Dispatches from Planet Soccer

Writing in the Winona Daily News, Maggie Modjeski doesn’t identify the city and parents who allegedly made life miserable for her kid’s soccer team last weekend. But, the ongoing anecdotes tell us, it could be just about anywhere.

The travel team’s visit to the home field of Team Unnamed started well enough. When they arrived the host parents welcomed the players and parents and thanked them for traveling so far to play their team in a rescheduled game.

Then the game started, she writes.

The physical aspect of the game was overshadowed by the commentary. From the opposing parents any time a call went against them, to the players whose language was fouler than the smell of their cleats. The coach joined in the fun as well. The official who was a young lady took a pretty good beating, as our parents and team remained quiet as hard as it was.

Officiating a game is not easy. The calls aren’t always perfect. But having adults yelling at you from the sidelines and a player argue and shout obscenities at you make the job that much more difficult. This official kept her cool, and kept making the calls.

Sitting there hearing the nonsense and not replying was very difficult. My first instinct was to yell back or comment. Fortunately, I was surrounded by great parents who help everyone keep their cool. At halftime I ran into the welcoming parent, and she wasn’t so much anymore. She made a few comments, I smiled, nodded and bit off my tongue and walked away.

This is all learned behavior, as is sportsmanship, she concludes. Today’s soccer parents are raising tomorrow’s soccer parents.

Her kid’s team lost.

“My son shared that one particular player was embarrassed at how much his dad was yelling. Our boys didn’t feel bad about the loss; we knew we played hard, we didn’t make a scene, and no one was hurt,” she says.

  • Barton

    I have come to the conclusion that sitting and taking the abuse hurled at you/your family or someone else is not the right thing to do. It doesn’t change what is happening and I believe it really just encourages the verbal abuse to continue and escalate.

    Years ago, a lifetime ago, when I reffed softball at the community rec level, there was a certain age group of kids that I would gather – with their coaches – before each game to remind them of the standards of play set forth and that it applied to their fans as well. The coaches would get one warning for the actions of their fans and then players would be tossed out. I once tossed an entire team out because of the racist and sexist language of their fans (hurled at mainly me, but also the opposing team). I got a lot of “thank yous” from many teams for that action. The coach of the team who were tossed apologized to me a week later and then banned a lot of the fathers (mostly) and mothers from games the rest of the season.

    I have to believe that at this tournament there were actions that could have been taken by either the organizers or the ref – who I hoped had been taught the guidelines/rules and who had been empowered to enforce them.

    • KTFoley

      Some youth games are officiated by high school students, aren’t they?

      Although they are usually very well versed in the on-field expectations and rules of the game, they may not yet have what it takes to govern off-field behavior effectively.

      Reffing is brutal enough for grown-ups.

      • John O.

        Kids can be as young as 14 and get paid to be a referee. I see things have not changed in the Coulee Region since our time down there in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.

        • KTFoley

          What’s your guess for where the game was held?

          The original article mentions that Winona team traveled “two hours up and back.” Would that be north of the Twin Cities?

          • John O.

            I have a pretty good idea that it was in the south metro area.

          • KTFoley

            Good point — I underestimated the distance.

        • BJ

          My son is 12 and a paid Soccer Referee.

          MN law and the Minnesota Soccer referee association had a change ~2-3 years ago now, because of lack of Referees, to allow younger referees. You just have to be older than players if you are the Center – so a 9 year old could referee a U9 game (players are 8 years old on those teams).

    • John O.

      I did something similar while reffing a soccer tournament in Sioux Falls many years ago. I emptied the sidelines of ALL spectators from a boys under-17 match. The Tournament Director came out to personally thank me.

  • MCH

    My daughter played park and rec softball. Everyone plays and it was girls pitch. At this skill level, we were lucky if the ball was pitched on the right side of the batter–forget the strike zone. One game the opposing coach–who will remain nameless but was a minor celebrity in WWF at the time (not Jesse), berated the ump so badly about her calls she ended up in tears. She was probably 14 years old. To this day I berate myself for not calling the league or being more vocal to that coach. After the game our parents did approach the ref and try and console her. But this still haunts me 20 some years later.

  • Glsai

    It’s not easy to be the ref out there with coaches/players yelling at you.

    One thing I was taught when I was reffing soccer when I was younger (20ish years ago) was that you had the right to eject fans/coaches. If they are being overly obnoxious you simply stop the game, walk over to the sideline and tell them they are ejected. If they put up a fight or get belligerent, their team forfeits and the game is over. I had to eject someone only once, and strangely enough it was the one time I had to send off a player for language too. I had to be 16ish and the players Under 12s if I remember. One player on Team A pulled a player on Team B’s jersey. As I was raising the whistle to my lips to call it the player on Team B turned around and yelled a slur against the other player. I blew the whistle, called the foul against Team A, red carded the player on Team B (sent him off for the game). Team B was getting ready for their kick when their coach decided he went in on the action and started yelling inappropriately. I calmly walked over, told him to leave as he was ejected. He said he wouldn’t. I told him that if he didn’t leave his team was going to forfeit the game. He decided it was in his best interest to leave.

    That was the one time I had to deal with that, and in general parents and players and coaches were well behaved. I don’t know if times have changed, or if we just hear about these incidents a little more these days. I did go to my nephews game last week and everyone was encouraging to both teams and everyone seemed positive. Sometimes it’s tough to remember it’s just kids playing a game.

  • BJ

    My son and I were the side referee’s for a game Thursday. It was hot, 84-85 with a heat index at 90.4-93.0 the league rules say we reduce the half’s by 5 minutes and give a water break in between each half.

    The Center referee was 13 (my son is 13 but looks 16, I’m 44). The center referee told the visiting team that the heat rules were in place and the reduced time would be in place. He complained, for following the rules. We knew it would be a long 50 minutes.

    Every call, nothing was good enough. This was a U10 game – all the players are 9 or under.

  • Ralphy

    When I was about 45 years old I did one summer as a ref for kids baseball and softball and adult softball (responding to a plea by the park my kids played sports at). Never again.