by Ryan White
I showed up to the soccer field the thirty minutes early that I was required to be there and then set up camp about ten or so yards away from one of the corner flags. As usual neither of my assistant referees were there on time. I’m not a fan of being late to games in general, but I especially can’t stand it at the U-17 and above level because there’s a little bit more to go over in those matches.
Sadly, it wasn’t surprising that my assistant referees sauntered over fifteen minutes before game time, which would be fifteen minutes late. As soon as they came over I stood up straight, shook each of their hands, and introduced myself. Clearly this gesture to show that I was mature and could handle myself well went nowhere though. Instantly the other two started trying to take over my game, asking me if I’d done this and that. All of those things were simple things that they wouldn’t have asked an official their own age. Next one of them looked at me and told me what color shirt we were going to wear. I wanted to tell him “I’ll decide that, not you,” but for some reason I didn’t. I just went along since he made the decision I would have anyways.
It was now time to go out on the field and start getting things ready. As we passed one of the coaches I walked up to introduce myself as I usually do before games. Right as we got to the coach my one assistant referee (AR) stepped in front of me to introduce himself first. I gave him a dirty look before I introduced myself to the coach, standing up straight and gripping the coach’s hand firmly to show that I was in control, even though I was younger than everyone else out here. I already felt like this coach looked down on me a little bit though, and it didn’t help at all that my assistant had tried to take charge for me in front of the coach. I guess no one caught the dirty look I had given because when we went over to the other coach he did the exact same thing.
While we walked from introducing ourselves to the last coach out to the center circle to call captains the one AR started to lecture me. “Now just so you know these players are older and they’re not as nice. they’re going to complain at you so just don’t be afraid out there.” I wanted to look at him and tell him to shut up, but I didn’t because I didn’t want to start an argument before the game. A game never goes well when two or more people in the officiating crew are arguing amongst themselves.
When we got to the center circle I hit my whistle just enough to cut through the chaos of players warming up and asked for captains. This was the moment where I really needed to make a good first impression. At this age the players do like to test you, and the stronger I appeared at the start, especially when I was younger than them, the better off I was going to be. I exchanged handshakes with each of the captains and then just as I was getting ready to start my usual discussion with them, the AR started up. He began lecturing them, telling them not to pull jerseys, not to talk back to me, not trip, etc. All of this was stuff that I never would have said. I stood there livid as he set me up for trouble for the rest of the game, basically telling them how I was going to call it. I didn’t say anything to cut him off though because I didn’t want to give the players the impression that we weren’t going to be working as a team out there. Finally he turned it over to me and I just did the coin toss since he had already said way too much and I’ve found over the years that players don’t like to be lectured.
Once the captains were gone I should have said something to each of my assistants, telling them that I knew what I was doing and that I appreciated that they were trying to help me, but really they’re only causing more trouble for me. For whatever reason I didn’t though. The three of us shook hands and then I hit the whistle to let the players know it was game time. Before my AR’s ran to their sidelines the one left me with a few parting words, basically saying the same thing he had told me on the way to the center circle.
Once the game started I instantly took full control and showed everyone that I had no problems handling this type of game; that I knew what I was doing, even though I was younger than everyone else. This set the precedence and because of that the rest of the game went over smoothly. I had no issues with the players and showed my AR’s that I knew what I was doing and that all along I hadn’t needed their help. After the game I even received compliments from a couple of the players and one of the coaches saying what a good job I’d done and that I was one of the best referees they’d seen out there in a long time.
What bothered me most about all of this was how many assumptions were made. When my assistant referees showed up, they could have asked me about my background as a soccer referee and given me a chance to prove myself instead of just assuming that I didn’t know what I was doing. Assignors, the people who decide what referees are refereeing what games, generally know what they’re doing and don’t just hand those games to anyone. Clearly someone somewhere had some confidence in me to give me this type of game. If one of my AR’s had bothered to ask, they would’ve found out that I’d done several of these before and that they had no need to try and run my game for me.
Why is it that in our culture today we instantly seem to look down on people younger than us? People just assume that if it’s something that they have trouble handling, someone younger than them will have even more trouble handling it.
The words of Antigone Aesculus ring out in my head. “If I am young and right, what does my age matter?” I strongly believe that instead of just looking down on someone younger than us, we need to talk to him or her, figure out their background, and give them a chance to prove themselves. That’s where young people flourish, not when they’re being doubted and looked down upon.
Ryan White, 18, wrote this essay for a class at Virginia Commonwealth University. Ryan has hundreds of games’ experience, is a Grade 7 referee and is the 2008 Virginia Young Male Referee of the Year.
Ryan later became a State Referee (Grade 6).