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.
If a party takes physical action against a sports official in California, they are breaking a state law, in the 'Penal Code of California'. This Penal Code law states:
California Penal Code Section 243.8
CA Penal Code § 243.8 (2017)
(a) When a battery is committed against a sports official immediately prior to, during, or immediately following an interscholastic, intercollegiate, or any other organized amateur or professional athletic contest in which the sports official is participating, and the person who commits the offense knows or reasonably should know that the victim is engaged in the performance of his or her duties, the offense shall be punishable by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars ($2,000), or by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment.
(b) For purposes of this section, “sports official” means any individual who serves as a referee, umpire, linesman, or who serves in a similar capacity but may be known by a different title or name and is duly registered by, or a member of, a local, state, regional, or national organization engaged in part in providing education and training to sports officials.
Many other states have laws like the above, for the protection of sports officials.
There is another item that can be used, but which is more controversial. For disciplinary action taken on an individual, due to dissent, a requirement of them doing one game, as a referee official in a game (in their age group), could be implemented. The individual doing dissent is exhibiting behavior that they understand the rules better than the game official that they are criticizing. By them being placed into a game situation, to 'demonstrate' their actual knowledge of the rules and have to implement that in the same timeframe that a referee has, could help to reformulate their thinking on what a referee knows, how quickly they have to handle the issue, and the pressure attached to the job. It is the old aspect of 'walk in my shoes'.
Dedicated work must be done, continuously, to ensure that events like the following do not happen:
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.
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 following video is of a nine-year old soccer player, whose team received negative commentary from parents during a game, which affected all of the players. The commentary mentally affected the teams playing abilities, and took the 'fun' out of the game for them. The written statement by this player was his appeal to parents
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.