Column: I’m A 15-Year-Old Soccer Referee

by Jensen McKey

I am a 15-year-old soccer referee.

I became a ref in the fall of 2019 when I was 13. It was a lot of work. I had to do three hours of online training, a certification quiz and an in-person session.

I also had to buy all equipment and my uniform. Every year I have to re-certify. All referees go through training every year because the official FIFA rules change every year.

The recertification training and quiz takes around five to six hours. Along with learning the rule changes, all referees also have first aid training. We learn how to recognize signs of concussions heart attacks or heat strokes.

Before we could start, we do in-person training with an instructor; we referee five and six-year-olds, also known as U6 or seven and eight-year-olds, which are U8s. Our instructors guide us and correct us when we needed it. I have done six games with three different instructors.

I started with U6 and U8. The games were relatively easy, except for a few parents who couldn’t handle the fact that their kids were not going to be the next Megan Rapinoe or Lionel Messi.

There was one game, near the end of my first season, that was horrible. It had rained the night before, so the fields were muddy. The kids kept falling, as kids do. Because of this it was really hard to tell when there was a foul and when it was just a kid falling in the mud.

Jensen McKey

One kid was completely on his own and lost his balance and fell over. The parents of his team immediately started screaming at me for not calling a foul. They also screamed at their kids to “foul the other kids, she’s not going to call anything.”

When I called one of the kids for shoving another one over, they yelled even more because I called that foul.  

The nine and ten yeare-olds, U10s and eleven and twelve-year-olds – the U12 –games were fine for the most part. The worst one I have ever done was in a tournament.

There was one coach that was horrible to my center and kept calling her “sir” and constantly fought her on everything. At the end of the game two girls were fighting for the ball and one girl got knocked down and hurt her knee. My center called a foul and gave a free-kick. A few seconds later, the game ended and a parent started lecturing my center about how she had not kept the kids safe enough. There was not much she could really do. She got fouled and a foul was called.

There is not anything that we can do besides giving a foul.

 My favorite game is tied between two different ones but with the same team. The first time I was waiting for both teams to do the coin toss and one little girl ran up to me smiling and giggling. I asked if she was excited to play and she said yes while giggling and bouncing on her feet. I asked why she was so happy in a joking matter, but she giggled again and said, “because I get to play soccer!”

She was happy the entire time and at the end; she was still giggling even though they lost.

The second time was at a different tournament. The same little girl ran up to me and said, “Hi! Do you remember me?” I said yes and she grinned and bounced away. Their team was evenly matched with the other team this game and they were tied all the way to the last moment when one of her teammates kicked the ball and scored from behind the halfway line, but the tournament rules said that you could not score from behind the halfway line.

The entire team was jumping up and down and laughing. I dreaded telling the coach they had actually just tied. I walked over and told the coach and explained that because of the rule the score did not count. The coach looked at me — still grinning — and said: “We know, but they don’t care about winning, they are just happy that they get to play!” 

During one U8 game I had called a foul on a boy for shoving. His coach started screaming at me that I was wrong. I had explained why it was a foul multiple times and he still didn’t listen. One of my Male coworkers, who had finished his game, came over to watch the rest of mine.

The coach waved him over and said that I was wrong. My coworker said, “No, she is right, it was a foul.” The coach immediately calmed down and apologized to him for yelling.

The coach did not say anything to me. 

There was another bad game but was by far the funniest game I have had so far. I had called a handball on a kid and his mother got up and started screaming at me because I was “targeting her son” and “being unfair” because I had not called a handball earlier in the game.

She ended her rant by pointing at me and saying, “I am not going to let some thirty-year-old b**** treat my son like that.”

Even with all the name calling and people being stupid, I couldn’t imagine not being a referee. My job has helped me make friends with many of the people I work with and when we are not working, we joke around and hangout. 

But every time I do think about wanting to quit, I think about that one little girl and the teams I have reffed for who were just happy to play and didn’t care about winning.

I am a 15-year-old soccer referee.

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