Being a referee for travel soccer should be one of those “ultimate teenager jobs” like being a lifeguard or a caddy. You are outside, making money and around something that you love to do.
When “the teenager” who has been playing soccer for 118 years asked me if she could work as a soccer referee to pick up some extra cash, my answer was “No way!”
The reason unfortunately isn’t because of the hours, the time commitment or the money. It falls directly in the lap of the many parents who look at travel soccer as their opportunity to scream, harass and otherwise bully the referees and pretty much everyone around them.
I understand the occasional “Come on, ref!” when they blow an offsides call or the kids get a little too physical. It’s a natural reaction. I have been witness to parents storming up and down the side lines, screaming at the top of their lungs and yelling profanities at referees who are just a few years older than the kids who are playing.
It’s not all parents, just as it’s not all NFL players who beat their children. However, as we are learning, it’s the bad apples that stand out, and when it comes to travel sports, the crop is getting more and more rotten.
At one game last weekend, I watched a dad not only yell and scream at the referees, but then he decided to go after the players on the other team: “Hey number 38, you better get out of the way of the goalie!! Number 38, are you listening to me? Get out of the way!”
Quick note: Number 38 wasn’t a professional or playing in the World Cup. Number 38 was a 14-year-old girl playing on the “B” or lesser skilled team of her local club.
This dad wasn’t the worst. At the same game, a mom who had been drinking — a lot — decided to not only yell at the referees, but also take it upon herself to let the other parents know: “I have paid a lot of money for my daughter to be out here. If your kids aren’t going to play as hard, they should get the hell off the field.”
With that, “Drunk Mom” decided to take her message across the field and yell at the players on the bench.
Not a single parent interjected, shrugging their shoulders saying, “That’s the way she gets sometimes.”
It’s little league soccer, not happy hour at El Jardine or Friday Night Fights!
What’s worse is that these same parents who yell and scream are completely silent when the other team scores against their own kids. There are no encouraging cheers or “Keep your chin up” yells, just angry disappointed silence.
As a former athlete, coach and referee, here’s a quick tip for all of the parents who think that their kids’ sporting events are places to vent their frustrations: it doesn’t work! Not only are you embarrassing yourself, you are embarrassing your kids and making the referees, who are also human, mad.
Believe it or not, these “professional referees,” who make upwards of $35 a game, may just “blow more calls” against your team because you are acting like a stark raving lunatic. A little food for thought.
Fights, bullying, harassment and even threats have become a part of the travel soccer culture. After the game, I had to apologize to my daughter for the behavior of the parents off the field and let her know that there are also plenty of parents who are not nuts and we are going to do our best to keep things calm.
Success of the World Cup has the United States in an “I love soccer” tizzy and brands try to align themselves with the world of youth soccer, maybe one of the messages they should work on getting out is to tell the parents to shut up, behave and let the kids do what they love to do: play.