Do you remember when your child first started playing soccer? Perhaps they started when they were in preschool, running around the field in one big rugby scrum, with the rest of their teammates just trying to kick the ball. At any time when they were just starting out, did you yell at them? Call them names?
I assume the answer is a resounding no - because they were just learning the game and that type of behavior would crush their hopes and dreams immediately.
Imagine you are a young referee. You have loved playing soccer ever since the rugby scrum days, and have progressed beyond just playing to knowing quite a bit about the Laws of the Game. You studied, enrolled in an extensive online course, attended an initial hands-on training course and many other professional development courses to advance your knowledge and love of the game.
You step on to the field for your first match and you are nervous, but you are confident in knowing that you are as prepared as you can be. You blow the whistle for the first time, and one of the parents on the sideline continues to yell and scream at you for a decision that they clearly thought was wrong. You try to shrug it off, but the comments have already diminished your confidence on the field.
The Colorado Referee Committee estimates that approximately 50% of the referees who certify as a Grade 8 referee eventually quit their jobs. Why? Because of verbal abuse from the touch lines.
In Colorado, approximately 60% of our registered referees are ages 18 and under. This is a significant shift in the age of referees from past years. Most of the new referees who earn their Grade 8 badge (entry-level referee certification) are age 14. They know that to be a referee is a real, paying job with the soccer field as their workplace. Practical experience on the field is the best instruction tool we have for these young referees. While countless hours of videos, classroom instruction, and other professional development activities can prepare them academically, the best classroom for our young referees is on the field. On-field experience is the only way players and referees learn from their mistakes, improve their judgement, and mature into professionals.
Understandably, officiating errors are hard to swallow, but please take a minute to understand that most of the referees are learning right alongside your child. If you look close, that referee who is on the receiving end of a coach or parent’s outburst is most likely a girl or boy not much older than your player.
Please remember that what you do on the touch line at your child’s soccer match is a direct reflection on you, your team, your coach, your club, and ultimately your child. The lessons learned in soccer are not limited to the field. How you approach the youth soccer experience affects the lessons your child learns for a lifetime.