We’ve all been there, but let me paint the scene. Youth soccer game, tight scoreline, two teams that are pretty evenly matched. Neither team can really take hold of the game, and as a result every call the referee makes is under the microscope – well, at least with one coach.
This coach questioned every. single. call. He compared calls; he complained about calls that were 90 yards away (while the ref was within 10); he contested every decision when the ball went out of bounds; he requested private conversations with the referee. In short, he was an utter nuisance and a blight on the game. His only success was to drastically interrupt the flow of the game for the kids. His complaints far outnumbered any tactical/technical instructions to his players, and the referee issued several warnings to him.
As the game went on, the parents on his team followed the lead of the coach and mimicked his behavior. They grew louder, and became more and more contemptuous of the officials. Inevitably, a few parents on the other team felt the need to comment, and the ugliness grew.
In the second half, the coach grew ever more antagonistic. Ultimately (finally), the ref threw him out.
Now, did the ref have a perfect game? No – but who in sport does? Coaches? Um, no. Players? They obviously make mistakes. So maybe the ref did miss a few calls (like every ref at every level) – but none decided the game. All in all, he actually did pretty well, particularly given the environment. We’ve all seen poorly officiated games, but the idea that a referee in a youth soccer game is intentionally favoring one team over another is so completely ridiculous that I have no response for it.
Meanwhile, on the field…the kids were just trying to play a game (remember – the reason everyone is there in the first place?). Despite the craziness on the touchlines, on the field there was an obvious respect among the players. While it was a competitive, hard fought game, opponents helped each other up after falls, complimented each other, accepted the referee’s decisions, and shook hands afterwards. Parents were going crazy, and the kids just played the game. The kids played – and knew enough to respect each other, the ref, and the game itself. Kids mimic adult behavior; it would have been better on this day if the adults copied the kids!
So next time you’re watching a game, consider – whatever level your child is playing, I’m pretty sure the game you’re watching isn’t going to decide the World Cup. Take a step back and remember that sometimes, it’s the grownups who need to learn from the kids.