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Two years ago my soccer association joined the many other cities that offer competitive soccer. We started with two competitive teams and this year we are up to five teams. Obviously creating competitive teams is moving towards the right direction for a club as those teams train two to three times a week on top of their weekly game – from a player development standpoint this is ideal.

Unfortunately all those efforts that players are putting off the field, come game day, sometimes gets absolutely ruined by the atmosphere created by the coaches as well as the parents on the sidelines. It’s ironic because those same individuals are doing the necessary sacrifices for their kids and players to become better players and yet, on the most important day, they are able to turn the attention around from the game itself to themselves and to the referee.

According to my general observation, every parent and coach happens to be a certified referee. Everyone knows when to exclaim “Handball Ref!” and as soon as a player of their team makes contact with the ground, the game should be immediately stopped and a foul should be given right away (also known as the “Hey ref! He pushed him! That’s a foul!”). Parents and coaches are also throw-in experts and despite the two assistant referees that are constantly aligned with the before last defender to call any offsides, they are able to make precise judgement calls from the stands and from the sideline.

Obviously I’m just pulling your leg. The reality is that parents and coaches are fully aware of the rules of soccer. However what they most likely don’t know are the technicalities of the rules that referees have been taught to apply as the game goes on. Not EVERY ball that makes contact with a player’s hand is a handball. Not every throw-in without a perfect form is necessarily illegal. Not all contacts between players fighting for the ball should result in a foul, and a player who is offside but who is not involved in the play, well, he’s NOTconsidered offside and there is no point in yelling “Hey Ref! He’s offside!” – he’s in an offside position which is actually completely legal.

Where I’m trying to get at is the following: 3 out of the last 4 cities that came to play against our club team at home put on a show on the sidelines, as much the parents as the coaches. Last week, the verbal abuse towards one of my referee during and after the game was absolutely deplorable. Things such as “Congratulations Ref! You’re the worst referee we’ve ever seen! “, “Hey! Are you sure you’re actually a referee? ” and “You should find another job because you can’t referee for %#? Ref! “. All this, in front of 9 year old kids…

I’ve been around long enough to know that there is a psychology behind referee abuse and I call it the “Domino Effect“. There are two types of “domino effect“. The first one starts with the coach contesting multiple calls that the referee makes. This in turn gives the go-ahead for parents to join in and start contesting with and without the coach. The second type of “domino effect” starts with the parents themselves. Once a single parent starts making remarks and contesting the referee’s calls, other parents start to naturally join him. The thing is, once this effect starts, it will continue throughout the entire game. As soon as a referee will start to get criticized, I can guarantee you that no one will come to him at the end of the game and say: “Good game referee“.

Anyone can disagree with a call on the field. In that particular game I spoke about earlier, I was supervising my referee and he did indeed miss many calls and wrongfully called quite a few. The interesting thing is, he refereed a very good first half. During that first half the parents and coaches kept to themselves and barely any comments were directed towards him. During the second half however, the game’s intensity picked up and that’s when things started to degenerate on all sides. Absolutely every single call was contested – not only by the away team but by the home team as well! This put my referee is a very difficult position because he knew that anything he would blow the whistle on or even give a throw-in to, he was going to get yelled at from 360 degrees.

Here is what needs to be understood by anyone watching or coaching: you are not doing your team absolutely any favours by contesting calls and verbally abusing the referee. Despite the quality of the refereeing, anything besides encouraging your kid and his team is incredibly detrimental to them. Instead of “C’mon Ref! That’s not a foul!“, how about “It’s ok Johnny! Apologize and everyone get back on defence and make a wall!”. Respect is always preached but that somehow seems to go out the window as soon as people’s emotions get the better of them. Remember this: once the whistle is blown and a call is made, there isn’t any amount of contesting, swearing or condescending remarks that will overturn the call. It’s much more productive to remind the players to pick up a player on defence than it is to argue a call that will not change whatsoever.

I personally respect a coach and even a parent who comes up to me at half-time or after a game and asks me about a specific call that I made in a game. I have absolutely no problem answering and justifying my decision to them even if I have no obligation to. I would even suggest that to any coach who feels some calls were wrongfully made, to go see the referee at the half and speak to them. I promise you that this will have a much greater impact on the second half of the game than simply letting the emotions get the better of you. Coaches should also expect the same level of respect from parents and parents the same of the coaches. Children are influenced very easily and as someone who has been doing this for a very long time, your team, your players and your kids will benefit from

showing respect, even when we disagree with someone.

So to answer the question to the title of this article, how many coaches and parents does it take to referee a game? It takes absolutely everyone’s cooperation and respect to referee a game.

Thank you so much for your time and for giving this a thought or two.

Mike Zarmati

Montreal Soccer Coach

(514) 966-3943

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