By Randy Vogt
Special to FrontRowSoccer.com
Dear soccer coaches and parents,
I’ve been the public relations director of the Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association for the past dozen years but that pales in comparison to being a referee for the past 45 years since taking up the whistle as a teenager in 1978. Additionally, I volunteer as a member of US Youth Soccer’s Referee Recruitment, Retention and Development Committee and authored a book, Preventive Officiating, to help guide youth soccer refs.
The players eventually returned after the pandemic but many of our refs did not, causing referee shortages in both Eastern New York and thoughout the United States. This referee shortage is far worse than anything that I experienced in my 45 years of officiating. It has eased in some areas of ENYYSA due to various reasons, including more referee certification classes and publicity surrounding referee recruitment. At our peak in 2014, Eastern New York had over 4,000 registered refs and we have approximately 3,000 today.
We lose more than half our referees in their first two years of officiating with the number one reason being verbal abuse by the so-called “adults” in youth soccer, coaches and parents. So the next time that you yell at a ref, you could be contributing to our referee shortage.
Please think about the following:
• Refs pay for our uniforms. There are five color shirts used by US Soccer (yellow, black, red, blue and green) and when you consider short- and long-sleeve, shorts, socks, sweatsuits and shoes, the cost of a complete uniform is approximately $1,000.
• Referees pay hundreds of dollars in annual dues to U.S. Soccer and their local referee association
• Refs attend monthly referee meetings given by their local association.
• Referees must pass an annual rules recertification test to continue to ref, as well as watch safety videos and pass a Safe Sport test and background check every two years.
• With our ref shortage, many referees have worked overtime so your children could have a ref at their game. This past winter, twice I refereed 11 hours in one day. Many of my colleagues have done the same indoors and outdoors. It is not much fun to ref all day on weekends and subsist on nuts and bananas, as there is not time to sit down and have an actual meal, especially after working from Monday to Friday but games must be covered so your kids have a ref.
The referee that you are yelling at could be on his or her fifth game that day. So this spring season, instead of yelling at the ref, thank him or her instead. Our ref shortage would end if all adults did that. And our soccer fields would be a much, much better place if the only chirping this spring came from the birds in the trees or flying overhead.