Disgraceful parental behavior during little girls game

I had a mind-boggling refereeing experience on Sunday. It was a U10G Bronze game and we kicked off at 6pm on the last day of the Spring season. It was Sunday evening and nice weather.

So after a long soccer weekend I was expecting a pleasant game between little nine year old girls. A celebration of the beautiful game and a fun experience for these little girls.

Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I have rarely experienced such a rowdy sideline. Pretty much the entire game was played under constant screaming and shouting at the girls, and frequent dissent about pretty much every call that went against the visiting team, including in particular offside and ‘handball’.

When the visiting team dissent became too blatant and interfered with officiating I stopped the game to talk to the parents. I tried to explain that a ball touching a hand or arm is not in itself an infraction – it has to be deliberate, for example. And frankly, dear reader, referees are supposed to be much more lenient when Bronze level nine year olds play the game.

In a final attempt to try to take the edge off their behavior I reminded the coach and parents that these are just nine year old girls trying to have fun playing a game.

It didn’t work. These parents were not interested in reason and were in a combative mood from the beginning. Textbook case.

So when the dissent continued I had no choice but to evict a parent and then ten minutes into the second half warned the coach that I will terminate the game if there’s any further interference. This coach then called to his parents to calm down, but otherwise made no effort to control his parents during the game.

And the tension between the opposing parents was palpable, especially during the second half. It included excessive celebration when a goal was scored.

What made this situation worse is that the AR on the sideline next to those parents was only 12 years old. He did a very good job under a lot of pressure, but the parents used abusive language directed also at him.

He had to listen to an ongoing use of foul language including repeat use of the F-word amongst the parents directed at me and at times also him. He was scared especially about parents throwing things at him because he had to face his back to watch the field.

Unfortunately, he didn’t tell me until after the game, partly because most of that happened during the second half. But all this went into my incident report to NorCal so the team will face disciplinary action.

And the icing on the cake: I was threatened by the evicted parent and confronted after the game as I was walking to my car.

Glad to say that I stayed calm throughout all of this and it didn’t change my motivation to contribute to our soccer community through officiating. But it was a sad moment because these little girls are exposed to this and probably often.

The ironic thing was that just before this little girls game I had officiated a U16 boys game that I was warned could easily escalate. One of the teams got into a fight during a game in SF and already had two suspended players. One of the coaches was also suspended, but turned up. He was evicted. The league had sent an official to observe and help in case of mass confrontations.

All went well, I had full control of the game, and it ended successfully without drama. So I drove over to the little girls game to finish off the Spring season on a lighter note, but little did I know.

This kind of disgraceful behavior has no place in youth sports. It is a terrible experience for these little kids and for those moms, dads, siblings, and grandparents that came to simply cheer.

And you can probably imagine that the twelve year old AR might lose motivation to help officiate games if this happens too often. And we need young referees to fill the shoes of those aging out. No referees, no games.

By the way, this visiting team places last in the Bronze division with only one point. This makes them the lowest ranked U10G team in all of NorCal. Probably no coincidence.

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

6 thoughts on “Disgraceful parental behavior during little girls game

  1. Thanks for reffing. It is thankless, and as the mom of a U15 girl playing at a very high level (where incidents like this are very rare) and a 12 year old boy who loves the game and LOVES being an AR, I really appreciate that you stick with it.

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    • Thank you for your support, Steph. Unfortunately, my 12 year old son doesn’t want to continue refereeing after just one season because of too many bad experiences, including parents on the sideline verbally abusing him. I’m going to publish a blog post about this soon.

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  2. James, I feel for you, man. It doesn’t seem like there is any way to know when this type of match will pop up. There are certain clubs I will not officiate, but that is no guaranty I won’t have to deal with those types of parents and coaches. Keep fighting the good fight–the kids need as many experienced, diligent adults in yellow as possible.

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  3. A few points:
    1. As far as i can tell from a quick search, the coach of that team, and the team itself, has been at South San Jose, CA San Jose and Milpitas. Its never a good sign when teams and coaches jump around that much. And there is no web site that i can find for that club. In other words it’s a pop-up club, with limited cohesion between teams, and an ability of each coach to pretty much do their own thing. These teams are not meant to be allowed access to NorCal, but NorCal lets them all in because they want their money. Same deal with a Santa Cruz U10 boys team we showed up to play a few weeks ago, that had all of 7 kids show up to the game – for a 9v9 game.
    2. The issue, in my opinion, is not so much the parents, as it is the coach. The coach sets the tone for practices and games and the parents follow suit. If the coach did not tolerate such behaviour, and exacted punishment for such behaviour (your kid will be barred for the next game) then the parents would not engage in it.
    3. I would never speak directly to the parents – it never works and just gets them more crazy. In fact i think NorCal, or maybe its FIFA or someone, suggests Refs only speak to the coach – and basically tell the coach that the parent behaviour either stops, or the parents are first ejected and secondly the game is forfeited.
    4. Finally, don’t expect NorCal to do anything of note. Im my experience NorCal is long on rules and regulations and telling everyone they run a top-level, professional league – but then very short on following up on any of their own rules. That goes to fields (wrong size), goals (wrong size), coach behaviour, #’s of refs at games (1 or 2 instead of 3), etc.

    Finally i just can’t believe that as a ref, you let the parents get past the first F-bomb before speaking to the coach, and having the second F-bomb result in ejection of that parent (or the whole team of parents if the offender chose not to step up). Quickly followed by game forfeit for any more transgressions.

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    • Thank you, Andrew. Good observations. A couple of comments:

      About #2: In general I agree that the coach sets the tone, but in this case the coach was actually a decent guy. He wasn’t really instigating – he seemed inexperienced, including about the laws of the game, but not actively causing problems by screaming and swearing etc. It’s just that he had zero control over his parents and it seemed to me that he might have been a parent coach. So what I was dealing with was a dozen (extended) families behaving in a disruptive manner and this ‘coach’ had practically zero power nor did he want to pick a fight with his own families. They know where he lives…;-)

      About #3: In practical terms and based on my experience, speaking to parents does work as a ‘step 1’ if it’s handled well and it’s a couple of parents causing problems, which was my initial assumption. After that you either evict the parent and/or then make it a coach issue. In this case, after my first attempt at trying to calm everyone down I realized that there was no reasoning with this ‘mob’ so ‘step 2’ was to evict a parent and make it the coach’s responsibility going forward. My overall goal though was to get this game to completion if at all possible. The second half was borderline acceptable, on very thin ice, with one exception being a major outburst from a screaming mom demanding a yellow card for one of these little girls five minutes from full-time, but I decided to keep playing through it. However, see my comment below on the swearing.

      About #4: In my experience NorCal has taken action in every incident that I have been involved in either as CR or AR, and I’m quite sure they will take action in this case too. I will keep an eye on it and let you know.

      About the F-bombs: this wasn’t shouted out loud across the field so I didn’t hear it. But the 12 year old AR who was running the line where those parents were sitting had to listen to it during the second half. An experienced adult AR probably would have brought this to my attention during the game, especially if it’s directed at the referees or other parents or even players. In that case I would absolutely have taken action, including terminating the game if needed. I only found out about at the end of the game so it went into my incident report to NorCal.

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