Thoughts of a Youth Referee

I am addicted. Sometimes I wish I could quit, but every time I lace up, my blood starts rushing, my palms start sweating, and I can’t think of doing anything else.

That’s what soccer does to me. That’s what soccer does for me. Even when it’s hard and ugly, when I’m the focus of hate and on the receiving end of angry insults from people who are older and who should know better, as a referee, I can not shrink.

Life lessons can be found in the oddest places, like the well-manicured soccer fields that are my domain most weekends. It’s a shame the behavior of the parents, coaches, and players who populate these fields aren’t as well-manicured. More often than not, the opposite is true. They are conditioned to dislike me. But that’s precisely why I like this job so much. It’s the reason I’ve learned lessons that will help me in all facets of life. Some are obvious: Teamwork, leadership, nerve, certitude and daring. It taught me the value of hard work, responsibility, grit, and, most of all, standing firm when I’m all alone.

Being a soccer referee is one of the most valuable job experiences I’ve ever had, even if it’s one of the hardest. The reason might be surprising – refereeing is terrifying. The first time I stepped out on the field, I was 14 and I wanted to run away: far, far away from the players and especially the adults. The parents, many of whom are cultured professionals practicing law and medicine, are anything but when they line the sideline. They do not see a kid who happens to be a referee. They see an enemy whose decisions directly affect what they desperately want. Normal rules of culture and society do not apply. More than once, I’ve awakened one Saturday morning, dreading getting up and going. Never mind learning about the mechanics of a sport I love, or having a job that demands fitness and intellect for very little pay. When refereeing, I am under strict scrutiny by over-protective parents, competitive players and coaches, and die-hard fans; I am the object of insult, the center of riots, the scapegoat and whipping boy.

Field 12 is a case study. It was a U13 girls’ game with one team from Maryland and the other from Virginia. The teams had a history; both were top-ranked and serious rivals. Their games were always close and physical. From the start the players were aggressive and as it progressed they grew more and more reckless. Like always, the coaches were desperate to win, and the parents were loud and intense (It’s a joke among refs that parents in the DC area always take full advantage of the First Amendment).

Yet it was wonderful to watch. The skill of the players and the speed of the game were impressive. Unless you’re in the middle of it with a whistle. The score was tied 1-1 most of the game, but when there finally was another goal, the flag went up indicating that the scoring team had gained an unfair advantage by being offside. The goal had to be disallowed, and I had no doubt it was the correct decision. In a rational world, I would be praised for doing my job well under difficult circumstances, but soccer is not rational, even at this early age. I remember wanting the ground to swallow me whole. Parents, who were no doubt respectable and reserved almost anywhere else, were reduced to yelling at a girl one-third their age. Not just yelling, but hurling words with a vehemence and intensity that made even adult refs shake. “You’re an idiot!” said one man in a blue shirt. “Get a rule book!” screamed the Mom in expensive jeans. “You need to be reported. You’re incompetent,” said a heavy-set guy who never got out of his chair.

It took me a while to get comfortable with this environment. But then I began to understand. As the center referee, I am the cop when I’m on the field. I’m responsible for the players’ safety, for keeping the game flowing, for making the right calls, and for watching out for my assistant referees. Ultimately, the parents, players, coaches–even the assistant referees–are helpless without my auspice. I’m not saying it’s gotten easier, but the lessons learned on the pitch – preparation, focus, confidence, and flexibility – will help me in college and throughout life. I would not trade any of it.

You cannot be a referee without confidence and without certainty that your preparation and study give you the authority and standing that will validate you and, more importantly, protect you. I didn’t back down when recalling that goal because I knew I was right, and all their screaming and swearing couldn’t change that.

At the same time, soccer does not define me. It has taught me lessons that apply to life off the field and it complements me. In the same way singing brings out my passion and volunteering shows my willingness to help others, soccer exemplifies my devotion and determination. I love soccer, but it is a window into the larger me, not the total me.

That may be the best lesson of all.

– reprinted with permission of the author, who is a female youth referee in Maryland. This was a college entrance essay.

0 thoughts on “Thoughts of a Youth Referee

  • Mario Scilipoti says:

    Great article. It is even harder because you are a young lady. Do what you love and love what you

  • Dave Clark - Hagerstown says:

    You can work on my team – or let me work on yours – anytime. You have a great attitude

  • Warren Johnson says:

    Well said, I would wish you well in college but I do not believe in luck. Go into college with this same determination and integrity and you will do well.

  • Richard Kap Kaplowitz says:

    This essay should be included in the materials distributed to every new referee student in Maryland referee classes! Whatever path in life this young lady takes I predict she will be a great success.

  • Rebekah Friedrich says:

    Funny enough, I mentioned some similar sentiments in my college admission essay.

