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!