Sunday, November 28, 2010

Law 18 "strikes" again

This title will make more sense after you read the post from Soccer America titled "Mom slaps ref." In what may be an example of a parent gone wild, which frankly it is, there is also a more subtle message in there for those who are looking.

This story (and those like it) go something like this:

  1. Experienced referee is officiating a local youth game, usually U-14 or below.
  2. Match is going fine.
  3. Referee applies the laws in a way that the youth players are not accustom to.
  4. Players take exception.
  5. Adults take exception.
  6. Players and/or adults emote their concerns (constructively or not).
  7. Referee does not notice or does not adjust accordingly.
  8. Players and/or adults act out.
Now from the onset let me say that this is a pretty general pattern in youth sports and can be applied to just about anything that participants don't like. In this case there is some "magic" in steps 3 and 7 where a referee is doing something players at an age, or really better stated, playing level, are not ready for, and the referee does not recognize and adjust to the level.

I say "playing level" and not "age" as there are some very young players that are sophisticated and coached well that are more prepared than most youth referees in some settings (e.g. Regional Play or some international tournaments such as Dallas Cup). This scenario is not intend to reflect that case. As it turns out, it is the referee who may "act out" in those cases. I will cover that in a future post.

Here, we have the case of a referee who has not adjusted properly, did not recognize, and resulted in upset parents ... to the point of assault and battery.

The "magic" incident was captured in the SA story (interestingly not others that reported it however):
"... playing in a U-10 game in the Atlanta area ... the referee ... didn't stop play after the girl was hit in the chest by the ball and fell down."
The result:
"The mother ... entered the field and slapped the referee because he didn't stop play. The mother left by the time Forsyth County Sheriff deputies arrived. The victim of the slap from the 39-year-old woman was a 30-year-old male referee, whose face was reddened and his lip bloodied." 
The reason the referee gave for not stopping play for 9 year olds:
"According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the ref didn't stop play because the other team was in possession – and waited until the ball went out of bounds."
So ask yourself as referees, are you applying the laws in a way the players recognize and understand? In this case, there may even be a more basic question that needs to be asked ...

Did the players feel safe with the decisions the referee was making?

For me, was the referee technically correct in waiting to stop play?

Did they get themselves into trouble by waiting to stop play?

So what is a referee to do then, apply the laws as written or modify them for the game at hand?

Sounds like "double speak" but the referee must apply the LOTG while keeping the interpretations at the level of the players. If not, they will react negatively and put the match in jeopardy.

In this particular case, there is even a simpler message. For a local U-10 match, is a player goes down, stop the play regardless of what else is going on. It is the safest course for these young players.

Finally, while I understand the mom's concern for her daughter. This referee should file the criminal charges, and follow up with a civil suit. Overly litigious? Maybe, but this parent needs to understand the damage she did by committing assault and battery on a match official to herself, and THE game. This would not be about "revenge" (there is no big pay day here folks), but it is about protecting THE game, and ALL of its participants, even the folks in the funny colored shirts.


  1. When we have the privilege of doing U-little games we must be mindful of two aspects of the game at that level. One player safety and two not being overly officious.

    This must be a positive experience for all concerned, even if we must use a Law Book that bends, rather than be stiff and unyielding. A few words of explanation of a foul goes a long way in delivering understanding of the game to the players, coaches and fans.

    Use correct terminology, i.e. handling not handball, don't give a class on the Laws but a short few words are good, "I have a trip by 'blue', red free kick direct."

    Coaches and parents at this level often have very little experience and understanding of the Game. We as officials must understand that and take that into account as we work their game.

    Reading the crowd is also important, listening to what is being said to their players (sons or daughters), and voices of concern as well.

    A agree with PK that any assault must be dealt with appropriately, but at the same time was there a way to have prevented it from happening? Retreat rather than confront an angry or more likely upset parent may have been the best course. If you past the injured player and the fan's side of the field, most likely they will stop at their player side and not continue on to confront you. Let Mothers or Dads come to the aid of the injured player. But at the same time be sure the coaches are dealing with it.

    Try and get the alleged perpetrator out of the area of the injured player, I try to move all the players back towards the benches rather than have them all kneel down next to the where it happened. You don't need an upset parent berating an opposing player because he/she is nearby.

    Stop the game let the coaches deal with the injured player, and most all get out of the way until the situation calms its self.

  2. Excellent point on prevention ... and one I inadvertently glossed over. If there is a way to diffuse without a confrontation, that is always the preferred option.