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Game Officials Deserve Respect of Parents, Players, and Coaches

Youth referees: lots of advantages

Some youth sports, like soccer, often employ young people as referees. They are usually players who have been trained to ref games of younger players. In soccer, the general rule is the ref needs to be at least two years older (preferably more) than the players.

Using youth refs has lots of advantages. It:

  • Increases the number of refs available to the league.
  • Teaches young people more about the game.
  • Affords young people the chance to make money in a game they enjoy playing.
  • Lets young people give something back to the game.
  • Allows the young ref to appreciate the challenges of being a referee so when they are playing they are more likely to treat the referee with respect.

Parental abuse of youth refs: a big problem

Unfortunately, parents are driving new referees out of the game in increasing numbers. This is bad for the game and for the kids who have had their self-esteem battered by abusive parents. The percentage of those who are trained and drop out of officiating within one year is staggering.

Young refs will often officiate at games of 8 and 10 year olds. Parents of children this age can be particularly merciless on the refs. All too often, they lose perspective on why their child is out there. They will yell and scream at every call.

The problem is often made worse by parents who do not know the rules specific to the age group of the children playing. For example:

  • In U-8 soccer the offside rule is not enforced. For a parent who knows a little about soccer, this can cause undue screaming about a rule that is not even being enforced!
  • In football it might be the rule that protects punters; or
  • In basketball it might be a "no press" rule.

It is sad when the parent's own ignorance of the rules drives them to abuse the young official.

Abusing officials usually backfires

Too often, the parent on the sideline believes that if they attack the character of the referee, the referee will start to call the game for the people who are abusing him. In all of my contact with officials, whether at speaking engagements or in watching them officiate, I have yet to meet a ref who has changed a call because he was emotionally abused by a parent or coach.

Indeed, quite the opposite is true: the natural tendency of a ref is to make the call for the less abusive team when the call could go either way. If the abusive parent is trying to influence the ref to make calls for their team they have chosen the wrong way of doing it.

The only situation, in my experience, where the abusive strategy works is when the official (oftentimes a young one) becomes intimidated. An intimidated ref is even less likely to call a good game because he or she is afraid of making a mistake. An intimidated ref is likely to not make good calls and the bad taste the experience leaves is very likely to drive him or her from the game, if not the next game, then the one after that, or at the end of the season.

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