Over at The RefBlog, The Ref has been doing a ‘best of 2007’ series and he highlighted an excellent post he did last year about how the worst behavior exhibited towards referees seems to come from youth matches, not adult now professional matches:
The only thing that really caught my attention to the article was at the beginning, where they listed the possible consequences: vandalism, death threats, changed lifestyles – all because of a call the big time officials made… except it’s not. All too often we get those same problems in the trenches of community leagues. How difficult is it to find the name of an official then look it up in the phone book? How about when you see the referee later? When I had to quit playing soccer because of threats of bodily injury, I had people write back that they had to make the same decision: to run the risk of someone taking it out on you because you reffed in the past – who cares about present tense – you can quit and they can still be after you.
Now that may sound extreme, but anyone involved in youth soccer as a referee or league administrator will tell you it’s not.
I personally have stepped in to block an irate coach from going after a referee after a U8 match that coach was banned from our league for a number of years. I’ve had a parent complain to me about the quality of refereeing at her son’s match, with the referee right there with us (he was our most senior official) and she actually accused him of taking money under the table. This was a U10 Rec match.
But all that pales in comparison to an email off the SocRef mailing list that The Ref highlighted:
After cajoling my 14 year old into taking the basic course we went to a small local tournament and the assignor, a good friend who had refereed some of the kid’s games made a terrible error because he was short of bodies and instead of giving her a line tossed her right into the meat grinder. We both protested, but he pleaded and she gave in.
I was on the next field doing a U12 and she had U-10s with Stanley Screamer for a coach. This idiot was trying to play an off-side trap with a U-10 coed team and a rookie official. I could hear the yelling clearly and when my game wrapped up went right o the touchline and this guy was absolutely out of control. The assignor had already been called by the opposing coach and the guy had been warned, but nothing was going to deter him from making his points. He was losing 6 – 1 at that point and had kids on the team in tears because they seemed unable to conduct a proper off-side trap.
My first step was to sidle up to him and say “the kid is a rookie, you are making things worse and I am asking you to stop screaming” The guy went off on me and when game ended my kid stalked over to the touchline threw her whistle at the assignor and said “I am never ever going to referee another soccer game, find some other dope!” That was a signal for coach who could not leave well enough alone to make a disparaging comment about her abilities where upon my really neat kid used language I associated with my old Navy buddies and suggested that he do something physically impossible.
By this time some parents from the both teams were on the touchline and a local cop who I had grown up with (Bert) was on the site mediating when the coach then referred to my daughter with the most disgusting description for any woman and I lost it and I invited him to the parking lot. My friend, the assignor was trying to hold me saying ‘Phil, you’ll never get another game” as if I cared.
Using a Navy term it was time for “General Quarters” and I was going to have parts of the guy regardless – that is when Bert flew out of the crowd, tackled the guy, threw him down, and had the cuffs on in a heartbeat. Bert was screaming at the guy and it was then I think the guy realized he had made a serious error in judgment and started to apologize. Bert was having none of it, called for the on-duty patrol car and tossed the guy into the back and they took him off to cool his heels at the station house.
After taking my kid home, I went to the station house and signed the complaint. The follow-up was that he took a serious hit when we went to court, and then was suspended from youth soccer for five years.
PS I am still looking for him.
The mind absolutely boggles, yet this is not that unusual. We had a similar situation in a U8 Recreational match. This is soccer with 6 and 7 year olds! It was late in the season and the assignor wanted to get some of the more experienced teenagers some experience in the middle. So he assigned a crew to this match that was all teenagers, though the center had previously done matches as a CR with older ARs. One parent spectator got so loud and obnoxious, the CR stopped the match for a bit to ask the parent to calm down. The parent then went over near one of the ARs and yelled at her so much she was in tears by the end of the match. When I addressed this with that team’s parents, I was pretty stern and noted no matter what they thought about the officiating, they should never address the referees – ever – and doing so put them at risk of sanctions. I figured I would get no response and life would go on. But I soon had at least 4 parents actively arguing with me over the quality of the referees and how they paid money just like everyone else and using U8 as a training ground for officials wasn’t right – they wanted qualified adults. They felt their behavior was not that big a deal – and this wasn’t even from the guy who caused the most trouble! It got pretty ugly and I was just floored by it. The AR still officiates and plays, but the center, who was a very promising referee, seems to have moved on to other things.
Yes – I have felt some referees were over their heads. Yes, I’ve lost matches due to blown calls. Yes, I’ve spoken, um, loudly to officials during a match. But it is rare, and often is limited to an ‘Are you kidding?’ or ‘No way that was offside!’. I’m human after all! But any outburst is limited and rare. I will absolutely go to an official after a match and ask about something if I thought it was blatantly wrong. But there’s no point in arguing. I’d just rather an official tell me “well I saw it this way and here’s why” or “Yeah it was a toss-up” or even “That’s the way it goes – deal”. I’ve made my point, knowing it won’t change anything except maybe in a future match. But seriously – any experienced coach has disagreed with calls and works an official a little. The key phrase being a little. But that’s a FAR cry from stories like you read above – nothing justifies behavior like that. As for parents – they should just stay out of it and coaches need to calm down, realize these are kids, and that any disagreements they have should be saved for later. Repeat after me – screaming at the referee is not going to change anything during a match, except maybe make it more likely your team gets cited more, and in the long run, hurts everyone.
So parents – cheer your kids and leave the referees alone. Coaches – remember the example you are setting for your players. I can 100% guarantee you that you will experience a match with your kids that a referee completely blows for their team. But that’s life and screaming like a maniac is not going to help things. Especially if the referee is younger. Instead, if it was really bad, let the assignor know so they can work with the younger referee to get better and continue to improve. Of course any referee assignor or league official will tell you that questions raised over calls are more likely to be due to parents and coaches not knowing the rules well, vs the referee actually making the wrong call. So make sure you know what you’re talking about first!
Of course I can’t post a story like this without asking youth soccer officials to do something as well – if you’re going to make a call blow your whistle loudly so everyone can hear it and when you make a call, make it with authority even if you are unsure – parents and coaches sense weakness. You’re a lot less likely to catch grief from the sidelines if you make those calls with authority, especially in Rec matches where parents and even some coaches are less likely to know the rules well.
If we keep driving younger kids out of officiating, we’ll never have enough qualified referees to handle things when your kids are older and playing in high school or beyond.