One club’s view on parent refereeing: “a paid job”

First off, to avoid any misunderstand, this post is NOT meant to point a finger at a specific club or individuals at that club. The decision makers at this club were acting without malice in what they considered to be reasonable and in the best interest of their club. So the intention of this post is only to help ‘educate’ our youth soccer community, including decision makers at clubs (and leagues), triggered by an actual situation I encountered with one of the big clubs in our area.

One of my kids plays for one of the well-known clubs in the Bay Area and this club collects an additional $100 per player every season that parents can earn back through six hours of volunteering during the season. Any money left over at the end of the season is automatically donated to the club.

Volunteer tasks include activities such as lining a field or manning a tournament booth or helping to sell club spirit wear during a club event.

As you might know, I am a fully certified USSF referee and try my best to officiate as many youth games as I can every weekend to help our Bay Area soccer community, including many games for this specific club.

You probably already know that there is a big shortage of referees, but if you don’t then please take a moment to read this before continuing.

To my surprise, when I submitted my refereeing to this club as my volunteering contribution to claim the $100 back at the end of last season, I was told that this club doesn’t consider refereeing ‘volunteering’ because it is compensated.

The ironic thing is that in response to this same club’s request for parents to consider becoming certified referees “to help make sure games can happen” some years ago, I volunteered to become one.

And every six months or so this club’s referee coordinator sends out an email to all families asking for help officiating and the details of the next entry-level referee course. And, partly in response to this club’s recent shout-out, two of my kids are also now certified referees and volunteer their time on weekends in addition to their own soccer games.

Before I continue, let me emphasize that this is not about the $100. I am fortunate enough not to have to worry about the $100. Instead, it’s about the principle of this policy and the message that it is sending.

Also, let me be clear one more time that I don’t think this club is in any way ‘against’ referees. The club leadership and Board members are good people that want their club and kids to succeed. I have to assume that the majority on the club’s Board simply don’t understand what’s involved in becoming a referee and then officiating every weekend.

I am going to first talk about money, then my non-monetary commitments, and, finally, I will describe arguably the single most important and hidden volunteer contribution that goes along with a parent referee.

The club is correct that referees do get some compensation for games. It’s anywhere from $25 to $55 per game, depending on factors such as whether you’re the CR or AR, the age group, duration of the game, and level of play (e.g. CYSA league game or NPL or ECNL etc.).

So, for example, if I’m the AR for a 50-minute U8 CYSA game then I get $25. And if I’m the CR for a 90-minute U18 ECNL game then I get $55.

The total time commitment for the U8 game is around 2 hours and around 3 hours for the U18 game, when adding halftime (around 10 minutes), pre-game set-up and team check-in (we try to arrive 30 minutes prior to kick-off, but it’s often only 15 to 20 minutes because we’re rushing over from another game), post-game handshakes and paperwork etc. (10 minutes), and then, say, 30 to 60 minutes driving to and from the field. Sometimes we have back-to-back games at the same field so that saves us one leg of the drive.

So that’s $12.50 per hour for a typical U8 game and $18 per hour for a typical U18 game.

But that’s before deducting expenses!

Deduct from this the cost of fuel plus an allocation for wear and tear for my car. This wear and tear includes factors such as added mileage and the effects of usage on parts, tires, brakes, fluids etc. The IRS calculates the fully loaded cost for this to be $0.54 per mile. I drive an average of 10 miles one way to a game so that’s around $10 just for car usage.

Also deduct from the compensation the cost of additional food and drinks that I often grab on-the-go while driving from one game to the next. A per-game allocation of, say, $5 for extra food and a Peets coffee (to get my tired mind and body caffeinated for the fourth game under the sun that day) that I would not have bought if I wasn’t refereeing, and we’re looking at a total per-game cost of between $10 and $15.

And then there’s the cost for annual USSF certification and membership in the referees association, plus the cost for my equipment, which I estimate to be around $500 to $750. And I’m about to spend another round of money on equipment because USSF is introducing new referee uniforms.

I’m probably missing a couple of cost items, but I hope this gives you some insight into the expense side of refereeing. Nevertheless, a referee can come out ahead if he/she officiates enough games and thus covers his/her fixed cost.

Now, I’m fortunate enough not to have to worry about ‘coming out ahead’. Any money I ‘earn’ over and above my cost makes zero contribution to my family’s standard of living. And I can say with 99% certainty that the same applies to any parent at that club who decides to help out by becoming a referee. You would agree with me if you knew which club it was and the neighborhoods the families live in.

