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  • Writer's pictureBrett Jaffe

Why the Lack of Youth Referees is a Leadership Problem

One of the many hats I wear is that of a youth soccer referee. While I had done this for the money when I was younger, today I do it for the love of the game. That, and to shield my recently-patched daughter from a number of coaches and parents who are, frankly, ruining the experience for their children.

When renewing my training, the instructor informed us of a staggering statistic: fewer than 50% of new referees return after their first season. With this being one of the highest-paying jobs a teen or young adult can have, I really wanted to dig in and understand why that was.

I have been involved in soccer for as long as I can remember; as a player, parent, coach, and leader in both town and regional organizations. As a spectator on the sideline, I’ve learned to block out the coaches who berate the referees and constantly yell at their team. I’ve learned to block out the other spectators who loudly question every call, coach from the sidelines, and complain every chance they get.

As a referee, however, it is harder to block out such comments when they are directed at you. Continuously.

This has to play into the developing mindset of a younger referee. Questioning every call and telling the referee what he or she is missing is nothing short of abuse. While I know how to handle it (often stopping play until it abides), most of the younger referees do not.

Therein lies the issue. For many of the referees, this is a job and the field is their workplace. The coaches and spectators are creating a hostile work environment, and these kids are simply trying to block most of it out. Why should they have to? Would any of these adults tolerate going to work if they were consistently yelled at?

The coaches are the leaders on the field and, as such, need to lead by example. Only they can change the environment of the game and within youth sports in general. When the coaches question every call, the spectators get the green light to follow suit. When the coaches control themselves and set expectations for the spectators, the game is much more enjoyable. Ask the players.

This is no different from the workplace. Leaders must also set the example in their business. You cannot show up late to meetings while setting expectations that everybody else is on time. You cannot demand that expense reports and time sheet entries are submitted by 5pm on Friday if you are not willing to do so yourself. You cannot expect a result or behavior from your team without setting clear expectations up front.

Respect is earned. Be an intentional leader.

And for the love of the game and kids’ sports in general, do not be THAT parent on the sideline.


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