Dear Sports Spectators (Parents/Coaches/Grandparents/Friends/Alumni/Fellow students/Faculty/Etc),
Did you know that we have a large shortage of referees in the area? Not only in soccer but in all sports. For me it is not hard to understand why. It takes a strong and thick skinned individual to be a referee.
When we started refereeing, we accepted that we would be the target of hostility from time to time. To our surprise, we underestimated the frequency and extent of referee dissent. Sometimes the anger and disrespect comes from young children and even friends. So why does this happen? What can we do to stop it?
Whether you're a coach, assistant coach, the concession mom, announcing father, a team trainer, parent on the sidelines, a ball runner, or a fan in the stands, we've seen you cheering, and it's wonderful. Regardless of your role, we can tell that you're encouraging, you're loving, and you care about the outcome of the match. But if you have failed to talk to your child or you yourself haven't thought about the importance of the referee, then you've forgotten something as essential as shin guards.
Many people associate the "ref" with disapproval, opposition, and resistance. However, the next time you feel yourself wanting to share a critical opinion, or your child wants to question the call on a foul, consider this:
Referee crews train to enhance their abilities to officiate a game. On-field, online, and in-class sessions are used to improve all aspects of the referees' game. Just like players, referees strive to perform at the highest level and are evaluated on their skills.
Most referees have a personal commitment to facilitate a fair game. Contrary to popular belief among spectators, "hometown refs" do not care which team wins and are unaffected by the final result. In a perfect world, the referee is a passive figure within the flow of the game, as opposed to an active agent that changes it. Most referees work hard to create that perfect world.
If you wouldn't use insulting language or gestures towards us in the general public, please do not use insulting language or gestures at a field/court/stadium. The context of sport does not change what is appropriate or what should be tolerated, and children should not be led to believe otherwise. As role models to young players, it is everyone's responsibility to demonstrate dignity and respect no matter the venue.
As a role model you have the power to choose how your player sees and treats the referee. If you are yelling, cursing, arguing, berating the referee then what are you teaching your player? Are you teaching them to play the game with dignity and respect? You mold the player through your example.
Finally, please remember that referees are human. You've certainly heard this before, and it's true. We referees make mistakes within the game. Big or small, we miss offsides, handballs, foul play, and dangerous play. The games are fast and complex, and we ask that you be forgiving. The view on the field differs from that in the stands. We know when we get it wrong, and we often wish we could change some of our calls, but just like life the game must go on. Your yelling, screaming, criticism, and name calling don't change that or make it any easier. If anything it distracts from the game at hand and makes the job that much harder.
In some ways, being a referee is similar to being a parent or coach. We enforce the rules, ensure safety, teach mutual respect, and grow passion for the game … sound familiar? Although we're impartial on the ending, in at least one way you and we will always be on the same team: we both care about the players.
Now is the time to give your child and others a positive perspective of the referee so that they, and you, can enter every competition with an open mind. By modeling responsible behavior as a spectator or coach, you are well on your way to helping develop your athlete into a respectful player and possibly a future referee.
We do the job because we love the sport and the kids. Despite all the grief, we still enjoy it. So, about that ref shortage? If you want to help with the shortage of referees, please have the conversations, ask questions, and consider joining us.
Your friend and teammate,