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Want better referees? Stop the abuse.

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Wherein I ramble about officiating.

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Sporting KC Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

I’d like to talk about officiating again.

My daughters dislike soccer; I know, I cry sometimes, too. Thanks for the empathy. To wit, I’ve been watching my former students ply their awesomeness at the Grantsville High School home matches. I could gush about Whitney and Alyssa and Myranda, but that’s not the point here.

There’s one dude who comes to these matches and harps on the referees the entire time. “You’re literally the worst referee ever” being one of his favorite insults to throw at a particular official. It’s classless and, truly, baseless. It’s homerism to the point that he’s blind to what’s happening on the pitch. It also offends me as a language arts teacher because he’s certainly not “literally the worst.” This spectator is not the only offender.

Now bear with me. I know I’m taking the long route here, but it’ll make sense in the end.

I’m a teacher. Right now, there’s a serious teacher shortage across the entire country. I was talking to the human resources guy for Tooele County School District, and he told me that recruiting new teachers is becoming cutthroat. There just aren’t enough people to fill the vacancies. Enrollment in teaching courses in colleges, he said, is down 60%! And that’s just enrollments, not graduations. My previous principal in Granite School District used to go to two-day job fairs to recruit from the 150 attending college seniors each day. Those job fairs are now down to one day, full of recruiters from multiple states, and only about fifty or so candidates show up.

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Houston Dynamo Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Why? Because the past fifteen years have seen teachers vilified. We’ll keep this politics lite so I’m not going to delve too deeply into this, but the truth is that students have spent the last fifteen years seeing how teachers are treated and they’re saying “I want nothing to do with that. I can make more money and be treated better in another profession!” This means the teaching profession is losing out to other careers. Not only is there a dearth of teachers, but some of the best teaching candidates are choosing other professions. About half of all teachers leave the profession within the first five years.

What does this have to do with refereeing? It’s the exact same situation. Referees of youth matches are learning and developing as much as the players. Treat them like garbage and they’re going to leave. Harp on them. Scream at them. Call them names. You’re going to lose talent. They need time to make mistakes and learn just like everyone else. Not at the expense of player safety, of course, but leave those complaints to the coaches. Cheer for your team, be positive, and leave the negativity behind. It’s noxious. I’ve seen many fine teachers leave because of abuse.

MLS: Real Salt Lake at San Jose Earthquakes Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Do we have the greatest referees in MLS? Of course not. Ask anyone who watches any sport in any league and they’ll complain about their referees. It’s part of sport. At the top echelons, referees need to be held accountable.

When we look at the matches where Petke has lost his mind about the officiating, he’s not just complaining. He focuses on specific issues that he feels need to be addressed to improve the team-coach-player-referee relationship. He asks for accountability. The opportunity to ask questions. It’s not just “you suck!” It’s constructive.

MLS: Toronto FC at Real Salt Lake Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

My argument is simple. If we’re to develop the best officials, we need to stop abusing them and chasing them away. At every level. At your kid’s game? Stop harping on the referee. Watching a Monarchs match? Don’t throw abuse. Demand accountability, but take your blinders off. Stop being a homer. Guess what. Our teams commit fouls, too! They’re often fair. Officials are out there doing their best. No referee (except maybe Allen Chapman) shows up wanting to harm a particular team (and I honestly believe MLS and PRO need a rule precluding referees from a team’s region from officiating their matches).

Go to any RSL match and that fan will be in the stands somewhere behind you. They’ll shout abuse about every call that goes against us. The referees can do nothing right. It’s obnoxious homerism and it displays a lack of soccer IQ. I find myself embarrassed for them and their lack of class.

Apart from an argument against homerism and abusive actions, I would like to propose ways to impact the situation.

  1. Write to PRO. They have contact information on their website. Write a letter. Be constructive, provide evidence, and don’t sound crazy. Contact them when something good happens, too. Don’t just complain.
  2. Take the time to walk onto the pitch and tell the referees they did a good job. Not at RSL matches, of course; that’ll get you banned from the RioT. But at your kid’s game? At a high school match? Let them know you appreciate it. Apologize if you were a jerk. That goes a long way.
  3. Send referee concerns through the right channels. Don’t just bark at the referee from the sidelines. If there’s a serious grievance, talk to your kid’s coach and let the coach push it along.
  4. Boo like crazy when warranted! There’s nothing abusive about booing your displeasure. I’ve seen it affect referee calls on the field. It’s immediate feedback. Boo. Hiss. Bounce. But don’t make it personal!
  5. Acknowledge when a call is fair, even if it goes against us.
  6. Become a referee! You can do better? Prove it.