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Shortage of youth sports refs persists as more and more volunteers cry ‘foul’ on poor parental behavior

Ten-year-old Maci Spencer of Weston, Florida wears a soccer ball temporary tattoo.
Ten-year-old Maci Spencer of Weston, Florida wears a soccer ball temporary tattoo.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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Youth sports leagues across the country are facing a dire shortage of officials.

It’s a trend that shouldn’t come as surprising, especially if you’re someone who officiates or has officiated. The amount of time and effort it takes as far as prepping and going through the proper channels to get certified pales in comparison to the amount of money most officials make at the amateur level, not to mention the level of verbal (and sometimes even physical) abuse referees are often subject to at the hands of parents and coaches. So drastic is the impact of poor parental behavior towards youth refs that a survey done last year by the National Association of Sports Officials showed more than 70 percent of new officials across all sports quit within three years due to abuse from parents and coaches.

In a recent piece for the New York Times, Bill Pennington looks at one Oklahoma referee who, after being on the receiving end of one too many verbal tirades, created a Facebook page where he posts videos in the hopes of shaming parents and coaches out of their combative habits. But the larger issue of the official shortage persists as many feel the pay-off for being a referee is simply not worth the time and effort it takes to get certified.

If you’re a youth sports official, what has your experience been dealing with parents and coaches at games you referee? Do you find that the time and effort you’ve spent being a referee is worth the payoff? Aside from paying them more, what do you think youth sports organizations could do to incentivize more people to become referees?

With guest host Libby Denkmann.


Barry Mano, president of the National Association of Sports Officials, creator and founder of Referee Magazine and a former NCAA Division I basketball referee