Unruly fans make referee retention a choreBEVERLY GODFREY: As parents take their kids to fields across the state this summer, I’ll be joining them as a soccer mom of a different sort. The kid I’m dropping off wears a yellow jersey and whistle.
By: Beverly Godfrey, Duluth News Tribune
As parents take their kids to fields across the state this summer, I’ll be joining them as a soccer mom of a different sort.
The kid I’m dropping off wears a yellow jersey and whistle.
When my son was a young boy playing soccer, I gave little thought to the fact that the referees were children, too. Now that he works youth soccer games, it’s obvious this is a blind spot for a lot of people.
Abusive behavior from coaches and parents is the No. 1 reason kids quit working as referees, said Dave DeWitt, referee director for the Arrowhead Youth Soccer Association.
“It tears at the fabric of the fun of the game when you’ve got people who are abusive,” he said.
Statewide, the sport loses more than half of its youth referees from year to year. Every year in Minnesota, about 1,700 new referees need to be trained to replace them.
The retention rate in the Northland is higher, with about 75 percent coming back for a second year. This is in large part, DeWitt said, because of efforts the league has made to educate adults about what behavior is expected of them. An occasional outburst from the crowd or coach can be shrugged off. But if it’s “public, personal and persistent,” the behavior can be reported on a state website.
It would be fair to say I was incensed two years ago when I discovered a parent had posted a YouTube video mocking my son after he had worked his second game ever as a 12-year-old. On a field full of energetic 7-year-olds, a boy ran too fast, stumbled and crashed into another player. What my son saw in the moment was a kid tripping. Looking at the video, he agrees with his boss that a foul should have been called. But YouTube? Seriously? (It would be fair to mention, too, that my son wasn’t at all upset about the video. Must be a mom thing.)
So what’s a frustrated adult to do? Call the league to report bad refereeing.
“We’ll talk to the referee. We’ll evaluate the referee. Maybe they need some more support. Maybe I assigned them at a level they’re not ready for,” DeWitt said.
Or maybe — and please consider this — the referee is right. They get hours of online training, hours more of classroom training, on-field training and mentoring. By contrast, there is no requirement that coaches know the rules, and even people who have been coaching for years can be shaky about them.
Children are not assigned to referee a game for players older than them. The youngest referees you’ll see in the Northland are 10. They’ll be out there for U-8 games, giving kids a second chance at throw-ins, making sure they’re OK when they get a ball to the face and watching for signs of a concussion. At the age of 10, these young referees already are joining the village of people who take care of our children.
DeWitt recalls several “turnaround stories” of parent coaches who were habitual referee abusers. They gained a new perspective when their young players became young referees themselves.
“You recognize, you’ve been yelling at someone else’s child,” DeWitt said.
I’m hoping my son learns life lessons from his referee experience. I hope he learns how much more confident you feel in a situation if you’re well prepared, about how to stick to your convictions, fulfill your obligations and work hard. And that you can’t please everyone all the time.
A co-worker said his son had to eject an abusive coach from a game when he worked as a youth referee. That son is now a police officer, and I imagine the reffing skills remain relevant.
I thank the many parents who have told my son he does a good job. It’s not fair that the few loud abusers get all the attention. And I encourage all parents, as they unfold their lawn chairs and crack open their iced teas, to be kind to the refs.
Beverly Godfrey is a News Tribune copy editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Soccer league information can be found at arrowheadsoccer.com.