Angry parents and coaches are pushing referees away from youth sports, but two SC soccer organizations are addressing the problem head on —and it’s making all the difference, according to SC officials.
The Cainhoy Athletic Soccer Club, a youth organization with about 1,100 players in Charleston, has employed a two-pronged approach, club president David Tunesi said.
First, the organization holds meetings with coaches and team managers at least once every six months to talk about the referee shortage and why it exists. Statewide, About 70 percent of new soccer referees do not return after their first year, according to the SC Referee Association.
The club’s leaders often invite referee coordinators or the state Youth Soccer Association’s head of rules and compliance, Burns Davison, and the group talks about the expectations of sideline behavior.
Tunesi said he plans to fully embrace SoccerParenting.com, a website that helps parents distinguish between supportive, distracting and hostile sideline behavior and gives coaches instructions on how to help establish a new culture.
“It’s a tool in our arsenal to address any potential concerns or complaints,” Tunesi said, adding that it could be a requirement for parents who are particularly unruly.
“We have asked parents not to come to their child’s games in extreme cases. That’s what we do proactively,” he said, adding that it happened once last year. “But it’s not something that happens frequently.”
The Bulls Soccer Club was actually one of the first members to join SoccerParenting.com, according to Andrew Hammer, director of coaching. The club is an organization with about 800 players in Aiken, North Augusta and Augusta.
The soccer parenting platform offers all kinds of education, articles and resources for parents and coaches, and Hammer said he shares it all religiously with members.
“They can have the information at their fingertips and hopefully understand what’s going on with officiating in youth sports, and try to make it a better environment for the players, the parents and everyone involved,” Hammer said. “I think our incidents of sideline behavior have gone down. But I also think we have multiple avenues to dispense information and not just one parent meeting.”
In addition to consistently harping on parents through the platform, Bulls Soccer holds quarterly and annual meetings where the expectations of sideline behavior are regularly discussed.
“We have a parent and player code of conduct with zero tolerance for referee abuse, or any sort of sideline abuse,” Hammer said. “It is hard to enforce as a director of a club where these parents pay money for their kids to play. But we’re very, very strict about it and we’ll give a parent their money back if they can’t behave on the sidelines. It’s an ongoing problem throughout society.”
Cody Dulaney: 803-771-8313, @dulaneycd.