David Reardon recruits -- and retains -- teen refs in San Francisco with intriguing twists

Imagine this: You’re at work, trying to do your best. But you are constantly criticized, yelled at, told you’re “the worst ever.”

Now imagine that you’re only 13 years old.

No wonder the rate of attrition among soccer referees is so high. The average youth official lasts just two seasons, says David Reardon. “No matter how much money you throw at them, if it’s not a positive situation they won’t do it,” he says.

Reardon should know. A soccer player since second grade, and a referee since high school, he now works full-time recruiting, training – and, most importantly, retaining – boys and girls to officate.

Inspired by his father and siblings, all of whom were referees – and realizing that blowing a whistle is much more lucrative than folding shirts in a store – Reardon would play one game as a teenager, then pull off his jersey, don an official’s shirt, and call many more.

He realized quickly that refereeing made him a better player. An official must watch all 22 athletes, in every position. As a player, Reardon had focused on just his own.

A recreation, parks and tourism major at San Francisco State, Reardon leveraged an internship as field marshal for an adult league into a full-time position with San Francisco Youth Soccer. In his role as program manager, he oversees fall and spring seasons for 8,000 youngsters, on 500 teams.

One key job: coordinating hundreds of referees – all independent contractors – every weekend.

Every time a young ref quits, Reardon must find and train a new one. To make things easier, he developed the Team STAR program. The acronym stands for Specially Trained Assistant Referee. The goal is threefold: address the constant shortage of ARs; assist young officials in the center, and provide parents with enough knowledge to communicate the rules and nuances of the game to other adults on the sidelines.

Each SFYS team is required to have at least one STAR. They undergo all the training of a regular AR, but do not pay the $75 certification fee. They get a flag, a hat and a whistle, and work all of the league’s 7-v-7 and 9-v-9 matches. In an emergency, STARs can also work as center officials.

Teams that do not have at least one STAR are fined $300. The money goes into a fund to buy headsets, so experienced referees can mentor younger ones.

But those are not the only services Reardon provides to teenage refs.

While running a summer referee camp, he realized that many youngsters also wanted to keep playing. He created a team, with a clever name. GO FC stands for Game Officials Football Club.

Of course, they wear Borussia Dortmund colors: black and yellow, just like referees.

Every player on the squad is a certified official. The team plays in the SFYS varsity league. It’s like a high school conference, but for players not on school squads. As soon as their GO FC game is over, players head to their referee assignments.

They train twice a week. Reardon – who in addition to all his other duties, serves as coach – says the talk often turns to refereeing issues that have come up while they work GO FC began play this month. They’ve had a great time so far.

And they have not yet been shown any yellow or red cards.

5 comments about "David Reardon recruits -- and retains -- teen refs in San Francisco with intriguing twists".
  1. R2 Dad, October 2, 2022 at 7:04 p.m.

    Hey, hey--thanks for the spotlight on our local league, SFYS. David has done an excellent job building on the prior Volunteer Assistant Referee program of Rich Fern (ex-SFYS board member). Shout out to Scotty & Barb who make the office hum + a bunch of other behind-the-scenes stuff. David does well because he puts in the work: he's out there every week officiating, keeping a finger on the pulse of all these youth referees, assigning, hosting a mid-week pizza session during the season so the kids have a place to learn/commiserate/master the assigning web site minutiae, etc. David will even play FIFA with them, uses Discord to communicate--and the kids really appreciate an adult who treats them as the valued asset they are.

  2. Kevin Sims, October 3, 2022 at 10:31 a.m.

    For decades ... Yes, players who officiate become better players & better behaved players ... Yes, plaers who take coaching courses become better players & better behaved players ... Kudos to all who push this! Helps grow the soccer culture as well.

  3. jim broshar, October 3, 2022 at 1:44 p.m.

    Can 100% confirm this, Dave is a great guy, passionate, creative, and hard-working. We're lucky to have him (and Rich Fern) here in San Francisco. 

  4. uffe gustafsson, October 3, 2022 at 10 p.m.

    Great article and obviously he is very good at what he does.
    but until leagues start cracking down on coaches that constantly abuse the refs, every ref can write down on the report of certain coaches that constantly argue any calls made for his/her team and nothing is done.
    I reffed many years and you after awhile know those coaches and never sign up for those games.
    parents can be equally bad but that comes from the coach and they think it's OK to yell at you.
    so until league start cracking down on those coaches you will have refs quitting after 1 or 2 seasons.
    I finally had it and went to coaching since my weekend wouldn't be a unhappy weekend.

  5. Santiago 1314, October 4, 2022 at 10:13 a.m.

    Excellent idea... too many "Adult" Refs have Never Played the Game...

    Even the Young ones will benefit from the "Feedback" of Playing.
    Ditto for having H.S. age Players take a Coaching Liscense Course...

    ALL Academy Players should be REQUIRED to take Ref Course and "D" Course.
    That way they see All sides of the Game, and how Coaching and Reffing Impact their Playing.
    "Know thy Enemy" ... :)

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