Refereeing is one of the most rewarding and challenging jobs an individual can perform.
Essentially, referees are mediators. Multiple parties are constantly vying for their attention and want their needs and demands met. This is a difficult responsibility to uphold but is the basis for a major lesson I have learned as a referee—you can’t please everyone.
Being a referee is not a people-pleasing position. This was a tough lesson to learn. Put simply, people will hate you, at least for the duration of the game and perhaps a few hours afterward.
But this is something you must come to expect; fans, coaches and players will be very disappointed with a few, some or all of the calls you make, depending on their personality, knowledge of the laws of the game and what they had for dinner.
Better still, they will make sure you are acutely aware of their disappointment.
I could not tell you how many insults, expletives and police escorts I have witnessed as a referee—well, thankfully only one police escort. I’ve seen parents verbally assaulting players, referees and even other parents. I have witnessed coaches and players storm the field over calls they disagreed with. Sadly, I’ve had to break up a full team brawl during one game.
I say all this to explain that there is truly a phenomenal occurrence one can expect at many high school sporting gatherings: people seem to lose all composure and decency when it comes to a sporting event. Parents and coaches fight for their kids and their team at all costs; the opponents are always the mortal enemy, and the referees are stuck in the middle.
As a referee and as an observer of this phenomenon, I believe it is imperative we seek to fix this extensive issue. High school sporting events should never be home to verbal or physical assaults, humiliation or public shaming. We must do better as a society and recognize these events for what they are: a place for healthy competition and performance of athletic abilities.
Now, this is only half of the story. Being a referee is not all dark and gloomy.
As a referee, you are witness to incredible competition and athletic skill. Your job is to protect the environment that provides the space for this kind of healthy competition.
This is another major lesson I have learned; my primary responsibility is to uphold the game, the laws and the environment. This cannot be done by focusing on what fans are saying or what coaches are demanding. You must focus on the game. You must focus on the task set before you.
This task becomes easier and easier as you gain more experience and begin to learn the laws of the game inside and out. One of the most rewarding things about being a referee is being able to make a call that you are confident about and can defend your reasoning behind. This is the point where you know you are doing your job well while you take in feedback from fans, coaches, players and fellow referees.
Another rewarding aspect of refereeing is seeing the level of competition witnessed during games.
I treasure countless unforgettable moments watching a goal scored in stoppage time, a swift defensive move or a beautiful attacking play that I had the privilege of witnessing firsthand on the pitch. You cannot beat the viewpoint of a referee.
So, at the next soccer game you find yourself at, remember the referees are people too, just like you, just like me.
Refereeing is a challenging yet rewarding experience. You cannot take things personally and must focus on the task before you. If you can do this, I promise an experience of a lifetime.