Let’s Increase the 60 Percent

By Ann Hicks
State Referee Instructor, State Referee, Referee Assessor, State Referee Committee Area 11 Administrator; Director of Training, Arlington Soccer Referee Association

For the last few weekends at the fields, I‘ve been conducting an informal survey among young referees who have been in the referee program for two years or longer. Their ages range from 14 to 18.

My first question was, "Why do you return? What makes you come back and sign up for another season?" I wanted to know why these kids stay in this incredible program so we can focus on their WHY instead of recognizing that 40 percent will exit after their first year. I want to help North Texas lower the exit number and increase the recertification number of younger referees.

You might think the number-one reason would be money. It wasn’t. Think about it — if it was money, very few would walk away. The first thing these young referees spoke about was the people aspect. Whether it was working with fellow refs, appreciating their assignor, fans or watching soccer players, the number one reason was "people."

“I like the people,” said Arthur, from Arlington.

“My favorite part is my fellow referees, I have so much fun out here, I would do this for free,” said Justin, from Arlington.

“I like the camaraderie with my fellow referee family,” said Jason, from Arlington.

The second most common reason was the rewards that refereeing brings.

“I like the people skills I’m developing," Arthur said.

“I like the challenge of keeping the integrity of the game,” added Jason.

Many of the young referees told me it was a great feeling to know that they did a nice job.

“I like being acknowledged for a job well done,” said Meagan from Arlington.

How do we get them to come back based on this helpful information? We focus on who we pair these kids up with. Notice that one kid said ”my referee family." It’s absolutely critical that we pair them up with seasoned, respected referees who will TEACH them, PROTECT them and get them off to a solid start. Many of us referees have one or more of our own kids in the program. When we work with our own kid, isn’t it natural that we PROTECT them? TEACH them? ENCOURAGE them?

All these young referees said to me that it’s nice knowing that they did a good job. Did they know out of the gate how to do a good job? No, they were taught. Someone invested time into them. Investing time into someone, says, YOU ARE WORTH IT. That makes people feel like they are part of something — part of a family, the referee family.

Assignors, all referees have strengths. Figure out who you can assign the task of ushering in the newest of referees, with the goal being to get them off to a solid start. These individuals you choose must lead by example in the basics of refereeing, and be able to teach and protect these new kids.

Things to keep in mind when inviting referees to take on this role in your association:

Enlist RESPECTED referees. That may be a young veteran of 4-5 years that always does an outstanding job. It might be an incredible GR 8 that is there every weekend. Perhaps you have a State Emeritus Referee that is free to help out. The key is to utilize those that are respected among their fellow referees.

Hand-in-hand with RESPECT is having a SOLID REPUTATION in all areas. They lead by example. From showing up on time, to doing the administrative part of our job correctly, to respecting EVERY game they work and having an excellent attitude. Their reputation is based on actions, not self-promotion. Whoever you chose must know it’s about the new referee, NOT about themselves.

I would suggest you don’t utilize those referees that are still climbing the ladder. These referees have enough demands on their time. Their focus is getting to the next level; let them keep that as their focus. Part of their role, without even knowing, is being an inspiration to others. Many young referees see these peers of theirs move up and they think, "I want to do that." I worked with a young female referee — Deborah, from Arlington — two weeks ago and asked her my survey questions. She gave me several reasons why she comes back but one that stood out: “I want to be a FIFA referee." She’s only 17 and she certainly can reach her goal.

I would also suggest that you NOT utilize any adult referee that disregards their crew members. I don’t believe they do it on purpose; they just haven’t figured out that every game has a crew of three for a reason. I’ve seen some of these adult referees on younger games. Rarely, if ever, do they look at their ARs. They make decisions on their own, never including their AR on their game other than to say, “Who’s on MY field?”

This type of referee will not build camaraderie or give the new referee a sense of accomplishment. Yes, we need all referees, but please don’t pair this referee up with the newest of referees. This type of adult referee, is, unfortunately and unknowingly, disregarding the young referee, saying loud and clear, "I don’t need you." That’s a terrible message to send to our newest and most vulnerable referees.

This feedback is not just for assignors. No matter what role you play in your local soccer association — the assignor, the Director of Referees, being on the board, or being a fellow referee — recognize that these young referees need guidance, lots of praise and help in the very beginning of their referee experience so that they return. I did ask these kids, "Have you been yelled at?" They all said, “Yes,” but they all had more positive experiences than negative. A wonderful mentor, National Referee and Instructor told me years ago, “Take one thing from the bad experience, learn from it, chuck the rest, and focus on all the good experiences.” What solid advice to be passed on to the newest of referees. We can help them turn the negative into a positive and remind them to put the bad into perspective.

Assignors and Directors of Referees, whoever you decide to put in this important, essential role, make sure that they know what the goal is. That goal being: to teach, protect and encourage the newest referee; to build a solid foundation in referee basics; and to help make it rewarding and fun so that they come back. Tap into your referee resources, find those that are willing and able to help strengthen the program by building up our newest referees and have a great season.