And a lot of it.
Ask me how I know, and I’ll tell you the story. But it’s not all that sad.
It just is.
For reasons not altogether completely clear to me, there seems to be an unending shortage of soccer referees around here these days.
Upon further reflection, I really think I do have a relatively good idea why there are problems in this area: Referee Abuse — from parents and coaches and players.
But mainly from coaches and players.
It’s gotten so bad that many of the younger refs we’re trying to nurture along simply get so intimidated early on that they abandon the pursuit and turn their attentions elsewhere to less demanding climes.
In my case, I’m so old and curmudgeonly that I pretty much don’t care what kind of things are verbally launched in my direction. Plus, I can’t hear most of what’s said anyway, so I kind of works out in the end.
But this post is not about the greater ill affecting the game. It’s about the symptom — the ongoing shortage.
Over the past weekend we were collectively facing the dilemma of not being able to source and assign enough referees for all the available games here in my region. So in a fit of misplaced selflessness, I volunteered my services on Saturday, already knowing I had been assigned some terribly difficult games Sunday morning that would require all my strength reserves and resolve to complete.
The only condition I made to my assignor for Saturday, should he need me, was not to put me on any sort of demanding games in the afternoon, lest I be rendered so tired and unfit I would be unable to rise from my slumber and work the next day’s assignments.
Accordingly, he paid attention to my warning and gave me three little kids’ games to handle — Under 7 and Under 8 Year Olds.
No problemo, man! I can help you out!
But then I realized I hadn’t done these types of games in years and, sometimes, the parents at that level can be horrendous.
No matter. I was “taking one for the team” because, after all, without me, there would be no games at all.
Not really. I’m fairly sure my assignor could have put his hands on some other schmuck, but I can be delusional when the situation warrants.
As it turned out, most of my time on Saturday was spent teaching the two new assistant referees working the games with me the finer points of soccer. The instruction went something like the following:
“How long have you been refereeing?” I innocently asked.
“This is my second weekend,” answered one.
“And you?” I hazarded to the other.
“Third weekend, but I have a good understanding of all the rules.”
“Okay,” I thought. “At least I won’t have to work so hard on that one.”
Wrong-O. My “experienced” guy soon proved he had no understanding that being an assistant referee required one to move up and down the sideline, even (gasp) occasionally run.
This was going to be a longish afternoon, clearly.
Then there were the little happy-go-lucky players themselves.
They didn’t stand a chance out there.
They were subjected to a constant and unending barrage of “encouragement” from their parents and erstwhile coaches. And from their real coaches, too.
To label the atmosphere as confusing would be akin to comparing this blog post to Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”
It don’t toll for thee, dude.
In the midst of the audio bombardment, an attempt was made by a few to play some soccer. However, more time was spent re-doing throw-ins and chasing down errant balls than anything else.
Then came the crying.
Some of it was understandable. Here and there a player took a soccer ball to the face or the stomach, or simply tripped.
Oh, that’s right. I forgot. We also experienced many stoppages of play for shoelace tying. These kids were as bad at that at playing soccer.
But back to the crying.
Outside of the normally explainable instances, there were other, unique events.
The first involved a little boy who couldn’t figure out which side of the center line to stand on before the kick-off occurred. The more he was “encouraged,” the worse his immobility became. He was glued to that piece of turf, and I suppose he figured things couldn’t get any worse if he just hung tight there.
But then his resolve started to crumble and the tears began to flow.
I had had enough of this scene and stepped in to help out the little
bugger player, since everyone else was screaming at him.
I crouched down next to him, told the sideline to zip it, and just talked to him in the calmest, most reassuring voice I could muster. The problem was, I really didn’t know what to say.
So I just made it up.
“You don’t need to cry. No one is mad at you.”
More tears. Trembling lips.
“All you need to do is stand on the other side of the line here, and life goes on, kid.” I didn’t really say the second part.
“You’re just out here to have fun. Don’t worry about them talking to you.”
I gently maneuvered him to the correct position, and the world started spinning again, and the salty discharge quickly evaporated.
Until the next incident.
Two little boys starting a teensy tiny shoving match. Nothing much to it, really, but I needed to get them to knock it off before somebody decided to bite someone else.
“You, two. Come here. Both of you.”
My summons was met by the classic “if I pretend to look away, then he’s not talking to me” feint, but they soon got the message and frighteningly approached me.
“Look, you two should be having fun. I want you to knock it off and stop. . . “
Then the tears began to flow.
“He started it first (sob),” and so on.
I had to calm down these tykes quickly or half the field might erupt in waves of sorrow.
“Guys. I’m not mad at you. You just need to stop shoving each other. You’re supposed to be having fun out here. Now no more pushing, okay?”
I had to give the one kid a hug in order to prevent a total meltdown.
I’m a bad man. A very bad man to cause such pain.
After the games were complete, I sat on a bench at the end of the field, packing up my stuff for the drive home. I was more hot than tired, and more thirsty than hungry.
And though I hardly ran at all, my feet hurt.
So much for selflessness.
But then a couple of parents passed by on the way to the parking lot and commented on how well they thought I handled the kids out there.
Okay. Feeling a bit better now.
I guess I wish all crying were so easy to stop, but I do keep a lint roller handy because I never know when I’m going to be herding cats, or little kids.