Message from NorCal about referee abuse

The following message was emailed to all clubs, teams, coaches, players, and parents today:

The NorCal Board of Directors is concerned about the issue of sportsmanship and, specifically, referee abuse within soccer. Quite simply, it is unacceptable for any coach, player or parent to verbally or physically abuse referees, players or any other person involved in a soccer match – or at any other time for that matter!

Although the vast majority of games take place without incident, in the first three weeks of the season, NorCal Premier Soccer has seen three cases of referee assault referred to US Club Soccer. Last weekend alone, we saw 19 red cards for violent conduct or abusive behavior. Following this uptick in referee abuse and red card reports, we have moved swiftly, with US Club Soccer support, to address these incidents in the following manner:

  • The NorCal Board of Directors will be notified immediately about any cases of violent behavior;
  • Clubs, with coaches, players or parents involved in cases of violence or abuse will be placed on immediate probation – until the investigation is complete;
  • Coaches, players, parents and in some cases, entire teams, involved in violent conduct, will be suspended immediately;
  • During the probation period, any further offenses committed by any coach, player or parent of that club will lead to an immediate examination of the clubs’ continued membership in NorCal Premier; and
  • The NorCal Board of Directors will decide, with US Club Soccer, what further sanctions are needed for the club, coach, team, player or parent involved in the incident.

Obviously, each individual is responsible for their own actions, however, within NorCal Premier Soccer and US Club Soccer, clubs also are responsible for the behavior of coaches, players and parents during all matches.

We maintain an unwavering belief in club soccer’s positive role in creating moments when valuable lessons can be learned; winning and losing, teamwork, cooperation, and hard work. We also maintain a firm belief that mistakes are an important part of this process, certainly a big part of every game and all involved in soccer. Players, coaches, referees and parents will make them – so expect and deal with them appropriately. When mistakes are made and emotions run high, a coach must be a positive role model and demand that parents and players follow suit.

We know most soccer clubs expect all of their members to behave in a sportsmanlike manner at all times and many achieve that goal – for that we applaud you. We request that all clubs share this letter with your teams, coaches, parents and players prior to your next game to ensure they clearly understand the sportsmanship expected of them and the consequences awaiting their club, coach, team, and individuals should they step outside the normal boundaries of soccer behavior.

Finally, we believe that Soccer is the greatest sport in the world, and violence and abuse has no place in the beautiful game. Please assist us to ensure your club, team and community stand vigilant against this type of behavior and help us remove it from our game.

Thank you,

NorCal Board of Directors

Author: James

Lifelong player and student of the beautiful game in Germany, England, and USA. Volunteer futsal coach and USSF referee.

3 thoughts on “Message from NorCal about referee abuse”

  1. I’m not impressed. Immediate suspension or probation means nothing if these same coaches are back out there in a couple of weeks. Let me know when they get serious and the default is 1 calendar year suspension for dismissal from a match. Until then, good luck with that referee retention problem all the leagues and assignors complain about. The leagues want to sound like they’re doing something, but they’re really not.


    1. Yes, the leagues have to be much more consistent and dole out some real pain.

      One thing I would say though is that coaches are under quite a lot of pressure and games are often very emotionally charged.

      I also coach futsal and can tell you that even I (as a referee and ‘good’ sideline parent) can get sucked into the emotional cauldron of a game, especially a must-win at a tournament.

      Your brain just becomes hyper-focused following every second of every move of every player during a game, while constantly assessing the overall situation and whether to make tactical or player adjustments.

      Add to that our competitive animal instincts.

      It’s easy to lose perspective. You have to be very self-aware and rational to control that hyper-focused state of mind.

      Add to that maybe also some personal challenges at the time such as a messy divorce or medical issues. Or just simply very little sleep and no breakfast.

      And coaches’ personalities are probably skewed toward ‘type A’, whereas most referees are probably not. There is probably already a material personality difference between coaches and referees. Not always, but probably most of the time.

      So I think it’s easy to see how a coach can step over the line on a bad day.

      And for many this is an important way to earn a living.

      So punishment has to be proportional and take context into account. Repeat offenders need to be dealt with and also those who use physical violence, of course.

      All that said, I don’t know what the right balance is.

      I suspect it also depends partly on team/coach demographics. Your experiences in parts of SF might well be worse/different than my experiences here in parts of San Jose/Mountain View/Cupertino.

      It’s messy.


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