Peterborough's Beth McClelland has been refereeing since her tween years, and as an adult now watched a lot of young, new officials start out as well. She has observed their treatment on and off the field, and while most people treat them with respect, many don't. She wrote this open letter below for us to share as a reminder to how your words can impact these young officials...
Dear athletes, coaches, parents & spectators,
Summertime in Peterborough has always meant one thing to me: soccer season. I’ve been playing in various leagues since the age of four and refereeing since age 12. As a player, I’ve felt the joy that comes from forming lifelong bonds with teammates, of celebrating a win or strong effort and of improving as a player. As a referee, I’ve felt my confidence grow and taken on leadership roles and more competitive games.
I love soccer, but it’s not all butterflies and roses.
I started refereeing at the age of 12, and since that age I’ve been called worthless, stupid, terrible and a barrage of other nasty things. I’ve held back tears on the field and let them out behind closed doors after the game where the name calling replays over and over in my head. I’ve had coaches swear at me and heard parents tell their 10-year-old children "I’m a stupid bitch."
As a player, I understand the anger that comes when a referee misses a call or sees things in a different perspective. I, too, have struggled to let it go after the whistle blows. How is it possible that someone who referees could get annoyed with a fellow referee? Because I’m human. It’s because I’m human I WILL make mistakes as both a player and a referee. Because I’m human, I DO feel things on a personal, emotional level, and because I’m human, I care deeply about doing my very best. Because I’m human, the awful treatment I receive as a referee can be inexplicably painful. Sometimes it makes me want to stop refereeing and even makes me question my worth in our society.
Every season, I see a new group of young, inexperienced officials begin their journey into refereeing. Most of them aren’t thinking about the kind of games they’ll be doing in 10 years or the friends they’ll make along the way; they’re thinking it’s a pretty fun summer job. The tough reality is that after that first season, most of them won’t be back.
When a young person starts a new position at a fast food restaurant, summer camp, grocery store, etc. they often wear a name tag that specifies they’re “in training” or hold a title such as “junior counsellor”. A referee takes a course over a weekend, purchases their kit and then gets thrown on the field where they try to remember all 139 pages of the law book they just received.
Sure, there will be referees who don’t care and who don’t act professionally, but much like any other industry, they’re few and far between. Most of us just want to do a great job.
I was incredibly lucky to have some older, experienced referees encourage, support and mentor me from an early age. I can only try to do the same for those starting out and plead to this community and beyond to show respect.
As referees, we try to understand that most comments aren't meant to be personal and that people can change in the heat of the moment, but it can take many years of doing the job and many hurtful comments to figure that out.
To those who already stop to shake the referee’s hand after a game regardless of the results, thank you. To those who understand that we have bad days too, thank you. And to those who teach their children to step in the referee’s shoes because one day they might do that job too, thank you.