Why Are Some Soccer Parents
As a soccer referee for 17 years, I have officiated games at all age levels. In the last two years, I have watched the sideline behavior deteriorate to ugly, with countless episodes of fans being hateful, frustrated, angry and losing self-control. Every weekend, someone is being ejected from a field somewhere.
Most parents realize one team will lose, while the other will win, and many parents understand it's just a game. Unfortunately, it's the angry fans that are the most vocal. They inject their ugly into the match.
Why are they so mean-spirited, hateful and critical?
All their hatred, frustration and profanity are directed at the officials. It doesn't matter whether the referee is young and new, or seasoned with experience.
Recent games had one mother shouting angrily to the referee, "You should be ashamed of yourself." In another match, a fan called the assistant referee a "----ing moron" because the fan thought he missed an offside call. During an Under-8 game, both coaches were ejected for displaying a hand (or rather a finger) gesture to the referee. All this while our youths watched.
Many of our refs are ages 14 to 20. They sign up for the entry-level class with optimism and enthusiasm. They are eager to start, nervous and scared but willing to push through their apprehension to give it a go. Unfortunately, too many bow out before they finish a season. Fans expect perfection, and if the referee misses a call, too many are quick to criticize. It's disturbing how adult fans can be so obnoxious and rude to our young referees.
I think the comments are often cruel, attacking and hateful because the fans bring their personal frustrations to the game. Foreclosure, divorce, unemployment, mounting debt — all that comes with them to the sidelines. When the referees miss a call, it's just one more wrong heaped onto them. For some, it's the last straw.
For a parent to relentlessly insult and barrage the referee with belittling comments, something else must be going on in his or her life to bring out such hostility.
More and more often, parents are being told to go home early. Some realize they have stepped over the line and sheepishly leave. Some exit with quite the show, going on and on with cussing and hand gestures. Again, all of this happening in front of the kids.
How do we bring respect back to the game?
First, fans need to remember that refs are human. We make mistakes during a match. We are required to make hundreds of split-second decisions in a game. Generally, 50 percent will like the call, 50 percent won't. Try not to ruminate over a "missed" call for the duration of the match. Remember that the view from the 50-yard line is different than that of referees closer to play.
Make sure your comments aren't disparaging toward the referee or others. If you continue to hurl insults at the referee, many are not equipped to handle the extra sideline behavior. They can't referee and tune you out. Some never recover from the relentless verbal assault on their abilities, and as a result, the game isn't fun for anyone.
Last, remember — it's just one game of many. Pull up a chair, sit down, smile and praise the player you came to see. Enjoy the moment.
Referees are imperfect, but we all share the goal of player safety. We are not equipped to heal a nation, but to simply manage a soccer game.
Ann Hicks of Arlington is a member of the 2012 Star-Telegram Community Columnist Panel.