I remember the referee well. Every soccer foul he called, he stopped the player and told him what the infraction was and explained why he was making his call.
Each whistle came with a mini lesson. The game proceeded well. It didn’t become a lengthy, overly drawn-out match. The kids played well, the sportsmanship was good, and the game was enjoyable.
I remember this so well because it happened once this season. Once in a season of every-Saturday soccer and two tournaments. One time I saw referee really make the effort to remember that he was working with kids.
To be fair, I’m sure there are other patient referees out there. Likewise not every call needs to be explained — sometime it’s obvious that a foot or an elbow went where it wasn’t supposed to.
But more often than not this fall, I watched referees engage in a back and forth with parents and use the power of their positions unfairly. Frankly I’m disheartened.
I know that parents can be a pain in the neck. I remember a back-to-school-night at my son’s school when my peers peppered the teacher with so many ridiculous questions and comments that I thanked her at the end of the night on their behalf.
I mean it was only the second week of school, for crying out loud.
And I’m an educator myself and I can tell you that about 75 percent of the problems that I deal with in my day-to-day teaching endeavors are caused by parents.
I totally get what refs are up against.
What I don’t understand is how they choose to handle this.
Here’s how it played out at a Fallston Cup match this weekend: A referee carded one of our players for running too close to the goalie as he was getting ready to punt. The ref called it goalie interference and pulled out the yellow.
One of our fans yelled. He was right, the call was wrong — the kid wasn’t interfering. But the parent shouldn’t have yelled – on that I will agree as well. Then the referee made another call against our team. Parents grumbled again. And then it happened again. Parents still grumbled.
Back and forth – bad call, complaint, bad call, complaint — until soon every call but one was against our team. When players from the other team shoved our guys, these fouls weren’t called. Our players were tripped. Not called.
At one point, an opposing player put his arm around one of our player’s necks, but no foul was called. We ended the game with three yellow cards and a penalty kick taken against us. But my son, the goalie, was kicked in the face. No call.
In short, the game escalated into a situation of immaturity that no veteran teacher would allow himself to get into — the power struggle. But when a referee objects to the objections of a parent, he can take it out on the kids. The worse thing a parent can do at that point is cry foul.
I hate this.
Last year a parent objected when I used Twilight-themed curriculum to teach SAT vocabulary words. She didn’t understand why vampires had to be discussed in a classroom of preteen girls.
Yes, you read that right.
But now imagine if I went into my classroom and failed her child.
What I have watched referees do this fall is the equivalent of that. Like teachers, they certainly must have been schooled on the various aspects of their jobs. They should know how to deal with children and to be able to explain clearly their calls, and they should know how to deal with parents.
Because to be a referee is a job – two referees split $40 for 50 minutes of work.
For us, these bad games become a life lesson: Parents remind their players that not every game is going to be won, not every play is going to be called in their favor, that sometimes referees miss things, but that good sportsmanship means you keep playing and you keep giving it your best.
But I am so tired of having these talks with my son this fall. And I’m tired of referees who have forgotten that it’s not about them or the parents – it’s about the kids.