After having refereed for nearly two months now, I have decided to make an oath, a pledge if you will, about soccer officials everywhere.
I solemnly swear never to utter another negative word at a soccer referee again. Not even at Alex Prus. Not even at Michael Kennedy.
Okay, that may have been my last dig there... but there will be no more negative utterances regarding soccer officials' calls from my mouth ever again. I still, however, reserve the right to question NFL and college football officials' calls.
On caveat: I'm a writer so if a big call is made and that's what I need to ask players and coaches about, then I have to ask them about it. I can't completely turn a blind eye to officials. But on a personal level, mum's the word.
Refereeing high school soccer has opened my eyes not only to different aspects of the game in a positive light but they've made me see the bad part of soccer at the high school level up close. And really, if some of the stories I've heard are true then, as they say, I ain't seen nothin' yet.
I've been yelled at by players, coaches and parents. My vision has been questioned. My integrity has been questioned. My background has been questioned. Basically, most everything you can think of has been questioned. And this isn't just over a matter of a few games, this is rampant.
Abuse towards the referee is commonplace in soccer throughout the world of course but in high school soccer there should really be no place for it. There is a difference between a professional first-division match and a junior varsity girls' soccer game. There just is. I'm not condoning violence towards officials at the pro level but people pay money to see those games, the players are paid to perform and coaches' jobs are on the line, so understandably there is a lot riding on officials' calls at that level. And when a ref makes a questionable call, he/she may very well draw the ire of everyone in the stadium.
But when you call a foul in favor of Valley High's freshman girls team, Poly High's parents shouldn't treat it as if it was a call that would decide a World Cup qualifier. For God's sake, it's a high school game. It's high school yet parents feel they have the right to voice their opinions about every single call sometimes, and that gets old quickly.
Now, I say that "it's just high school" and I say that a lot but that doesn't mean I treat it any less than it deserves. Whatever game I whistle, whether it's a varsity girls game or a freshman girls game (and this season I've done mostly girls games) I treat it as if it's the most important game I've ever done because to me it is. And I have two daughters who I pray will grow up to love soccer as much as I do, and if they are playing on their freshman team and the official doesn't care about the game and doesn't want to be there... well, I don't want to put another parent in that position. I'm going to run and bust my ass as much as possible and put in an honest day's work. That's just my personal philosophy so far on reffing.
Anyway, it is high school and parents are supposed to be teaching children a thing or two about sportsmanship, right? What kind of behavior are parents modeling when they bitch and moan and complain about silly stuff? Or even about important calls? I don't know but if I'm yelling at someone in front of my girls, I'm kind of sending a message to them that it's okay to yell at someone. Look, I'm not saying I don't yell or cuss in front of them (I've got a bad temper sometimes... particularly when it comes to bad drivers) but you've got to try and keep your cool about yourself. And too many parents have lost their cool in games that I've officiated.
I've had parents yell to their team "Come on girls, it's 11 on 13 out there" during a game that their school was not getting the calls they wanted to. At another game I overheard one parent telling another "This is the worst officiated game I've seen in quite a long time" and then jokingly ask "Are there any other referees out there that we can get in place of these guys?" And then I get about a dozen "Come on ref!" or"Did you SEE that?" or "You've got to make that call ref!" every game, plus an unlimited number of groans.
Still, other refs in the area this season alone have been chased on their way out to their cars, have had entire sidelines yelling at them and insulting them and have felt the wrath of many unruly coaches. Thus far, I've gotten off lightly compared to that. But I think it's also because I haven't done many varsity boys games. We'll see what's in store for me next season.
Anyway, most of it I think is funny. It really does make me want to laugh, and sometimes I have to suppress myself from laughing. It's funny to me because most of the time the parents that are complaining don't know the first thing about soccer. They don't understand what it means when I stretch my arms out to my side and motion my hands forward after their kid has been fouled but maintained possession. They have no concept of offside. They don't understand the difference of ball-hitting-hand versus hand-hitting-ball; to them, everything is a handball. I don't know what a "high kick" is but I do know what "dangerous play" is.
Ultimately I've taken a lot of crap but it's a part of the game. I often think to myself how infinitesimally more difficult it is for professional referees. You've got instant replay and thousands of sets of eyes, each seeing a different thing, and playing before thousands of people, not to mention the enormity of games and the speed of game... thanks but no thanks. The abuse is bad enough now; I could just imagine how tough it is at the pro and international level.
Hence my pledge.