Is There A Referee Shortage?

When certain topics come up in youth soccer, like no offside for U10, one common refrain is “we don’t have enough referees as it is. This will help with the shortage.” This builds from the belief that the abuse referees endure in matches (a real problem) is causing some to leave and few to take it up. But is it a widespread problem?

I can only speak for central North Carolina, but for us, we’re turning certified people away and can’t get our current referees enough matches. Our referee assignor notes that in talking with other referee assignors, they have deep ref pools as well. Even on busy tournament weekends, the number of referees being brought in from farther reaches (since most ref pools can’t handle a large local tournament) is low. Some of our referees will note that they offer themselves to the larger tournaments 1-2 hours away and rarely get offers or get offered 1-2 matches, which isn’t worth the drive time. By far the biggest complaint I heard as a leageu president from referees was lack of games, not unwieldy parents and coaches.

I’m sure more rural areas struggle in this regard. But is it a problem in larger suburban or metro areas? Do you struggle to maintain a viable referee pool? Has the economy caused more people to take up officiating to earn a little extra money? What’s happening in your neck of the woods?

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  1. From what I have heard my league had about 150 referees NOT recertify for this past spring season here in central KY. They told most of the recertification classes to crack down on parent and coach abuse to the fullest extent. The abuse is the reason for us losing our referees. I’m a grown adult so it doesn’t bother me and when it gets out of hand, well lets just say my count so far is three coaches and one parent(who apologized over and over after the game). Most tournaments that I sign up for keeps me and the other refs busy all day long. I can also travel to closeby cities to other tournaments and have two full days of games leading me to believe it may be statewide….

  2. That’s rough. I’d be curious what percentage of those not choosing to recertify are 20 or younger (ie kids going to college and not getting a recert) vs adults getting out. As for tournaments – I know many ARs try to keep the refs busy all day to make it worth them coming (and reducing lodging costs) Not saying there isn’t a shortage or that refs are leaving in droves in KY because of parent behavior. I just know from our assignors other reasons you may have seen what you have.

  3. Mike, in our league in SoCal we have about 800 kids playing and constantly struggle to find even marginally competent center refs, esp. at U10 where we begin to call offside. We’ve instituted a no ref penalty for teams this season (each team has to supply a ref team each week), which will affect standings and playoff participation. Not sure how it will work, and believe that the same 20 guys will end up doing most of the games. While I spend most of my time coaching at U10, I am also certified as an advanced ref. Last year I had a number of U12 games w/o trained ARs making my calls, esp. offside, very difficult. Will report how it goes this year.

  4. Mike we have a coordinator, an assistant and, this year, a sub assistant for the bigger divisions (GU10, BU10, GU12, BU12). In the past, those divisions suffered at the AR level, sometimes with completely untrained parents running the sidelines during important matches. This year the goal is to have at least someone who has had a day of training running the lines at every game. A lot of the most senior guys only want to do U14/U16 games, and don’t find U10 to be particularly challenging due to the size of the pitch and short-sided nature of the games. So it goes . . . will let you know he things work as the session progresses. First practices in a couple of weeks!

  5. I thought there was a significant ref shortage in our area near NYC until I started reading UK youth soccer blogs. Seems that they are lucky to have an (unlicensed) older brother ref a game, and usually have one of the coaches referee. It’s tough for us to get refs, but we do, and now don’t complain about it.

  6. I am a coach administrator for AYSO region 2 in Arcadia,. CA and we constantly battle a shortage of referees, and add to that a number of poor and/ or inexperienced referees. We have had to institute a Zero-Tolerance policy on mistreatment of referess and youth referess which we use in the lower divisions. Mistreatment by parents and yes, (nelieve it or not) coaches has made retaining referees a formidable task.

  7. I agree with you that there are shortage of good referees in the market. It requires a lot of knowledge and experience to take a right decision. But to make a firm and perfect decision, more and more people are opting for referee assigning softwares. It is the best option to go for. If you want to know more about the same, find more info here

  8. Really it depends on the area.

    In my area, it comes and goes. Some seasons it is hard getting referees enough work. Others it is impossible to fill all assignments.

    While I am sure that abuse does not help things any, I think the biggest issue is that most youth referees are teenagers who also play and are looking at it as a job to earn money.

    In reality, in terms of it being a job, refereeing sucks.

    Before you even start reffing you have to pay the USSF certification tax. And drop at least $50 on a kit. Will the leagues or the ref organizations help you with that? Ha don’t make me laugh. Oh, and that $50 kit only has one color shirt. You are supposed to have all 5 colors. In short AND long sleeve. With official socks. Several pairs actually. Can’t have a ref team where the AR has on 2-striped socks with short sleeves and the center has 3-striped with long. That would result in the A-hole state referee administrators yelling at you about professionalism.

    Add to that the act of refereeing is non-trivial. You have to know the rules and be able to apply them in a sometimes chaotic and dynamic situation. It requires judgement and confidence, is easy to mess up, and sometimes results in people yelling at you usually out of their own ignorance but occasionally deservedly because you actually screwed the pooch and made the wrong call.

    Finally, while you make decent pay if you count the time you spend actually reffing the game your pay per hour gets diluted when you consider that you are supposed to be there 30 minutes early to check the field/teams (45 minutes for tourneys), the drive time when you have game at different fields, and the dead time between your 12pm and 3pm games.

    Don’t forget that you have to squeeze your team’s game in there as well, and you can’t ref before your game as then you would be tired out.

    Yep, the issue is that reffing as a line of employment for teenagers sucks.