An Epic Rant for Youth Soccer Referees

Over the NC-Soccer forums, itsaboutthekids posted an epic rant about soccer referees. Not about bad calls and judgement, as he himself is a referee and knows how that goes, but how some referees act like they just don’t care. They are often the only people involved in a soccer match who are getting paid, yet a few don’t take it seriously and it’s a shame. So this rant is full of some excellent, yet barbed, advice for youth soccer referees that don’t take their responsibility seriously.

Here are just a few of his points:

  • When you lie in bed in the morning and glance down toward your toes you should be able to see them. If your view is obstructed by a mountain of stomach with belly-button lint spewing forth like lava from a volcano you’re probably out of shape and should not be doing soccer games. In fact you should immediately consult your doctor. For your own safety stay away from a soccer field. It might be okay for a softball umpire to be the size of a Buick but it’s not okay for soccer. If you can’t make a reasonable effort to get up and down the pitch it’s time to give it up!
  • Just because you’ve passed the exam doesn’t mean you understand the nuances of officiating a soccer game. The ability to read the game (not just the book) and properly apply the advantage clause is essential. Please, watch some high level games and observe how the best referees in the world do it. Maybe join a league and play the game. Too many of you have NEVER PLAYED! That’s a problem.
  • Come to the game prepared. A watch that you can set for the appropriate period of play, a set of cards, writing materials and a WHISTLE! A stop watch hanging around your neck is not what I had in mind. Plumbers don’t go to work without a pipe wrench. Please have all the correct tools when you show up. I have an extra watch and whistle but that doesn’t mean I brought them for you to “borrow”.
  • BLOW your whistle loud enough for everyone to hear it. If you’re too timid to blow the whistle you’re too timid to be a referee. Learn to use your whistle correctly. Long and hard indicates a hard foul and perhaps a card and/or stern lecture. Two quick tweets to indicate a substitution. One quick one for the simple little foul or to restart play. Three times to conclude the match. How you use your whistle is an indicator for the players. They know them and have expectations for the use of the whistle.
  • The middle school players deserve quality refs as much as the collegiate player. If you’ve ever said to yourself “It’s just a girls middle school game, how important is it, really?” then you need to leave now! To those players playing that game IT IS IMPORTANT. And you better treat it as such.

Read the entire rant and the comments/suggestions from readers below it. Mostly good stuff, with some junk thrown in. I know referees take a lot of abuse and most are dedicated people doing something they love. But other times you get people who either want to show off the chip on their shoulder or don’t act like they care. Paid or not – it’s about the kids. Make the effort to earn our respect, even if we don’t agree with your calls. Most do, but some don’t which is what had this poster so up in arms.

UPDATE: Make sure you read the whole thing via the link above. This poster did NOT write this for ALL referees. In his intro he notes that it’s not about bad calls or mistakes – all have good and bad days, including himself (he is a ref). Instead his issue is “with referees that just don’t seem to care. They have no desire to improve their game. Frankly, the job pays pretty well and you should take a professional approach to it every time you step on the pitch.” That’s the context for this rant – not referees as a whole.

Also – soccer terminology varies across the country. Some states call their travel soccer program ‘Premiere’ In this rant, his note about U16 Premiere refers to the absolute top level of play in the state, limited to ten teams total per age/gender level that play statewide, hoping to advance to Region III (all southeast) level play.

Leave a Reply

  1. The original post seems to contain some offensive arguments and some arguments with no solid foundation. It’s unfortunate that people think that way.

    Fat people shouldn’t referee? Sorry? What about a ref. with a prosthetic leg? What about a ref. who wears glasses? Perhaps middle-aged or older people shouldn’t referee. Perhaps we should only accept refs. who have successful modelling careers?

    Inexperienced refs. shouldn’t refereee? Then how do they get experience?

    Too many soccer coaches have played but are not educators. Having played doesn’t necessarily make you a good coach. So, too, having played doesn’t necessarily make you a good ref. I expect most of the time, playing experience is a big help, but not always and it is not the only criteria. Similarly, having a British accent doesn’t automatically make you a good coach.

