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.