Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Why I Love "Zero Tolerance" in Youth Matches

Yesterday I wrote about why I really dislike "zero tolerance" mindsets. On a personal note Mrs. Kicking Back did not like that designation, despite agreeing with the subject matter. Henceforth she will be called "Madam X." I'm sure she will find that much more flattering. If not I hope the hospital has good WiFi =/

There is a flip side to the zero tolerance paradigm, and to me it centers around youth referees in general. If there is a place where there should be no tolerance for nonsense, it is in these circles.

Now I admit to having a true dislike for perceived authority, and I have run into my fair share of folks as a youth referee who thought I should listen to them, just because they were older.


My dad gave me a stellar piece of advice when I was very young in my career, and it was while I was refereeing that I could "talk back" to adults.

I think when he first told me I could hardly contain myself.

Now, I have to admit that there were times ... are times ... that I go overboard with this one. While now it is based in good intentions, the negative results can be the same.

I am a big fan of telling it like it is, and a youth referee standing up, in a good spirited way, to a demeaning player or coach I think is a great thing. Sadly, I think far too may parents and coaches need a reminder of civility, and would not respond well to a "dressing down", even appropriately.

Enter Zero Tolerance.

Such a rule has the best of intentions which is to protect the youth referees that are arbitrating these youth matches. Frankly, they need it as how can a 15 year old reasonably withstand withering criticism from folks that generally have no idea about the laws of the game.

There is a better than 50% attrition rate for youth (soccer) referees after the first year. That number levels off just a little after year 3, but it is still a huge number.

Now while I am certain there are several factors that cause this attrition (gee what else could a 16 year old boy have on his mind), fan(atic) and coach abuse I am fairly certain are among the top (5) reasons.

Zero Tolerance may help in many cases by at least making people aware there are consequences to their oral actions.

Does it get us all of the way there? Nope, not by a long shot in my opinion as it is critical for referees of all levels to have the life skills necessary to fend off (or ignore) an oral tongue lashing when it is based in nonsense.

I will say though, if it saves one referee, or even just makes others feel better about their chances of getting abused when refereeing, it may just be worth it.


  1. Very good post about a very important subject. Like many things in living, good important goals are not easy to achieve. Referees "eventually" (those that last) have to be able to stand up, be strong, assertive, be in charge, develope thicker skin (or whatever other words that mean the same thing). AND how is this achieved? Becoming a good referee is a process. This process will eventually bear fruit: good strong referees. Insulating new, young referees from fan and coach rants and abuse is a good thing. A ZERO TOLERANCE policy will do this. But there HAS TO BE something else DONE at the same time: someone to teach the new and young referees how to deal with this and the BEST way (IMHO) is to strengthen their will, mind, character, personality or (again) whatever word you use to identify that part of a person that "knows" what he just "decided" on the field was correct and can stay composed and then able to deal with the fan or coach ranting. There's a winnowing out of referees for sure with or without Zero Tolerance. AS an aside, I for one think that "regardless of the decisions" of the arbiter of a sport, THERE is NO PLACE for abuse of the arbiter. ACCEPTANCE of decisions by a arbiter is essential in life otherwise you have chaos.

    1. Anon,

      Spectacular comment on (2) levels:

      First, you are spot on about the development of referees being a process, and one that happens inside the field, AND outside the field. Strength of will, mind, and character are critical to the development of a referee, and while they are demonstrated inside the field, they often occur outside the field.

      Second, your use of the word "acceptance" is a good one. There is a (life) lesson in there, about a decision, and moving on. This is true for players, coaches, fan(atics), and referees.

      You don't always have to like what you got, but standing around and (orally) beating someone up about it ain't going to help.

      Thanks for reading!