Next, let’s focus on the non-monetary aspects of what I do. It’s easiest to simply run a list:

  • 4 to 6 games per weekend (sometimes no games if I’m taking my daughter or son to an overnight tournament, and sometimes more if needed, especially during local tournaments) – a total of 10 to 20 hours per weekend and probably 200 to 300 hours per typical season;
  • I jump into games on short notice and drop whatever else I was planning to do with my kids or wife when I get an urgent email or call asking me to help out because a game is short referees or a referee fell ill;
  • I attend, on my own time and cost, referee association meetings to discuss and learn about becoming a better referee;
  • I attend, on my own time and cost, quarterly referee training seminars to become a better referee;
  • I read, on my own time and cost, articles on refereeing and study case studies on a daily/weekly basis to become a better referee;
  • I mentor, on my own time, new/young referees when asked by assignors;
  • I write, on my own time, about refereeing on this blog to help educate our soccer community here in the Bay Area;
  • I encouraged my two oldest kids to become referees, helped train them, often discuss refereeing decisions and the laws of the game with them, and take them to their games so we have new young referees to fill the shoes of those aging out;
  • I am studying, on my own time, the recently updated Laws of the Game – the biggest revamp of the laws in the history of the game;

I could go on.

Now let’s get to the typically overlooked yet most critical volunteer contribution of all. And this volunteer contribution gets zero recognition. At least a referee can get some personal satisfaction from officiating a game.

This critical volunteer contribution comes from my wife. She sacrifices her time every weekend to enable me (and my kids) to help out with officiating so that games can take place.

My wife puts up with all of this. Who takes care of the kids when I’m gone for the day or even weekend helping make sure youth games can happen? My wife. Who adjusts her schedule when I get an urgent call to help out with game? My wife. And who takes our kids to their games if those overlap with my officiating? My wife.

And my wife earns zero compensation and recognition for this volunteering. In fact, it is often a source of considerable stress in our family.

And, finally, at the end of an especially long weekend officiating, my body and mind are exhausted. I often have no energy to go out on a Saturday or Sunday evening, and Monday then becomes my recovery day – guess how productive my workday is on some Mondays?

I don’t like to talk about this. I’m not into self-promotion. I’m not looking for a pat on the back. I do all this for a passion for the beautiful game and to help the kids in our Bay Area soccer community. For futbol…and a smile on the kids’ faces.

Yes, there are often many negative emotions during and after games as you can imagine, dear parents and coaches ;-), but, on balance, the positives of refereeing outweigh the negatives for me.

I couldn’t care less for any ‘compensation’ and I couldn’t care less for the $100 donation for this club. This isn’t about the money. And the same applies to practically any other parent referee.

But what I do care about is that refereeing by parents is viewed as a ‘paid job’. At a minimum, it completely ignores the very real sacrifices of the referee’s spouse.

I simply can’t see how a referee family’s contribution to our youth soccer community, including a specific club’s community, is worth less than spending a handful of hours manning a booth.

I strongly urge clubs to respect and recognize the contributions of parent referee families to our soccer community.

Anyway, I hope this is a useful perspective on parent refereeing that is probably not fully understood in our youth soccer community.

For futbol, for the kids!

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

6 thoughts on “One club’s view on parent refereeing: “a paid job”

  1. You, sir, are a much better spouse than I! In my list of cons of refereeing, I hadn’t included that very important element. I’m not very surprised that this club does not fully account for your contribution to the game. Then again, aren’t all board members coaches, ex-coaches, or spouses of coaches? At the very least, your club could let you off the hook by refereeing 10 matches (paid) for their rec league (or whichever league they find it most difficult to get referees for). I’ve seen that arrangement in clubs in our town. In my neighborhood, the principal assignor goes out of his way to encourage adults to sign up for grade 8 classes and referee as many matches as possible. Why? because youth referees will only be around for 2-5 years before heading off to college but a resident adult can be here for decades! Thanks for the thoughtful post!

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  2. James, I totally get where you are coming from…I too referee and enjoy it immensely. However in this scenario I think the club has a point – the $100 parent bond is about encouraging people to volunteer not compensating them for their time – the amount just makes it easier for everyone to prioritise the demands on their time…i.e.,do I want to volunteer or am I happy paying $18 per hour to avoid the hassle…I think my wife is a natural economist as she loves this bond idea… our local baseball association does the same thing and she delights in knowing that everyone is treated equally – she works the hours to avoid paying the $100 and has no problem with others choosing to forfeit the $100 as the league and the kids benefit (note in this league the referees are not paid and their hours are creditable against the bond). What does drive her nuts it our local AYSO constantly looking for volunteers and then watching the same parents step up while some get a free ride….but that’s a whole other ball of wax πŸ™‚

    Whatever the hourly referee rate works out to be, I don’t see how you could claim these hours against the $100 bond if you accept payment for them…it would certainly be very hard to explain to a parent who worked 8 hours selling spirit wear or manning a tournament booth that the referees were getting paid AND getting credit against the $100 bond…essentially that would be like saying their time is worth less than the referees…in fact come to think of it that’s exactly what your match fee does say… Refs get the opportunity to earn $25-50 per hour for an unlimited number of games….while the other volunteer roles are worth only $18/hour up to a maximum of 8 hours….given all the non-monetary benefits you state that come with refereeing it really is a no-brainer…its way better to be on the field than staffing the booth!

