Anyone here referee a sport? Share your stories

Today, the spring season of youth soccer begins in my town. For the third spring in a row, I’m going to go down to the fields not as a player, but as a volunteer referee. I do mostly twelve year old girl’s games, but this season I’ve been signed up to do some boys games, too. I’m a little bit nervous about it, but also excited.

I’m wondering how many of you dopers referee kids sports (or adult sports, too) and if you get this same nervous, excited feeling before a game. Have yoiu got any interesting stories about a horrific game or bad experiances with players, coaches, and fans? On the other side of the spectrum, have you ever had one of those games that just moved along like butter? The players were skilled and polite, the coaches great, etc. Please share!

I’ve umpired more than a few cricket matches in England. Umpiring cricket matches is actually more difficult than playing in them, because you can go hours without a single close call, then, just when you’re lulled into a false sense of security, there’s a razor-thin call that can turn the entire match, and any decision you make is going to send one of the teams into an inchoate rage. I was nervous just about every time I went out for a league game; fortunately I’d umpired a few friendlies to get my eye in.

The only advice I have that’s relevant for other sports: be decisive. Make your call, don’t waver and don’t look back, even if you think you were wrong later. Every ump/ref is going to get some of them wrong, but, if you look indecisive, both teams are going to be on your back constantly, trying to pressure you into making a favourable call.

On occasion, I used to umpire my niece’s softball games. All the players were 11 or 12 years old. I would tell the girls ahead of time that I didn’t want them to swing over their heads or at a ball in the dirt, but if they could hit it, they’d better swing. I called a big strike zone, which was a necessity in that league, take it from me. You could see 4 or 5 runs score at a time without anybody taking the bat off her shoulder.

And despite the warning ahead of time, my strongest memory of the experience was that 11 and 12 year old girls simply cannot repress the urge to roll their eyes or cluck their tongues if they think you called one wrong. Generally it was accompanied by one step back from the batter’s box with a head movement that could be detected from a hundred yards away as meaning, “Gosh, you’re not only old but blind. Never in the history of the world has someone been so wronged as I have been with your deplorable call.” If it had been the major leagues, both line-ups in their entireties would have ended up getting getting an early shower. At least nobody talked smart.

All right, all right, I exaggerate. Seriously, it was fun. And I heartily endorse Duke’s advice. Act like you’re in charge and they’ll treat you like you are.

I reffed youth soccer from age 13 to about 18. Started out running lines for kids that were older than I was, by the end I was going solo for under-16 boys and any girls games I could get. I’d been playing since age 7 so I had a good sense of the flow of the game. I was lucky in that I didn’t have any major problems until I had been doing it for a while and people around the league knew and trusted me.

Parents (and sometimes coaches too, sadly) will inevitably get rowdy from time to time. But they don’t know the rules, and you do. One thing to remember is never to talk to parents. If they’re causing an actual problem, you need to talk to the coach on that side and let him know that he is in charge of what happens on his sideline and that he is responsible. I don’t know where you are, but in California there are very specific regulations dealing with these kinds of problems. Interestingly, a ref is fully within his rights to issue a red card to any participant or spectator, and is in charge of the entire field. I could (and I had to do it, too) send off a belligerent parent. It almost always worked to let the coach know that you hold him/her responsible for the problem and that if the problem continues, you can/will send the coach off too.

That rarely came up, though. The most important thing I kept in mind was the flow of the game. I was actually notorious for calling very few fouls, but I never had a reputation for being lax, because I kept control of the game without frequent stoppages.

I guess you’re not really asking for advice, foxfiregrrl. I was never too nervous, I was having too much fun. Except when I was running lines all day, that was boring.

Oh yeah, and one last piece of advice (heh) – when you’ve got em all lined up on the penalty box for checking them in (ah, I always loved how delighted the little kids get with banging on their shinguards to show you they’ve got em), tell them your philosophy (I always used to say ‘I don’t stop the game unless I have to, and don’t ask me how much time is left on the clock because I won’t tell you. Any questions?’) or something, or whatever you want them to know before you start.

Man, I miss doing that stuff. Maybe I should see if I can get back into it.

