We see and hear it every single weekend on the youth soccer fields: "Come on, ref!" "What are you doing?!" "Are you blind?!" "Call it both ways!" (The last one is my favorite, since it makes no sense at all - referees are not obligated to make an even number of calls for both teams – if only one team commits fouls, then only that team should get called for them).
All of this yelling and complaining at referees is hurting the development of our kids. More than we realize.
Part of the problem is that we see people do it on television, or it gets glorified in movies. We think it's part of our jobs as coaches and parents to give the referee a hard time. Sometimes, at the highest level, there is an appropriate time to hold referees accountable. But Saturday afternoons at the local U12 league is not the highest level. Our most important job at the youth level is not to win or replicate what we see the professional coaches do. Our job is to provide a positive experience and develop young kids.
Unfortunately, however, we often find ourselves complaining to referees almost every game, and it directly affects our kids in a most negative way. Here are four ways yelling at referees hurts our kids:
1. They learn that mistakes are not okay
More often than not, the referees are also kids – they're just a little bit older than the ones playing. They are – just like the players – there to learn and grow. They are going to make mistakes. If we complain or yell at the referee every time he or she makes a poor call, we teach our children that making mistakes is not okay. Our kids learn to be afraid to fail, and likely end up not trying at all to avoid messing up. The young referee will likely quit, and the children playing will see the actions of their parents and coaches, then be afraid to try something new as players out of fear of "blowing the game." This lesson, of course, extends to the rest of our children's lives, and they will learn to be afraid of taking chances in all endeavors.
2. They learn to make excuses
Blaming the referee is an excuse. Our teams are going to get bad results sometimes. And seldom, a draw may very well turn into a loss because of a misjudged call from a referee. However, we can only control our own efforts, actions, and responses. If we complain about and blame the referee, our kids will begin to blame their poor results and performances on the referee. They make an excuse for why they were not successful. If we want to develop resilient and mentally strong children, we need to teach them to take responsibility for their actions. Instead of blaming the official, we ought to score so many more goals than the opponent that a wrongly-awarded penalty kick has no effect on the result. Or better yet, we should fix the mistakes that caused the ball to enter the penalty area in the first place – dominate play to an extent that the ball never escapes our attacking half. Surely, these are very difficult to do. But we need to teach our kids to not blame others for their results and learn to overcome any obstacles that enter their path. Otherwise, our children will be blaming others for anything and everything that goes wrong in their lives, and they will never be as successful as they otherwise could be.
3. They learn to give up when facing adversity
Bad calls by referees are inevitable, and there is nothing we can do to change that. Our kids need to learn to realize this. We cannot control the referee's actions. However, we can control how we respond to situations. Our players need to learn how to press on when given a difficult situation and do everything in their power (such as their effort, actions, and attitudes) to overcome it. If we simply complain to the referee and get stuck on yelling at him/her, we do not focus on controlling ourselves in a positive, productive way. Our kids will get stuck on complaining or worrying about the bad situation rather than focusing on how they are going to succeed despite the circumstances. Life is going to give our kids a number of difficult scenarios. If we don't teach them how to brush off what they can't control and focus on how they can overcome adversity, our kids will forever struggle in life.
4. They learn to disrespect authority
This is one of the most ironic situations when it comes to adults complaining to referees. We often complain about kids having no respect and a disregard for authority. However, as soon as the referee – the person in charge of a match – makes a poor call, we complain and yell. How do we expect our kids to learn to respect authority if we don't show that very same respect ourselves? As parents and coaches, we are undermining our own authority by teaching kids to be disrespectful.
As always, it is important to realize how our actions affect our children, and how the way we approach the youth soccer experience affects the lessons our children learn. Whether we realize it or not, like it or not, how we act and what we teach our children through sport affects them in all areas of their lives. Our interactions with referees is no different.
Is there ever an appropriate time to hold the referee accountable? Certainly. But there is a productive, positive way to do it, and there is a negative, destructive way. Instead of yelling or complaining, the coach (not the parents!) should calmly speak to the ref at half time or off to the side. This teaches our kids how to handle situations in a civil, professional manner.
Furthermore, we must keep perspective about what is an appropriate time to question the referee. In youth soccer, it is important to remember that no one is intentionally trying to make bad calls or make the game one-sided. Believe me, referees have more important things to worry about than fixing the result of a local youth match. Rather than being fixated on the judgement of calls, our biggest concern should be about the effort and interest of referees. Most of them do care. However, we occasionally come across a referee or two who are only there for the "easy money" that comes from it. This is what we should be most upset about, not poor calls. And again, we should approach such situation in a calm, professional manner in order to set a good example for our kids. And by holding referees accountable for this, our kids will learn how much we care and how important it is to take their jobs seriously.