    When you state that “its not about the money”…i.e. you can easily afford the extra $100…your frustration with the $100 bond is much more about the feeling that the many hours you put into refereeing are not fully appreciated. I think the reason we volunteer significantly influences the levels of appreciation we seek..for me its still getting to enjoy the game, what it has to teach my kids about life and surprisingly what it still has to teach me…saying that if I tried to ref 4 games every weekend and even if I got paid $100 per game the stresses it would place on my family and other commitments would make my off-field time a real pain..I guess it’s a balance, but double-dipping with the ref hours in the parent bond is probably not the best place to start a referee appreciation drive.

    Thanks for writing the bog…love the fact that you raise these everyday soccer issues for discussion.

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    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts! It’s through these kinds of positive discussions that we solve issues. And it’s important to be able to agree to disagree and still grab a beer together!

      Families of players are asked to volunteer 6 hours, roughly equivalent to the $100. My view is that an active referee family (referee parent and spouse) contributes at least as much during the season as 6 hours worth of manning a booth or similar.

      The key issue in my mind is that the contribution a referee family makes goes way beyond just being at the field for a couple of games per weekend and collecting some money.

      The entire family is part of the effort and the spouse in particular. I can’t emphasize enough how much my wife does behind the scenes to allow me to contribute to way I do. And it often leads to considerable stress at home, especially as the season unfolds.

      And officiating is physically and mentally demanding. The dissent and abuse we have to deal with is considerable. A parent referee doesn’t subject him/herself to this for the $30 we might net per game. The pay isn’t enough to be the reason for why we referee. It’s for the love of the game and the kids. It’s because we want to contribute to our soccer community and clubs.

      There’s a fundamental misunderstanding of what we do and why we do it, and the role of money in all this.

      That said, it’s probably best to put some minimum hours requirement in place for referees to be entitled to the $100 volunteer credit. If a parent referee is only officiating, say, one game every other weekend then that will probably have little to no ‘cost’ for the spouse/family.

      Anyway, again, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts!

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  3. Since you can’t (or won’t) say it, I will. And yes I know which club your kid plays for.

    Your board are either idiots or exceptionally lazy (they run a soccer club and don’t know what referees do) or are so uninvested in youth soccer (driven by egos personally and $s as a club) that they would make what is, frankly, a very short-sighted, uneducated and selfish decision. In fact this is just the tip of the iceberg and one of many “issues” with youth soccer in the Bay Area.

    There are several key elements to youth soccer, all of which are essential to the kids experience and learning environment. They are coaches, fields, equipment and referees. Little else affects the kids on the field. That your club hasn’t figured this out and/or hasn’t figured out how to drive these elements to be the best they can be, says volumes not only about your club but about most clubs in the bay area. Because most clubs haven’t figured out these basics and instead are focusing most of their time, energy and money on other aspects of the game. Running “camps”, signing up with “euro” clubs for limited payback, hiring expensive “DOCs” with questionable “relevant” qualifications, etc. while underinvesting in coach education, mentoring and training, as well short-changing on fields and equipment, and as you have seen, on referees too.

    I wish you luck in getting your clubs “board” to recognize the error of their ways and allowing referees to count their time towards their volunteer commitment.

    Andrew

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  4. Since you can’t (or won’t) say it, I will. And yes I know which club your kid plays for.

    Your board are either idiots or exceptionally lazy (they run a soccer club and don’t know what referees do) or are so uninvested in youth soccer (driven by egos personally and $s as a club) that they would make what is, frankly, a very short-sighted, uneducated and selfish decision. In fact this is just the tip of the iceberg and one of many “issues” with youth soccer in the Bay Area.

    There are several key elements to youth soccer, all of which are essential to the kids experience and learning environment. They are coaches, fields, equipment and referees. Little else affects the kids on the field. That your club hasn’t figured this out and/or hasn’t figured out how to drive these elements to be the best they can be, says volumes not only about your club but about most clubs in the bay area. Because most clubs haven’t figured out these basics and instead are focusing most of their time, energy and money on other aspects of the game. Running “camps”, signing up with “euro” clubs for limited payback, hiring expensive “DOCs” with questionable “relevant” qualifications, etc. while underinvesting in coach education, mentoring and training, as well short-changing on fields and equipment, and as you have seen, on referees too.

    I wish you luck in getting your clubs “board” to recognize the error of their ways and allowing referees to count their time towards their volunteer commitment.

    Andrew

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    • Thank you for sharing your views, Andrew. I just want to point out that I have three kids that are at different clubs. Please don’t jump to conclusion about which club I’m referring to in this post…πŸ˜‰

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