    Of course refs. need the tools of the trade. Bringing a watch, cards, notebook, pen, and whistle is part of the class. It happens that players forget shin guards on occasion, or their shirt, or their boots … but that’s no reason to rant about players in general not being prepared.

    Blowing the whistle hard comes with experience. Blowing a number of times to indicate a particular situation is part of the class that the poster bemoans as being insufficient.

    I’ll settle for middle school players having a decent coach and not just the English teacher because he has a British accent or because he had seniority and wanted the extra stipend for coaching. Refs. have to gain experience somewhere. Coaches should mind the players and the refs. will take care of themselves.

  2. While the rant may not have been written as eloquently as it could have been, there is a point there. I don’t care what your body shape is – but if you referee, you have to run. A lot. Standing in the circle is not enough. You have to be able to keep up with the play. Just like pilots have to have solid vision to perform that job, referees have to be able to run the field with their players. Its a requirement of the job. So perhaps the poster should have been clearer – you need to be in shape to run the field.

    As for the not playing – I actually disagree with that point and this poster and i have had long debates about that on the forum. He believes coaching should be left to professionals who played. I don’t agree and believe you can certainly have well educated and good volunteer parent coaches. But again, the deeper point in his rant is don’t just assume passing the course makes you an expert – its a continual learning process, just like coaching is.

    Inexperienced refs should not referee Premiere matches was his point. Work your way up from younger age groups before you step into a situation you aren’t prepared for.

    Most referees I’ve had in matches are dedicated and professional. And I don’t believe this poster was stating otherwise. Instead he was bemoaning the minority who don’t take it seriously, or don’t dedicate themselves to be prepared in all aspects for the matches they officiate. And I’ve had enough of those to know it can be a major problem.

    Not going to give the original poster an ‘A’ for tact, but many of the concerns he raises are valid and happen more often than we’d like to admit. Have you ever tried to convince an assignor that a certain referee puts the kids in danger and shouldn’t be used? it can be near impossible depending who your assignor is. WE’re lucky to have a local assignor that is also involved in our league, but many are not so lucky.

    Like I said above – most referees endure crappy working conditions for low pay – but that doesn’t excuse the referee who doesn’t take the job they do seriously.

  3. This is wrong on SO many levels and will only encourage coaches and parents to question and abuse referees. Which in turn will cause there to be even FEWER experienced and trained referees.

    Why are so many older refs who ‘don’t care’ working games? Because younger refs (often kids – players – trying to make a few extra dollars) don’t want to take ABUSE from the sidelines. Better to make some extra spending money bagging groceries than getting yelled at by lunatic parents and coaches (who always THINK they know better – but very often don’t).

    Yes, refs should be prepared and professional. But coaches and parents need to show more respect – a LOT more.

  4. css – absolutely. No question coaches and parents drive refs away from the sport, and leagues/parents/coaches should do everything they can to prevent that (education, education, education!). But that doesn’t mean we should tolerate referees who don’t take their job seriously and that was what this rant was about, at least in my eyes. They’re two separate issues.

    While provocative, I believe many true points were raised about a minority of referees, regardless of the cause. We all have witnessed them.

    No doubt it could have been better written, but think back to when you’ve had *experienced* officials who:

    * Don’t keep up with play and hug the circle, missing calls
    * Don’t blow the whistle so the players can hear it
    * Don’t have any concept of what advantage is
    * Don’t keep current with the latest changes to the rules (we STILL have referees who call offside anytime a player is offside regardless if they are involved in the play)
    * ARs who do not keep up with the 2LD and try to make the calls.

    Again – not kids who are training to learn how to ref, but adults with significant experience. At some point you have to stand up and say ‘OK – look. This is inexcusable’ In THAT context – this rant hit on a number of real issues. And that’s what it is intended for. it was never said to be about ALL referees.

  5. But one feeds the other. I’m a referee scheduler and of course I want to know when refs aren’t doing a good job. But it would be MUCH easier to not schedule and replace them if so many younger refs weren’t being driven away by disrespectful and abusive parents and coaches.

    As an example, I often find that there are coaches who seldom have referees sign up for their games – and they are of course constantly complaining about it. What they don’t seem to realize is that they are causing their own problems. If and when they do get a ref, they shouldn’t be surprised if it happens to be one who really doesn’t care. Not because I want to ‘stick’ them with someone bad – but because the quality refs refuse to put up with their abuse.

