Sunday, September 30, 2007

On refereeing

Just finished a very busy weekend of refereeing youth games, from U10 all the way though high school. I have been refereeing kids soccer since 1994 and really enjoy being out with boys and girls while they are out enjoying themselves.

There have been many reports of parents and coaches abusing referees during youth games, and I don't want to spend much time on that. People who have grown up yelling at professional refs at baseball, football, and basketball games and view it as a privilege of the ticket price (my favorite: "Hey ref, you are missing a good game!") forget that those of us who officiate at youth games are not professionals and do it strictly as a community activity. Yes, we get paid a little bit (I donate my pay to charities) but that is just a symbolic recognition of the time and commitment that goes into doing the job.

I have noticed that some coaches and parents sometimes forget that a soccer game consists of a group of children kicking a piece of leather around a grass field. Does such a game ever have deeper meaning that that? Sure, it promotes teamwork and skill development and other good things, but it is fundamentally a group of kids who are PLAYING. We need to remember what playing is all about.

The other point is that it is hard to be a good referee. You are making a multitude of decisions and judgment calls (especially in soccer, where you are trained to keep the flow of the game going and not interrupt things for minor fouls), and you are doing this in real time with 12, 16, or 22 players on the field. You do it in good weather and bad, and when you are fresh or tired. You are on the run for over an hour (reportedly 5 or 6 miles in a 90-minute game), and you do not have a substitute (unlike the players.) Plus, you can only call what you see, and you cannot be looking at the entire field all the time, and sometimes players block your view. If you are parent or coach, try it sometime during a practice scrimmage.

There are times you need to remind the adults to behave to maintain a positive atmosphere for the children during a game. Here are some of the most effective things I have seen a referee say to a coach who has been not behaving properly during youth games.

John (adult ref) jogs off the field as the game progresses and stands right next to a coach who has been carping about his calls. The coach says, "What are you doing here? You need to be on the field." John says, "You know, you are right. You CAN see things better from here."

Art (adult ref) stops near a coach who has been complaining. "How do you have time to both coach and referee? I can only do one at a time."

And finally, Ally (age 14 referee) approaches an adult coach who has been persistently yelling about her calls. He is 6 feet tall and 200 pounds. She is just reaching 5 feet and may be 100 pounds. She stands in front of him and looks up and says very quietly, "Don’t you think you are taking things a bit too seriously?" He is silent for the remainder of the game.


John said...

Well said as usual.

John McKenna

Jay Levitt said...

I have noticed that some coaches and parents sometimes forget that a soccer game consists of a group of children kicking a piece of leather around a grass field.

I have noticed similar problems around Fenway Park.

Anonymous said...

Grow up, or be born anywhere other than America and you could NOT say that "it is just kicking a piece of leather around a field."

Anonymous said...

Anonymous -- it doesn't matter how passionate you are about the game. It doesn't matter what game you are passionate about. If it's soccer, hockey, American football, baseball, cricket, or anything -- it's STILL a bunch of nine-year-olds or whatever age, playing a game.

No matter how much you love that game, no matter how much property damage you will do if your professional sports team loses -- or wins -- their match in that sport, you just can't think that there's any comparison to what a bunch of kids are doing on the field or pitch or ice.

I loved being at my niece's soccer game yesterday. But, you know, it's really not that much like watching the Revolution, or the World Cup. . .

Anonymous said...

Great perspective as usual

Christine G. said...

anonymous -- i think the point Paul is making by saying it is just kicking a piece of leather around a field is it's JUST A GAME. people need to relax.

I was in the stands for my son's JVB football game (ages 10-11) this weekend and loud and clear we heard the other team's coach calling for his kids to "drive that kid into the ground" and "stop him by any means necessary." it made me throw up in my mouth a little. Meanwhile, our kids lost 22-0, so they were doing a good enough job on the other side without calling down death and murder on our kids.

our kids were singing "sweet caroline" at the top of their lungs at the half. it was really cute. they were doing their best, they knew the other team was just bigger, better, and meaner... so they just rolled with it.

and we parents? we cheered our brains out and voices raw, every gain, every attempt, every move. we were on our feet. the other team's bleachers were really silent the whole game...but i think our kids on the whole won something else.

keep up the good reffing work... keep your mind focused on the right things, and watch the episode of The Simpsons where Homer becomes a ref for lisa's soccer league. it's pretty funny.

Unknown said...

Paul, I coach soccer in BAYS, where I assume you referee many of your games, and am reminded every year of the BAYS Support for Referees Policy. Have you found that that policy makes a difference? And is there anything you would add to their suggestions for referees?

Anonymous said...


The BAYS policy has made a huge difference over the past several years. It covers the major points very, very well.

Anonymous said...

How did you get into refereeing? I ask because I am interested in refereeing. I'm 22 and have never ref'd before although I played plenty as a kid.

I've done some searches online and tried going up to some folks who appeared to be ending a game and asking the coaches nad I was surprised that none of the three coaches I asked knew how to get involved. I am sure I don't live exactly in your neighborhood but does anyone know of a regional group that helps to connect would-be refs with leagues in soccer or basketball?

I wouldn't be qualified to ref a high school game but for younger kids I imagine I would need slightly less background. (No offense, Paul!)

Anonymous said...

Each state has a referee association that does training programs and gives out licenses. If you cannot find the referee group website, contact your state's youth soccer assoication, and they will point you the right way. And instead of asking the coaches after a game, ask the referees!

The training, by the way, is the same regardless of the age level at which you want to officiate. Virtually everyone who plays soccer uses the same rules, prescribed by FIFA. (The mechanics of reffing high school games -- with a two person system -- is sightly different from regular soccer matches -- with a three person system.)

Anonymous said...

Even when I was a young player, the nasty coaches and refs had a certain infamy among the teams. I remember identifying the competition with questions like, "Is that the team with the loud coach?." And often, the ref sets the tone for the game even before kickoff: "Oh man, do we have that mean ref? He's always calling the tiniest fouls." Interesting, though, that we were more concerned with the referee being a nice person than whether they made good calls or not. For young ladies, the game is serious, but the ref needs to show that he's enjoying the game, otherwise we get nasty and start fouling.

Unknown said...

My 13 year old son referees, and also plays soccer in the BAYS league. In the year that he has been a referee he has already had to make a fan leave the field because she kept questioning his calls verbally from the sideline. He has also had to speak to many coaches about keeping the comments positive. He also speaks to players who are not showing good sportsmanship during the games, stopping play to speak to them and making sure that they shake hands (separately from the regular line at the end of the game) so that no one is harboring bad feelings. In society's quest to change the perspective of coaches, players and fans to one of a more positive nature, perhaps the young shall lead them?

Anonymous said...

Just got back to catch up with this blog. Paul said it all well, as usual -- but as anyone who reads Paul's blog or knows him can tell, temperament has much to do with a referee's (or administrator's) success. Paul's attitude is a good model for anyone. The BAYS referee policy is a good attempt to instill the same values in spectators and coaches.


Anonymous said...

Most of the issues are with coaches and parents that go over the top but let's not turn an eye toward the referees behavior at times. I have played soccer my whole life, have certifications, been a ref and coach and have seen or played in more games than many of the refs that handle my daughters games (of which I coach). Unfortunately there are refs that assume parents and coaches have absolutely no knoweledge about the game and immediately dismiss any comment that is made, or even worse talk down to the parent or coach as if they were a dolt. I know us parents anc coaches we are all painted with the same brush of our lowest common denominator but I would ask refs to be a little more open minded that maybe some parents and coaches actually kow what they are talking about.

Anonymous said...

Good point. Respectful behavior goes in both directions.