Referee shortage in youth sports blamed partly on verbal abuse from parents, coaches

'With all the yelling and abusing that they get, it’s not worth it.'
Posted at 10:55 AM, Jun 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-14 11:19:13-04

(WXYZ) — Long-time referees in different youth sports say there’s an expectation for referees to be perfect. Parents want their child to excel, and coaches are under pressure to win. And so sometimes, they say, referees become a scapegoat.

“Instead of beating on the glass and screaming at them, parents maybe gotta take a step back," said Perry Petterle, of the USA Hockey Officiating Program.

Petterle says the number of referees ages 11, 12, 13, 14 years old is on the decline.

Prior to COVID, he said the league had roughly 4,000 registered officials. They’re now down to about 1,700.

For one, he said there’s not as many kids playing hockey these days. So, there are fewer games.

“And then also, there’s the issue and everybody’s heard of it. It’s happened in soccer, it’s happened in other sports, uh, the abuse that is coming from coaches, parents. It takes its toll on a young kid, young lady or a young man that’s out there refereeing," said Petterle.

Referees are being subjected to belligerence.

“I’ve been in rinks and I’ve had to go up to parents, and it’s happened three times this year, where you have parents ... banging on the glass, yelling at the official for a missed call. Yes, again they’re gonna make mistakes and I go up and I try to educate that parent. 'Hey, we’ve got a 13-year-old kid out here. Ya know, we need him to stay in the program,'" he said.

Of the 41 years he’s been involved in refereeing, he says the abuse has become more prevalent in the last 10 years.

Carlos Folino, who’s refereed soccer for 37 years, observes the same time frame.

“For the most part, it’s getting to the point where youth used to think that it was a good way to make a few extra dollars, better than flipping hamburgers if I may say that. It was a good way to do that. But again, with all the yelling and abusing that they get, it’s not worth it. And that word gets to his friend or her friend and his friend or her friend won’t join because of that," said Folino, Michigan State Referee Administrator.

It's that treatment that has an impact.

"For the most part we have young referees, young in age. And just think about it, if you go out in the field and you make a call and 50 percent of the people don’t like that call and they start yelling at you, you may be thinking about it, that particular call and not think about what’s coming up next,” said Folino.

It's creating a domino affect. Folino says it’s a cultural shift that needs adjusting.

Petterle says education and communication are part of a possible solution to bringing respect for referees back to youth sports.