Sports is Life
with the Volume Turned Up

I can't take credit for this phrase. As I recall, I first heard it through my association with the Positive Coaching Alliance, PCA. PCA is a national non-profit based at Stanford University in California, but has chapters in five cities, including Dallas and Houston. US Youth Soccer is a partner with PCA. Such soccer notables as Brandi Chastain, Julie Foudy, Joy Fawcett, Alexi Lalas, and Claudio Reyna are National Advisory Board Members.

So, you may rightly ask, "What does that have to do with Referee instruction?" I found that many of the tools and discussion on the PCA website relate directly to the practicing soccer referee. PCA offers an Officials Online Course — short title, "Honoring the Game." The focus is the Official's Role in Creating a Positive Youth Sports Culture, reflecting the "best practices" of elite officials across all sports.

You may be aware that U.S. referee and FIFA instructor, Esse Baharmast, was recently honored as the first soccer official to receive the coveted "Gold Whistle Award" from the National Association of Sports Officials. Talk about "life with the volume turned up." You'll recall that Esse, the only U.S. referee at the 1998 World Cup, endured 36 hours of second-guessing, hostile ridicule, and even death threats for a penalty kick call made against Brazil which decided the outcome in Norway's favor. Nowhere is there a more positive example to soccer referees of the moral courage and integrity demanded by the game than in Esse's experience. His vindication for making a courageous and correct penalty kick decision was fortunately captured for the world to finally see by a Swedish camera crew.

Can we follow this example as soccer referees in our local Associations, when the volume gets turned up? Or, when your skills as a referee, or even your integrity, may be questioned? Are you able to stay focused on your mission to provide a safe/fair/fun experience for all the participants? Can you take the heat for denying entry to a player with taped-over earrings when pressured by the coach, parent, league dorector and/or "the last referee?"

Unfortunately, I see far too many unfocused, even seemingly bored referees, and I fail to understand why. Soccer is a game of more continuous action than most others (hockey and lacrosse may come close). A recent editorial by George Will suggested that we have become accustomed to constant visual and audio stimulation through our cell phones, computers, and video games, what he calls the "chaos of constant connection." Not being a psychologist, I have no idea if this is the cause. I do know that a sense of boredom reflected in a referee's or assistant's performance does great disservice to the game.

Every match you do is important to the players involved. If your performance doesn't reflect that feeling, please re-examine how you "Honor the Game."

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