At the start of every season, thousands of players & their families look forward to having fun at the fields. Youth referees also look forward to the beginning of the season, and what it holds, but many have a degree of anxiety already forming. Coaches are focused on the ‘challenge’ for what the season may have in store for their team.
All of these perceptions are intertwined and will have an impact on how the season goes for all parties.
The main culprit that affects all is the atmosphere that exists at the fields, when the games are being played. Is the atmosphere conducive to having fun, and encouraging to both players and referees, or is it corrosive, affecting both the play of the players and the performance of the referees?
History has shown that the corrosive atmosphere of coaches & parents at games, badgering the referees/opposing players/coaches/other parents, is detrimental to the game. It can cause depression in players/negative actions on the field towards opponents/referees, and affect their ‘fun’ aspect of the game. Both referees and players have elected to stop being involved, due to the increasingly negative ‘vibes’ that have existed at some games. For referees who do stay, their performance may be negatively affected, as they may effectively feel ‘cornered’. Players may play lacklusterly, as the game is beginning to not be ‘fun’ anymore.
Leagues cannot basically sit on their laurels to combat this issue. They must aggressively handle the issue. In pre-season meetings with coaches, they must make it absolutely clear to the coaches that negative behavior toward youth referees will not be tolerated, in any degree. Leagues must have also established a communications/point of contact mechanism for coaches. If a coach has an issue, they would use this mechanism to vocalize a perceived issue at the fields, rather than ‘going off’ on a referee/opposing coach, at the field. The mechanism must provide immediate feedback to a coach, which will prevent the issue from festering, or the coach believing that they are not being listened to.
Leagues must attempt to ensure that they have league board members, at the fields during games, or assigned ‘field marshals’, to handle issues that a coach/parent may have. These parties must be thoroughly familiar with the soccer rules of play, and may benefit from having taken a referee class (this would give them an inside view of how the soccer laws are handled, and what it takes to enforce them). To be effective at the fields, these parties need to be roving the fields, and in some manner be ‘visible’. If there are multiple parties at the field, they should not all be sitting together in some spot, just chatting with each other. This does not serve the practical purpose of over-sight at the field, and attempting to head off small fires, before they turn into a conflagration.
Soccer parents must be informed of the leagues position on negative field behavior of parents and coaches, and as to why it is important to maintain a positive atmosphere at games. Parents should be presented with educational materials, which can be done in a variety of ways:
A flier handed out to each registering party, at registrations.
An email sent to parties that register their player on-line
A ‘welcome to our league’ document, sent to all registered parties, at close of registration. This would inform
the parents of what the league expects from them, what they can expect from the league, and what the
season will be like for their player.
The information in all of the above should talk about how parents influence the game playing experience, and what negative atmospheres do to the players, and to the referees. Included in this should be how the league will handle any negative atmosphere issues created by a parents at the league fields. It should be made clear that any party that appears to be a disruptive influence at games, may face being barred from participating in league activities.
In summary, educating all parties as to what negative field mannerisms due to the game of soccer, informing them of the penalties of such action, and providing educational material showing what the negative behavior does to the game atmosphere/attitude of players & referees, and the willingness to continue in the sport, for all, is a step toward keeping the game ‘fun’.
All parties that attend the soccer games look forward to having ‘fun’, and enjoying their day at the fields. All parties have the right to expect this to happen. The leagues have to actively pursue policies/procedures/educational means, to ensure that this happens. It will not happen if the league adopts a ‘passive’ position, and just ‘reacts’ to occurrences.
Dissent at the fields, with coaches & parents yelling at referees, parents of one team going at it with parents of another team, or parents yelling at players of opposing teams, is a going problem. Unfortunately, in some scenarios, it leads to physical interactions.