The following article was written for the Whistle Stop! Newsletter published by AYSO.
I grew up playing soccer and also played in college. I've reffed in the past, I'm a current AYSO coach, and I still play in an adult rec league. I wanted to talk today about the dynamic between players and referees, the challenges refs faces on game day, and some tips that might help your role be a little easier.
Love hate. That's how I like to describe the relationship between players and refs. Love them when the call favors me or my team. Hate them when it doesn't. Well maybe not hate, but dislike for sure. Players can be tough critics of refs, and I know it's tough for refs to balance the happy medium between respect and power.
Looking back over my playing career, my view of referees has evolved over the years. As a youngster, I was oblivious to the refs. Soccer at that time was bunch ball and kids running around not really sure what was happening. I was so focused on the ball and trying to score goals that the last thing on my mind was what the referee was or wasn't doing.
Once I got older and into more competitive soccer, I noticed that referees started to have more influence on the game than in previous years. The calls made or not made stood out more. I started to have more of a reaction to those calls, especially the ones I disagreed with. I also started to notice the reactions of others around me to those calls, whether from teammates, coaches, or parents. Calls that went our teams way brought cheers and claps. Calls against us brought yells and frustration. I was starting to learn how to react by observing those around me.
High school was when I became more negative towards refs, especially as an upperclassman. I hate to admit it, but I was rude, which in other areas of my life was out of character. I yelled at referees when I disagreed with their calls, especially when that call was against me. I was lucky. The referees I had in my high school games had a long leash and I got away with more than I should have. I regret that behavior for sure.
I knew heading into college soccer that I had to check myself and find another way to control my emotions. Calls were a part of the game, and I knew my short fuse would get me into trouble at the next level. Talking back to refs would surely earn my a spot on the bench, which I certainly didn't want. With the support of my parents, who expressed great dislike for my lack of respect on the field, I spent the summer practicing maintaining control of my thoughts and emotional responses to the calls that were made on the field.
When I arrived on campus my freshman year for the start of camp, I quickly realized what I suspected to be true. No talking back. No disrespect. Stay in control. Fortunately, I had put in some time over the summer preparing myself to be better on the field so when game time came around, I was mentally prepared to handle the challenges of college soccer physically, mentally, and emotionally. I still didn't agree with every call made, but I was definitely better at controlling my emotions and having more respect for the referees. And a surprising bonus was that I became a better player by staying in control on my emotions.
What I've learned over the years is this: There will always be a love hate relationship between players and refs. Because both players and referees alike feel pressure to perform while on the field, there will always be disagreement about calls. And unfortunately, some players will outwardly express their disagreement. But disagreements are okay and part of the game, as long as they're done in a respectful, sportsmanlike way.
Based on my experience as a player, coach, and now mental performance consultant, I have a few tips for how refs can manage the dynamic between themselves and the players.
At the end of the day, you are doing a great job and the game of soccer would not be possible without you. Keep up the good work!
Katie (McKee) Lovallo
Hey! I'm Katie, and I specialize in Mental Performance. I believe greatly in mindset and the role it plays in life.