    This was very well written. Admissions counselors will eat it up!

  • Law18commonsense says:

    Young lady, very well written & from my heart with 40 years on the pitch, having trained a few National Refs & FIFA. I recall when my youngest son went through his first game & the disrepect that was shown by some parents & coaches. However he has gone on & been to many many great games as has my older son. It gives this “senior ref” joy to know that the torch is being past on to another round of USA refs. Stay on the pitch — A bad day on the pitch is better than a great day in the office.

  • Eloquent. Reason why providing more support for our youth referees is so important, and why all efforts in support of referees by leagues should be applauded.

  • I am 61 years old and was a new ref this past season. And despite that, I felt the same enjoyment and pressure about doing my best as a referee that this mature young woman has described. But my gray hair probably gave me an advantage with those parents, because they seemed more restrained in their criticism…lucky for me. Your best is always good enough. Keep up the good work young lady!

  • As someone who works with person’s with intellectual/physical disabilties, I strive everyday to teach, develop a others and learn myself on being a better person and how anyone can contribute to society. Anything is possible when you try with grit, determination, energy and learn from experience, mistakes , just keep going.

    I really like this story as it speaks volumes of your hard work, commitment to be a strong individual but yet be in the back ground. The best refs are those that are not seen but still give optimal efforts in their work.

    I feel a person has to walk their own path in life to gain knowledge of how to be strong, bold, confident, you seem to have all these things be first hand research.

    Keep doing what you are doing and strive to be a good person.

    (Com’on ref, what kinda call was that?)

  • John Montgomery says:

    Agree with Satyajit, send this out to all coaches and parents. A wonderful piece of work that encapsulates why we do what we do, however old we are. Good luck to you young lady in whatever you choose to do.

  • Jacques Moukouri says:

    This is awesome!
    It is well said, coherent and most of all perfectly sad true. I wish parents and all those adults on the sideline had access to this case study. No doubt going forward, at least few will have a second thought before yelling at a youngster doing such a hard job.
    Keep it up dear colleague

  • Enjoy your journey, it seems you have many gifts and a pure heart. I hope you continue to give back to our beautiful game-minus the ugliness of DC parents.

  • alexandre moreno says:

    I, TO been yelled at. im from brasil. i been a ref for at least fourteen years now. lots of parents like to yell out things that they shouldent. if you believe the call is right. then you call it. you keep doing what is right. everything will come together when you do right. great job young lady. keep doing what you do. we need more people like you on earth. doing the right thing even when no one, agrees with you. thats what makes a good person, a great one. sincerely alexandre moreno. BRASILEIRO

  • Barry Lawrence says:

    Well done. This is truly an inspirational story. Keep up the good work young lady.
    Aussie. Aussie. Aussie. Oi. Oi. Oi

  • Very motivating and very well written. As a soccer mom of 3, coach and has a daughter who refs games. It says alot. Parents should read , coaches should teach, players should know but most of all. Refs should remember they too learn and can make wrong calls or not see what we see. We all should just learn to respect each of the roles we have no matter what part of the field we hold down. thanks for sharing. See you on the fields.

  • Scott Rayburn says:

    GREAT JOB…..Hope your admissions people enjoyed it as much as I did! You should be very proud and continue to do whats right, you are a valuable part of the game that we all care so much about.
    Good Luck

  • Tyler - Virginia Tech says:

    I bet she got in to the college she wanted. 🙂

    Reffing has probably molded most of us into stronger people. Nobody wants to be a quitter, and it doesn’t kill us …

  • Really well written and should be shown to all youth referees. I wish this was written when I was starting out. Best of luck with college admissions!

  • Your essay reminds me that whenever I see officating experience (especially a USSF referee) on the resume of a prospective employee, I know that I am reading about someone who possesses tested conflict management skills. You will
    soon realize that those difficult situations on the field
    apply to managing people off the field. Best wishes.

  • Drema Ballengee-Grunst says:

    Beautifully captured! This should be a parent-signature document in every league – high school ADs should make it a required team and parent read. Great work.

  • Having two daughters who referee, I listen to these sentiments most weekends. I have heard many a comment from my girls on the way home about the actions and attitudes of the parents and coaches.

  • Warren Pfister says:

    So well stated! My 2 sons Alex and Greg joined me to become referees and we have often talked about how refereeing is a key LEADERSHIP development experience in a chaotic, emotionally and physically intense environment. Alex wrote and talked about this in his application and interviews to USMA West Point where he and his 2nd year classmates are taught to be similarly level-headed while leading others in the chaos of future military situations.

  • This is going to really encourage some younger referees to stick with it and inspire the more experienced referees to teach/mentor. Thanks for sharing this!

