A player dribbles up the sideline and pushes the ball past the defender in a U12 soccer game. The defender tries to kick the ball; he’s late, too late, and kicks the dribblers shin pad instead. The dribbler continues up the sideline without missing a step. Another play that happens a thousand times and has already happened a dozen times in this game. Yet the referee sprints to the defender and starts yelling at him. The defender is only nine-years-old and the ref towers over him. So the ref bends down so his face is inches from the defender while he is yelling at him. Now the referee is pointing his finger in the defender’s face. All the while, play is going on, not that the referee seems to care. When it’s finally done, the defender is in tears.
I would like to say this is an article I read about some game somewhere, but it’s not. It happened in my son’s last soccer game as I watched from the sideline. I’d also like to say I said something to the referee though the defender was my son’s teammate not my son but I did not. Truth be told, it wasn’t until well after a player from the opposing team had climbed into the referee’s car and the car was long gone out of the parking lot that the reality of what I witnessed really hit me.
This isn’t a post about bad or biased officiating. It’s about a bully, much as I hate that word because of how we overuse it today, who has no business being anywhere near a youth sports field let alone refereeing a game, and how immobilized we all were. In no universe is this behavior remotely condonable. In no way should this person be allowed near young athletes. The referee’s role is to officiate and perhaps to help teach and there were two appropriate approaches here. In terms of officiating, if he believed the play warranted discipline for any reason then he should have blown the whistle and given card. In terms of teaching, whether he handed out the card or not, if he thought it was a dangerous play, he still should have blown his whistle and used it as a teaching moment to explain to the kid or his coach or both where the issue lay. Instead, he berated and belittled a young athlete. That is inexcusable.
To be honest, I’m not sure what could have or should have been done. And I’m not sure what I should have done differently in the aftermath. I thought the boy’s father handled it well and I agreed with him when he told me, “I’m biting my tongue.” But now I’m not sure any of us handled it correctly and I wonder if it’s because the news surrounding parents at youth sports is so prominent and not in a good way, we’re no longer able to identify when a situation calls for intervention and we’re paralyzed by the fear of being the “bad” youth sports parent.
What I do know I witnessed a bully bullying a young athlete and did nothing.