top of page

The Referee Crisis

In youth sports games across the country, there is a shortage of referees in great supply. Bad behavior by fans and parents sparked the issue and COVID only made it worse. The search for more participation is only getting more difficult because of the common abuse and behavior referees receive from fans and players that drive them away from the job. As a youth soccer referee myself, I can confidently say that while it pays good money I have never been excited to go work a set of games. The constant bombardment from fans, as well as the inability to make a call that satisfies both sets of parents, can be exhausting and is why no one wants to do this job. The intent of this issue is to inform people about why there are not enough referees and the reasons behind why this will continue to be a problem unless change is made.

Referee Exodus

There are several incidents of referees being abused by coaches and fans simply because people lack the patience or ability to empathize with these officials who work hard to make sports possible in the first place and instead take it out on them. Rhiana Garcia, a 14 year old at the time, was officiating a game in Cincinnati and dealing with a coach who was on some bad behavior that night. The New York Times reports that the coach had put Rhiana into tears.

The insults he directed at Rhiana, who was 14 at the time, intensified throughout the match; she said that he had accused her of being colorblind and had shouted expletives and a racial slur at her. Before the final whistle blew, the coach had been kicked off the field. And Rhiana, holding back tears, texted her boss, “I don’t know if I can do this anymore.”

While this is only an extreme example, I have been subject to similar language myself. Taking a course to become a referee and getting your license was very simple when looking for a job at a young age which is why many teenagers become referees thinking it will be an easy, enjoyable experience. However, it is anything but and the pressure you feel during a game gets to the point where it can be scary. There were many times during games that I was praying and hoping for the final whistle to come so that I could go home and get away from the constant complaining and pressure parents put on you to make a call that will benefit their team. The downfall in numbers has persisted for years with a combination of factors making the pitch a toxic environment that has driven referees from the game.

While I have been subject to this there are others even inside our school that have felt the similar pains of being a youth referee. Isaac Stanley, a junior here at North Scott High School mentioned that he never feels a strong desire to go referee any game that he is assigned too. It has even got to the point where he has stopped taking as many games because while it pays good, the behavior by parents doesn’t make it worth his time and another job could provide a better environment for him to enjoy himself at work. Dana Pappas, director of officiating service for the National Federation of State High school sports provided a jawbreaking stat about referees quitting their jobs.

From 2018 to 2021, an estimated 50,000 high school referees — roughly 20 percent — quit.

While this number seems like a lot, it has only continue to increase as people did not return to refereeing after Covid and the abuse in the last few years has only gotten worse. Many people, both inside and outside of the business, have wondered if things might improve to accommodate youth referees anytime soon.

In all likelihood, that answer is a resounding no.

Room for Change

breaks down the number of referees by age in Nebraska as well as important statistics

The road ahead is difficult in the refereeing world and while there is not a lot of optimism, it is still critical to be informed about what can or should be changed to save the dying population of referees across the country. Some states like California are considering making referees give introductory speeches before the game to humanize themselves and give parents an idea on how hard the job can be especially in the heat of the moment. Other states like Nebraska are putting the word out on social media on some of the statistics of the average age of referees that are officiating games and how long they have been doing it for. Getting involved in classes for proper etiquette as a fan or parent is something that could go long ways for the game and is something that is encouraging for the future if people take part and heed the advice given. Most importantly, advocating for officials and reporting abuse if you see it can help identify the ongoing problems that need to be fixed. Remember, before you say something that you regret, think about who it is going to affect, especially the well being and confidence of young officials trying to find their way in the industry.

15 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page