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Do you see what I see? The challenges of young referees

(AP Photo/Bob Edme)

At a recent general membership meeting of the Miami Valley Youth Soccer Association (MVYSA), area select soccer coaches gathered to hear the latest updates from the league and finalize the divisions where there teams will compete this coming spring season.  Dan Cullin, a representative of the Dayton Area Soccer Officials Association (DASOA) was on hand to speak to the coaches about the relationship between referees, coaches and fans.  A particular emphasis was placed on the plight of first year referees.

As any parent of a select soccer player can probably tell you, there are often times when parents are asked to help officiate by serving as line judges during a match.  This often results from lack of qualified referees available to officiate.  One of the major challenges is referee retention.  Just go to any match, pick a random day of your choice, and observe the sideline behavior of the fans - and some coaches.  It doesn't take long to understand why, as Mr. Cullin states, "25 - 50% of referees don't come back after their first year."  During many games, the problem of fans being antagonistic toward the referee becomes so bad that the referee is forced to stop play and ask the coach to address the situation.  Responsibility for the fans behavior resides with the coaches.  They are expected to handle the situation so that the match may resume under more peaceful conditions. Part of the challenge here is that coaches and fans must realize that "we are on the same side" says Mr. Cullin.  "We are there for the kids." 

The area of officiating that seems to come under the most scrutiny is in the calling of fouls.  Often there are fans, and coaches, who consistently feel that the referee doesn't call the game both ways, that they tend to favor one side or the other.  And, as you can probably guess, it's usually the other team that is favored!  Mr. Cullin explains that one of the reasons for this is that a lot of people don't understand that there are four types of fouls:

  • The one's you see and referee sees
  • The one's you see and the referee doesn't see
  • The one's the referee sees and you don't see
  • The one's neither you or the referee see

 This is a particular challenge for first year referees.  Just like anyone starting a new endeavor, expertise comes with experience and education.  The process of developing quality officials; and, for that matter, players and coaches alike requires time.  There are going to be successes and failures. The key is in learning from the failures to become a better official.  Just like our young players first handling the ball, if we scream and harass them they will lose interest.  Yes, the officials are being paid, but honestly not enough to deal with that.  So, they choose to do something else and the situation never improves.

Here's how you can help.

Be patient.  Mistakes are going to be made.  Some calls will be made and others missed.  Get over it, you just missed a play on the field while you were yelling at the ref.

Be courteous.  When mistakes are made, either chalk it up to learning or find an appropriate time to respectfully ask the referee to clarify the call. 

Follow the Process.  When there are legitimate concerns about officiating (perhaps a referee allows a match to get too physical or speaks inappropriately to a player or spectator) there is a formal process that the coach can follow to file a complaint.

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em!  Be proactive and get involved.  Take the entry level officials course and be part of the game.  You can learn more about the game, serve the community and make a little cha-ching on the side!

The entry level referee course is being offered from 6:00pm - 9:00pm on February 16, 23 and March 2 at the Huber Heights Athletic Foundation located at 5367 Fishburg Road.  The cost is $60 and includes licensing, instructional materials, referee uniform and equipment.  For more information, check out the Ohio South State Referee Committee website at or e-mail Ed Shoemaker at .

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