Although the 1980’s were memorable for many reasons, the crazy hair is probably one of the most prevalent. Big hair was all the rage at the time. Many of the 80’s rock bands invested a lot of time and money on their hair. Image was almost more important than the music. I’ve even heard interviews with bands who tried to gain information on the hair products of more successful bands in order to copy their formula. It’s a silly image isn’t it? Grown men hanging their hopes of musical success on the type of hairspray that they use. There is a disconnect that should have been obvious to all involved but sometimes people are too close to the situation to see their own ridiculousness.
A similar phenomena is rampant in the soccer world and a good hard look in the mirror is more than overdue. Each and every week, millions of kids and adults practice their skills of passing, dribbling, heading and shooting. Coaches spend hours trying to help these players improve their skills and coalesce the group’s talents into tactics. Meticulous care is given to all facets of the game including set plays on both the offensive and defensive side. After hours of preparation, game day finally arrives. The first whistle blows and that training seems to take a backseat. It’s overshadowed by telling the one person not displaying any soccer skill about how badly he or she is doing. The referee takes center stage in a contest that should be focused on the soccer skills of the players. Much like the hairspray obsessed rock bands, the coaches, players and fans have taken something that should be incidental and made it THE big deal.
Having been a high school and youth coach for years, I’ve seen the lower level of refereeing on display. While frustrating at times, the arbiter of the game should not overshadow all of the preparation that has been done. Here are some suggestions that I have to put refereeing in its proper context.
- Audit yourself – If more than 25% of the things that you say are directed at the referee, then you’re focused on the wrong thing. Your players need guidance, your teammates need information, your children need encouragement. The referee does not need more reminding that you have disagreed with all of his calls.
- Walk a mile – Not literally but figuratively. Get certified and start refereeing some low level games. Or referee a scrimmage between two teams that you’re not associated with. Either way the experience will change how you view the job.
- Try a new strategy – Rather than berating the next referee that you encounter, try something new. If you’re a player, in a calm voice during a stoppage, ask him or her to watch for something that has been happening regularly. “Sir, could you keep an eye out for #15 fouling after the play. Thanks!” If you’re a coach, ask the referee to remember a particular foul or incident for discussion later. If you’re a fan, concentrate on the play of your team. This is what your team has worked for, see their play. Otherwise it’s like going to an opera but spending all of your time focused on the conductor’s outfit. He’s supposed to be invisible.
- Recognize the long term – Donuts in small quantities are not by themselves dangerous. If they are a small part of an otherwise balanced diet, the occasional treat is not harmful. However constant abuse can be destructive. The same is true for our refereeing situation. The constant abuse of referees has led to a shortage that eventually could cripple the game. That position has to be held by a human. Who would sign up for the pervasive abuse that referees receive?
So as you prepare for this weekend’s contest, make a decision to focus on the game rather than the official. After over 35 years of playing and coaching there are exactly two things that I’m sure of: 1. All referees make mistakes. 2. They don’t get better or change their calls because you tell them that they suck. For the love of the game, let’s all try to do better out there. The hair bands can look back and be amused. Let’s not all look back and be ashamed.
It’s a bit older now but still a good message from the English FA.