A sports referee has a very interesting job. They are put in place to ensure the rules of the game are followed impartially: running around with the players, attending to injuries promptly, and doing their best to prevent fights between the opposing teams.
In order to do so, the referee must secure his authority by earning respect from the players and coaches involved. One foul word or even the wrong shake of the head can grant the grounds to disqualify a player from the game.
Respect between the players and referees is commonplace across most sports; however, there is one particular sport when this expected relationship becomes a grey area: where verbal abuse is at times tolerated and where coaches and players use the officiating staff as a verbal punching bag to release their frustrations. That sport is the emotional sport of soccer.
As a soccer player myself, I have experienced first-hand the verbal abuse referees encounter on the field. After reflecting on this unusual referee-player relationship, I wanted to find out why soccer is different and what it is like to be a soccer referee.
I reached out to U-Sports district referee Todd Wiseman to paint a picture of what it’s like to have a pack of emotionally charged athletes come after you when a foul is called.
“When you blow the whistle, you know at least 11 players are going to disagree with your call. Being prepared mentally for that along with being confident in your fitness, knowledge of the game, and positioning certainly helps,” Wiseman commented, “Soccer is unique because it includes a lot of passion and emotion. It is free-flowing and unscripted, which is a lot different than the football that I used to play.”
Wiseman played eight seasons with various teams in the Canadian Football League. His athletic background helps to place himself in the players’ shoes: “I think having been a player of many sports, I also understand the emotions a player is going through. I don’t react as quickly until I have a good feel for what and why the player has said what they’ve said.”
It is undeniable that in order to referee a soccer match, you need to have thick skin. Not only do you receive verbal abuse from the players, but from the coaches and fans alike.
Logan Zimmerman, another qualified U-Sports district referee remarks, “There is definitely a lot more leeway in soccer when it comes to questioning the referee’s calls. The level of abuse tends to stem from the intensity of the game. As long as players aren’t getting right up in my face, I will brush it off,” He continues, “It’s part of the game. It’s just about keeping a level head and sticking to your guns.”
Both referees agree that the key to officiating a good game is to go undetected.
“If I don’t have to make too many calls, and the game runs smoothly from start to finish, then the players will show their appreciation after the game. My biggest satisfaction is blowing the final whistle and feeling like the referee team had no impact on the outcome,” remarked Logan.
Ultimately, there is no debate that refereeing a soccer game can be stressful. It is important to keep your head and not let players get to you. It is interesting how the older and higher level of soccer brings more childish and whiny players. It is such an emotional sport that is played at 100 miles per hour; it’s essential that the referees understand the game and can manage the abuse.