tuba player.  Said video might encourage parents to keep youth soccer in perspective and maybe spend less money on the most expensive pay-to-play club soccer.  Or they can think of pay-to-play as money spent on healthy activities and personal growth for their kid, if they have enough disposable income.

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