  6. css – and I agree, in those situations the league is failing the kids because that coach is still coaching. And I say that knowing we have coaches like that in our league, that refs don’t want to officiate for. Until they step over certain lines, all you can do is try to continue to clue them in as to what’s happening.

    But that doesn’t change the fact that there ARE other referees out there that don’t take it seriously enough and the cycle continues. It doesn’t have to be either or. I’ve experienced enough of them to know it has to be addressed on both sides. Leagues need to do a better job of educating parents/coaches to lay off the referees, while assignors and such need to make sure they are assessing their pool and making sure the referees that this rant highlights don’t continue to officiate or are encouraged to take steps to address their issues. Has to be on both sides to break the cycle.

  7. I’ve posted on the thread and I agree with IATK’s rant. Maybe it wasn’t written as tactfully as it could have been, but he didn’t say anything that anyone involved with youth soccer for any length of time hasn’t thought.

    My husband and son are both referees, and I tend to sympathize with them. I have heard parents and coaches call my son some truly nasty names. Fortunately, he has enough confidence in his own ability to send off an abusive parent or coach. I’ll admit to getting angry at refs plenty of times – happened last night as a matter of fact, to the point that I made an a** of myself and left to avoid embarrassing myself any further. But it was a good example of refs not paying attention and not being in position to make calls.

    I agree with Mike that it has to be addressed on both sides. For most parents, pointing out the poor example they are setting for their kids is all it takes. Some parents may need to be banned for a few matches. Ref assignors need to follow up if there are repeated complaints about particular refs.

    But refs also have to take some individual responsibility. The assignor for our area has been trying hard to get the refs to attend the mentoring program, with little success so far. My husband said that among the refs attending the session, several had bluntly stated that they would continue to call games “however the hell I want.” This includes a ref who openly admitted that he won’t call fouls committed against the team that is leading the game.

    Work to be done on both sides.

  8. Yes, work to be done on both sides. I reacted as I did because I thought the original post was one-sided, not because both sides don’t have validity.

    Good timing too as we have our referee meetings next week and as an assignor it’s good for me to be reminded of these issues. Certainly any referees that spoke or behaved as Jenn suggested wouldn’t get many games – preferably NO games – in the league I assign for.

    Of course, if we can grow the pool of motivated, well-trained refs that problem becomes MUCH easier to take care of. These problems happen because there is an undersupply of referees – and the behavior or parents and coaches is a major contributor to that undersupply. That’s why I am protective of the refs – in my experience, the problem is the parents and coaches much more often than the refs themselves.

  9. css – besides the obvious “Parents & Coaches won’t stop yelling at the kids (and adults) trying to ref” problem – what other obstacles do you see as an assignor that reduce our ability to grow the referee pool?

  10. I am not a ref, but my son was. He decided that the money wasn’t worth it, as a 14 yr old he was working u10 and below. Several of his friends still do it, but they have thicker skin. After our scheduler considered calling the police on two different occasions last year my son was done (not games he was working) and I don’t blame him. There are parents that need to be reeled in and IF we were able to do that when the kids were young it might help when they are older.

    Last weekend he was playing a game where the referee was as described in the first bullet point of this post-so heavy he appeared to be carrying triplets. He was not able to run the field and stayed mostly in one corner so he could see if a ball was out of bounds OR some one was really offside. Other than those two examples not another call was made on his end of the field.

    As a parent it IS hard to sit by and watch your child and his friends get abused because kids that age push the limits of dangerous play and when not called on it, continue. We were fortunate that small cuts and bruises were all they suffered that day.

    Now I am off to read the rant in its entirety!

  11. If this poster is not satisfied with a handful of individuals and their poor aptitude as a referee, they need to contact their state referee coordinator.

    I’m sure the state can send an assessor to assess this ref’s game unannounced. Then, hopefully, the assessor can provide quality insight on improving their skills directly to this referee. Maybe this professional assessment might spur these referees to up their games.

    My point is….quit complaining and be proactive in solving the problem.