I’m a linesman for 7- and 8-year-old soccer because when you’re slow and lanky with a bad back and knees the varsity team doesn’t want you. My main job is to call it when the ball is out-of-bounds and making sure the kids throw the ball in bounds when it comes time to do that. I also have some say in other rulings if the ref doesn’t see them.
Now, in soccer the ball is only out of bounds when it has crossed the goal or touch line entirely and it doesn’t matter if it has done this on the ground or in the air. Many parents do not know this so I do get some jackasses who think that even though I’ve played 13 years worth of soccer, whereas they obviously haven’t played any, because I can’t legally buy cigarettes they’re smarter.
I always try to keep a calm demeanor, but there was an occasion where I had to throw a parent out (I didn’t do it myself, but you’ll see what happens). First off, the guy put his lawn chair way too close to the touch line, so before the game started I told him he had to move. He was pretty well entrenched in his spot, he had undone his belt and taken off his shoes, so he started out angry.
Then, in the second quarter a kid on the other team made a good move, at least for a 3rd grader, around this guy’s son in which the ball touched the touch line but did not go out of bounds. The kid ending up making a shot that was stopped by the goalie but the rebound went in. The guy started screaming “IT WAS OUT IT WAS OUT.” I went over to explain this to him but I couldn’t get a word in edgewise and ended up covered in spittle from his curse-laced tirade. I finally managed to tell him that if he didn’t sit down he’d have to be removed from the game. He then proceeded to pick up another person’s cooler and throw it across the field. It was then that the ref I worked with, a Teamster when he’s not helping out with youth soccer, escorted him from the premises.
You really feel sorry for the kids because they all knew that this guy was the defender’s father and he just delayed the game as we had to pick up glass fragments (the cooler contained Snapple bottles) from all over the field. Other than that my experience has been mostly positive, with parents calming down if you talk to them without raising your voice.

I referee at a dragon boat festival which involves forty-foot canoes with one-hundred or more twenty-five person teams. It’s a blast! We do it to raise funds for some health-care charities.

Preparations take a year. During practices in the final two weeks before the race I get to know as many teams as possible, so that I will learn what to expect from each team, and so that the crews will learn what I expect of them. This is also the time for teams to offer bribes. (My policy is to accept all bribes without prejudice. Thus I end up with a lot of team jerseys, caps and such, while the starter who is a hungry young university student accepts bribes of food and beer.)

Come race day, it is a bit like putting on a large play. I don’t worry about the festivities, but I do have to ensure that the races are run on time (four boats per heat, a heat every ten minutes, all day long). This takes about eighty people, but matters are pretty well delegated. I run the radio checks with the lifeguard boat, starters, timers, marshals and TV crew, and at the same time run the final task checks. Then the fun starts. A jet boat picks me up and takes me for a screamer out into the lake, while I conduct the final on-water radio check.

Once everything is working smoothly, the marshals send off the first heat from the docks. I line them up above the start line. This can sometimes be quite a challenge, especially if there is a cross wind. Most crews are able to line up their boats, but quite a few need me to give them directions by megaphone. It’s like calling a slow-motion square dance for forty foot dragons. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking, for if I run races late, the whole show will run late into the evening.

Once the boats are lined up, I transfer control of the race to the starter, who sets up for the day on a raft. He calls the boats up to the line and micro adjusts them, sometimes with my assistance. He starts them, and I follow them closely watching for potential problems, such as boats going out of their lanes and crashing. If all goes well, all the boats in the heat have a clean race. If not, I have to assign penalties and file penalty reports with the chief official.

The key is to spot which boat is about to have difficulty, jet up to them, and give them simple, effective directions to help get them out of trouble before it is too late. Once I even had to hop out of the jet boat onto the steering platform of a dragon boat and heave it about before it rammed into the shore. This all goes on before a crowd of about twenty-thousand people, and they are very loud. Fortunately, unlike most spectator sports, they cheer me rather than boo me. Once I stopped a crew which was flat spinning toward a seawall. The crowd went wild that time, and started doing a wave.

Halfway through the day I have a dash to the washroom, and then get back on the job. By the end of the day, everyone is pretty beat, so we take a few minutes for rest before running the finals. I run a radio check before the final heats, and the starter ensures that the starts are absolutely bang on. One of the most enjoyable things about the finals is that after each heat, I can pass on unofficial times from the radio over to the expectant crews, and for the finals in each division, I get to be the first to congratulate the teams.

After the races I change into something warm, hit the festival food tents (pad thai for me!), and attend the grand parade (lots of costumes) and awards ceremonies. Then everyone parties into the wee hours, with both live bands and DJs. All of the crews know me by then, some of them have worked with me during training over the last few years, and it’s not that big of a community in the first place, so for me the evening is a continuous progression of hugging, hand shaking, and dancing on the grass. Talk about good vibes!

At the end of the evening, those of us who put the whole thing together sit about a table in the beer tent and chat about what went on during the day, while we wait for a tabulation of the deposits made on the bank run. Usually we pull in about a quarter of a million during the day, so there are a lot of similes when the count comes in. Knowing that we gave the community a terrific day of racing, one heck of a party, and tidy pile of cash to its health care services charities brings on deep feelings of satisfaction. All in all, it’s probably about as fulfilling a day as a referee can hope for.

I was a line judge at a sword fencing exhibition in Palm Springs some years back.

It was a lot of fun–in any match, there should ideally be about four line judges, not counting the actual “ref” who starts and stops each round.

When the ref stops the action–they will recap what happened in the match leading up to the hit of the sword on an opponent. Once he has reviewed the match, the line judges will vote on whether or not they agree with the ref.

It’s important to have many line judges, so that you can cover all angles of the match. In ‘voting’, each line judge says whether or not the sword hit was on target, off target, or if they weren’t at a good angle to see or aren’t sure, they can abstain. Each line judge carries one vote, and the ref carries two (if I remember correctly…it’s been a long time). Majority vote rules.