  • Rajesh Krishnan says:

    A very interesting and well written essay. One insight I have to offer is that I have been a well behaved parent on the sideline after becoming a referee and your essay explains why. All the very best to you in College!

  • This young lady can be proud of her accomplishments and insights into the game of soccer as a center referee. Keep up the spirit and keep making the calls. Thanks for sharing your story.

    Joe Traino

  • Extremely well spoken and true. All of the same feelings I had when I began to referee at a young age. Thanks for representing the best possible attitude for the “bad guys.” I hope young soccer players see this and see an opportunity. You are truly an ambassador of the game. Best of luck in school.

  • Well done. It is great to see that the actions of the so-called adults in this great game have not pushed her away, like it has so many others. I am certain this young lady will be successful in whatever she does with an attitude like this. Thank you.

  • Julio Jimenez says:

    This is a great letter, not only show us a magnificent human being, but an integral one, one that will deserve respect and one that gives it too. The letter points out one big issue for us referees, the way we should act against parents and coaches when insults erupt. As she pointed out in this letter, is with educating on the laws of the game and, as important as learning the rules, CONFIDENCE! This letter has a priceless value for any ref on any sport, BUT is should be like a requirement read document, close to any agreement document, that any parent/coach should check before they register their kids on any sport, so they learn how we feel.
    As an ending statement, I share this passion with you and hope soon we met in a field to work together, you are one person nobody wants to miss out.

  • Well done young lady. I will share this with my teams. As a coach (27 years), referee (25 years), Director of Youth Referees (23 years), I have seen this too many times on the pitch to mention. You have captured and explained the essence of being a referee.

    Thank you!

  • Mandy McCourt says:

    This is so true. I started out as a young ref, about 12 or 13, and now I am 16 reffing U-12 and even futsal. Just like her I get that rush and anxiety right before I step on that field, but as soon as I blow that whistle and time starts, I control the field, I control the game. I want to thank this girl, whoever she is, because it lets me know that I’m not the only one that has had people yelling at her before and calling her wrong. This speaks to any referee out there, and only referees. No one can never know what we go through each and every game.

  • Well done! Being confident goes a LONG way…You are often the only person being rational as you your interest is in a safe/fair game with the fair outcome, while the fans/coaches/players often ONLY care about winning and will do anything to try to get a win, even if it’s de-humanizing the referee and treating you like an enemy on a battle field…thick skin is something you can’t learn in your training and only on the field… Very good article!

  • Andrew Lea-Wilson says:

    Thank you very much for this. I’d love to officiate with you someday.

    Thanks, and very well written.

  • Very insightful and incredibly well written article! She has addressed feelings that, I’m sure, all referees have experienced at one time or another. I’m 65 years old and have been refereeing for 30 years, but I still feel the butterflies and that adrenaline rush every time I walk onto the pitch!

  • That is some great insight. And if it makes you feel any better I have been a cop for 20 years and a referee for 10 and I have been abused way more on the soccer field than I ever experienced in my law enforcement career. I guess the parents all over the nation would do well to take a lesson from hardcore criminals, drug addicts and parolees and learn how to show respect to those who are just “doing their job.” Keep the course you are doing a good thing.

  • Daniel G Kramer says:

    A great essay. I have played coached and refereed because of what the game challenges us all to do – that is to respect the spirit and culture of the laws of the game. That always falls on the ref crew to enforce, and strong refs like the author rise up to the challenge and demonstrate why it is such a quality game. A good ref makes the right calls, and a great ref makes players and coaches and even spectators reflect and improve their disposition over time, (if indeed, they are willing to learn and grow as we all should be). We need all the great refs like the essay author, that is a great essay that covers so much human ground. Congrats. dgk

  • … Very well written! This young lady has a good grasp of the sporting side-career that she’s chosen. Soccer will never reach a high level in the U.S. until parents and spectators – many of whom have never played the game – are taught to respect referees. Knowledge of the Laws of the Game and the intelligent application of those Laws are the most important characteristics that can be shown by a ref. Show respect for the players and the game, and you’ll earn that respect in return. …-Otis

  • Brendan Barry says:

    I would love as a former F.I.F.A referee and now heavily involved in coaching young referees to be able to use this in my educational sector.

    Best of luck for the future in both your refeering and college education.

  • Zach Thompson says:

    Who wrote this? I wonder if I have worked with you before. I am from Pa but i travel to maryland all the time. It is very well written, and I couldnt have said it better myself!

  • Excellent college essay. Having just been through the college application process with my son (also a referee) I can only say I wish I had read this before he wrote his essays. Best of luck to you on the field and in the classroom.

  • Rob Wunderlick says:

    A very inspirational essay that will be required reading for my daughter, who is about to take the entry level course!

  • I will print this out, frame it, and place it in our soccer association’s Coaches and Referee’s training room.

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