Try something new, I always say. Good idea, right? Spice up your life, get some perspective, challenge yourself!
Today I tried "being a center referee" in soccer. Brand new experience for me. I've watched soccer for 15 years, played soccer for 7 years, and been a sideline referee for 1 year. So you'd think I'd have a pretty good idea of what to expect, right? Think again, bright eyes.
I should have known better. After all, one of the main lessons I learned each time I started a new soccer activity was that I had no idea what the next step was like until I experienced it. Parents who watch from the sidelines, yelling directions and criticisms as if they know the game inside and out, have no clue what it's like for their kids to be out there playing. Until the parent plays. Parents who play develop an instant respect for their kids. Once I started playing, I stopped yelling from the sidelines.
Players, in their turn, tend to get critical of referees. They think the ref "has it out" for them, is favoring the other team, is blind, stupid, incompetent, slow. I've been there, too. Until I became a referee. It's a whole different view of the game, and it carries a heavy responsibility, even for the linesman. Linesperson, in my case. Players who ref develop instant respect for the referees. Once I started reffing, I stopped yelling from the field.
From linesperson to center referee is a bigger step than you might think. The center is the Top Dawg. The center's word is Law. This means the center has to know the rules cold, and to make decisions quickly and, well, decisively. And stick with it, even if it's the wrong call. The center keeps time, records goals and penalties, keeps the game under control. It's a big responsibility, a lot to do, and I had beginner's butterflies.
They gave me 7 year olds. Oh good, seven! Sounded manageable. Good way to practice being an authority figure, which is always a challenge for me. At seven, the field is tiny and there are only eight players on the field at a time, four from each team. No goalie. I won't bore you with the rest of the rules, even though there aren't many. The players are tiny and cute and you'd think the parent comments would run along the lines of "Aww, look, he kicked the ball!" Think again, bright eyes.
I was amazed by this group of parents. "Enthusiastic" doesn't begin to do them justice. You'd think their tots were World Cup contenders. Constant uproar from the sidelines. Shouted instructions to the kids. Shouted instructions to me. Loud protestations at my calls. Real anger if a call went against their team. Deafening cheers for each goal. That last, I don't mind. Positive enthusiasm is always welcome. But the rest....whatever happened to "setting an example of mature behavior"? Whatever happened to "respecting authority"? Whatever happened to "Hey, they are only SEVEN YEARS OLD for crying out loud, and this is A GAME, folks!"
Mercifully, a seven-year old game is short, and I was so busy keeping track of everything (like which team was headed which way - don't laugh, it gets confusing!) and trying to focus on the game and do my dang job, that I didn't have attention left over to chastise the parents. Not to mention I was new and nervous and none too sure of myself. I wish I had. Chastised them. I should have. Now I want to go back and do it over again, with my 20-20 hindsight and my belated bravado.
Next time I'll begin the game with a lecture to the parents. I'll hand out chill pills, pleas, threats. I'll remind them that the players are children, they are adults, and request that they act like it. I'll tell them firmly that if they don't behave, I'll throw them out and they can watch the game from the parking lot. More importantly, I'll remind myself that my word is Law, that I am the Top Dawg, and that nobody, but nobody, better mess with me! Just try it, chump! Grrrr! Back off! Woof!
The kids were just boys playing soccer. They were cute. They were energetic, active, involved in the game. Thank goodness, their parents' attitudes hadn't trickled down to them. They did what I said, accepted my calls, played the game without protest. Until the last minute. I called a corner kick. As the boys gathered in front of the goal, one of the defenders gave me that look. The look that said, "What the fuck is that call, ref?". Hands outstretched, palms up. Mouth open in righteous disbelief. I'm sure you can picture it. A very grown up look, shockingly out of place on a seven year old face. I almost thought I imagined it, but he held it long enough to be sure I got it. Little prick.
At the time I was pissed (in case you couldn't tell). But now, looking back, I'm just sad. Sad about the messages those parents were giving their kids. Sad that at the tender age of seven years old, that child had already internalized an attitude and a behavior that was just going to fester and grow with him. An attitude that, in the end, would do him as big a disservice as those he foist it upon.
I'll take on Top Dawg again sometime, wiser and tougher after my surprising experience today. I expect my sadness will turn to wisdom and my shock into strategy. Meanwhile, I'll be licking my wounds and practicing my woof.