Youth Sports – Simply For The Kids?

When you sign your child up for a sport you expect them to be taught the rules and how to play the game properly. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a volunteer organization or the coaches are paid. Simply put, the people who oversee the game need to understand how it works.

You don’t want your child to go out onto the baseball field wearing shin guards that are meant for soccer games.  You don’t want them to step onto the basketball court with a baseball helmet on.  It sounds simple but these are the fundamentals.

It’s like driving a car.  When you get behind the wheel you expect that the other drivers have been taught to keep their cars to the right side of the yellow line.  That is why there is a driving violation known as failure to keep right.

Or wearing a seatbelt – this is to keep you safe.

We have laws and rules in games and in life that help to keep everyone safe.  Whether it’s our children or ourselves.
As a human, it’s only natural to criticize the ones who enforce these rules.  As a referee, it can be tough to take on the role of calling the game based upon the laws of the game. The problem is when organizations put people in charge of monitoring games that have not spent time with the rule book.

A town cannot put a building inspector on the job who does not know the laws and town code otherwise things are going to be missed.  It’s possible buildings are going to be put up improperly and lives are going to be put at risk.

The same can be said for a referee especially when judging youth contests.  Slide tackles can hurt young people and late challenges can harm a defenseless goalie.  As much as the game is supposed to be competitive there has to be an environment of safety.  Those who aren’t trained and focused, struggle to maintain that condition.

We all are aware that refs are going to get flak from everyone no matter whether you are right or wrong – paid or volunteer. This is the nature of being an official, and it is something that referees must learn to deflect. Those that cannot stand the heat have to get out of the kitchen, it’s as simple as that.  That’s not to say that parents, coaches and players can berate them over and over.

However, the referee does miss calls and the referee can be wrong.  Sometimes the referee is paying attention to two players that are going at each other on one side of the field while the ball goes out.  The ref may call the ball for one team while the coach and player for that team may say “no we kicked it out.”  The ref may change that call.  The coaches are allowed to question that call.  If the coaches have a question about why the ref called something then they can question that.  Sports are not run as a dictatorship.  The ref is not Stalin, nor should the ref act like that.

Maybe with all this “you aren’t supposed to talk to the ref” stuff we’ve gotten a little too unfair. You can’t say to the ref, “hey listen there’s two players in the box on a penalty shot. They can’t be there?”

However we are losing out to the finer points that need to be adhered to.  Keeping your feet planted and making a good throw in soccer.  The in-bounds play as well as dribbling in basketball.  Learning the fundamentals.  It is the fundamentals that form the basis of the game.  Maybe I’m a stickler but if you don’t frame the puzzle you can’t fill it in.
Unfortunately though not only are we letting down ourselves by not learning the rules but we are letting down the kids. They look to us to show them the proper way to play the game.
Imagine playing baseball and being able to hit a foul ball and running to first base because the umpire didn’t bother to learn the rules.
Imagine playing basketball and dribbling around defenders out-of-bounds because the referees didn’t learn the rule book.
Or they gave a free throw when the ball was kicked.

Wouldn’t you get furious as a coach?

Shouldn’t we expect those who volunteer to referee to understand the rules of the game?

If you are going to use the excuse that soccer is hard to learn, read the NBA rule book. I have. I can tell you that there is no reason that 10-12 year old children can’t be expected to be refereed by someone who knows the rules.

We have to take a look at ourselves. Are we ruining it for the children? I don’t know.  However, they are old enough to understand what’s going on behind the scenes. Are we ruining it for other adults? For the ones who care enough to know the rules and show up on time, give their and everything they have to care about…yeah we are killing them.  At the same point maybe some people need to ask themselves what they are doing it for?  Are they doing it for the kids?  Are they doing it to live through their kids?  Do they care about the game?  Or is it just about another ounce of power?  Who cares if we teach the kids the right rules so they can go on to play at higher level knowing the RIGHT way to play the game, “I just want to be able to say I have control and I can tell other adults what to do.”  Sad.

But this is the state of the world we live in.  Sadly you never see the cards until they play their hand – then it’s too late.  Call me crazy but this isn’t the game I signed up for.  I only wanted to show kids the right way to play soccer not argue over who has the best hand.

To Coach Or Not To Coach

Coaching youth soccer is one of those interesting contradictions. You can go back and forth so many times in a week. One second you absolutely love it because the kids are so great and then you are so crazed because the kids just won’t listen to what you have to say.
It can be such an incredible experience to be a coach though, especially when you watch the kids as they grow up and you see them start to “get it.” The maturation from playing as 6 year olds all the way up to almost teenagers. You watch that thought process as they start to grasp the offside trap. There are adults that can’t grasp the offside trap, so when you see the kids get it, it’s quite an accomplishment.
It’s funny though, sometimes I sit back and I think about all the years I’ve put into the game. All those fall days after work that I travelled over to the practice field with that bag of balls and the cleats to give the best instruction that I could to hopefully help them progress as best as they could. The missing NFL games on Sundays to help give them the best instructions I could while being there for them so they could have fun on the soccer field.
I always had the support of the parents. They were always there to be supportive of the kids and make the best experience for the kids as they could. Whenever I had a problem they would be right there in my corner to back me up and let me discipline as a coach. You hear the horror stories that sometimes the parents could be all over the place and treat their kids badly. But I never experienced that. They just wanted their kids to have fun.
Amazingly the problem ended up being the people who ran the thing. You know, cause someone always had a problem with something that you did. If you try to protect your kids when they are the goalkeeper, someone has a problem that you make a stink about it. If a kid breaks a finger, a hand or a face, the head of the league isn’t going to dip into their pocket to pay for the co-pay at the ER or the doctor and specialist visits. They aren’t going to pay for the sick days and the gas fill ups and all that.
But I know, the kids are supposed to be prepared for the level of goalkeeper, sure I get that. However, there also needs to be someone to look out for the kids, because well they are just kids after all. Kids are going to do kid things and they are going to swing wildly and miss the ball, they’ll chase a ball and step down on fingers they will kick out and they’ll get frustrated that they can’t score a goal and act out. That’s what we need the referee for. If the referee isn’t there to protect the child in the goal, then my job as a coach is to protect that goalie. In fact my job is to protect all those kids, even to protect them from themself. If someone is acting wildly, they need to come off the field and shake it off, just shake it off.
If we are going to make excuses that the referees have limited training because it is a volunteer organization and people don’t have the time to train then we need to use the people who do have training. We should not put people who don’t have referee training in the position to fail. That’s asking for trouble and that’s poor leadership. It’s an immense responsibility to be a referee and not only do you have to know the rules but at this age you are tasked with the job of taking care of children’s safety. You look for dangerous play and you look to make sure that you keep the pace of the game going but do so in a controlled manner. A pre-teen game is not the place to start for an inexperienced referee, it’s better to start them either as a linesman or at a young kids’ game.
All this seems to be so elementary and that’s what can be so frustrating about the leadership of leagues. Why is it so difficult to understand that coaches want what is best for their kids? How is it hard to understand that coaches also wear many different hats? Leaders of leagues may not see that coaches can also be parents, referees, goal assemblers, field coordinators and leaders in safety just to name a few. Coaches are huge volunteers. To assume that just because you are a coach means that you don’t know what a volunteer is, is a huge slap in the face especially when you’ve done that job and many other jobs for the league for over five years. It’s unfortunate that volunteerism gets called into question when a coach looks out for kids but sometimes it feels like sometimes people have to find something to question. We’re not all perfect but coaches do what they can to make the experience as perfect as they can for the kids.