  12. The solution to bad refereeing IMO is to do what Marcus says, get certified and become a ref. I’m 50 but in good shape and love to run up and down the pitch after my game (as coach) has finished. It’s great exercise and can be really thrilling. Genrally speaking the parents and other coaches are very appreciative and supportive, though they don’t always agree with my calls. This all happens at the rec level, U6 through U9, though so things are less intense. My kids want to move up one level so next fall we will do so at U8 and I will volunteer to ref games in the league. Will report back at that juncture.

  13. Well – remember the person who wrote this IS a ref. I’m all for working with the state, but the lack of any realistic process for filing a complaint is the problem, at least here. You can write something up on the match report, but that’s hard to do with the other team and the ref waiting for their copy. You don’t always know who the assignor is for an away match, and a few assignors – honestly, don’t care. Obviously any standardized complaint setup would likely generate 90% BS whining about ref calls and 10% legit concerns – but that might be a price to pay to weed out problem refs. Just like leagues should use coaching evaluations to gradually weed out problem coaches.

  14. If they state doesn’t want to get involved, you have to take matters in your own hands.

    We had a problem in our area of referees “mailing it in” for the paycheck. One young ref even wore his iPod as an AR during a game.

    I decided to get certified (used to be HS certified a long time ago in another state, but let it lapse) and began a mentoring/assessing program with the refs at our largest (busiest) complex….with the support of our assignor.

    It has certainly improved the quality of our games. This process has allowed us to weed out those lazy refs who refuse to improve or embrace the program….those refs don’t get many assignments (if any) and most are regulated to ARs.

    While I hate to lose referees (we don’t have an abundant supply), I’d rather have hard working guys/gals on the pitch.

  15. Marcus – excellent! If more of our assignors took things as seriously as you do, the original rant would have been unnecessary. Our league is very lucky to have an assignor who also takes things seriously and wants feedback to ensure he has the best pool available. The assessment/mentoring idea is a great one.

  16. Well….I wouldn’t go as far as I take things “seriously”. LOL. I just decided to be proactive about the problem.

    The second benefit of this program….I get to monitor coaching behavior without the coaches knowing. Sometimes I have to step in gently to remind a coach of the “house rules”….keep it positive, no reffing from the sidelines, etc.

    And, I only spend a few extra hours at the field doing this with my assignor.

  17. I think we all agree from the back and forth posting that Yes we do have a shortage due to abuse and loud parents/coaches, BUT at the same time if they are not even trying and just walking around then of course I would agree that there should be a report given. I actually had a coach ask me before a game if my ARs would stay off their cell phones as he told me that his previous game this was the unfortunate case.

    Not that I condone this, but if a ref is THAT BAD, why not video tape it with one of the parents cameras that are now everywhere. I do see that getting out of hand with all kinds of videos being sent in trying to be the next ESPN reporter showing a blown call, but these would be for extreme circumstances(IPODs worn, cell phones out, the ref not keeping up with play in any way shape or form) that would be taken seriously.

    I try to take it very serious dressing the part and hitting the whistle hard,but I have also seen younger refs show up in white shoes, no socks(or socks pulled down and staying there)and even the occasional no watch, cards or whistle.

    Soccer Dad is right that we need to be in shape to get to the ball, be in position and take it seriously. Our calls are a whole different story for a different post.

  18. I will say this (and believe I did above) A successful referee pool is a direct reflection on the assignor. Being a referee assignor is much more than just assigning refs to matches at $7-$10 a pop. It’s making sure your pool is up to par. Our assignor here is VERY involved. Holds seasonal offside clinics to get the ARs in shape to make the calls, attends matches to observe and will provide immediate and direct feedback to his ARs and CRs as necessary. I know the assignor in another nearby city I mentioned above does the same. If an AR was on a cell phone during a match here? even if it was U10 Rec, they’d be halfway out the door. That’s harsh, but we have a waiting list for teenagers AND adults wanting to officiate, so we’re able to use that as leverage/enticement for good performance. I’m sure other places aren’t that lucky.

    I also think some league treat the ref pool as an afterthought – sure they are independent contractors and you can’t be ‘involved’ but you certainly can facilitate feedback to the assignor and make sure bad refs are focused on for improvement or eventual elimination.