Many years ago, I was looking for a part-time job for my adolescent son, and there really were very few options. He wanted to work but not many companies would hire someone his age. I spoke to some friends in similar situations and they suggested that he try becoming a soccer referee.

He had grown up around soccer his whole life and had a passion for it at the time, so it sounded like a great idea.


At the same time, I figured it wouldn’t hurt if I joined him in the class — to understand the game from a referee’s perspective, and, since I would be the one driving him to most of his games, I might as well get certified and make a little side cash myself.

So we ventured into the several-week quest in the classroom to become certified referees.

The class was very informative and having played the game practically my whole life, gave me a new perspective not just on the rules, and how they are applied, but also in the essential role that referees play in our athletic competitions.

Needless to say, our referee “careers” were short-lived.

My son ended his career at 12 years old after being treated so poorly by one of the coaches in a 2nd- and 3rd-grade co-ed recreation team at Carroll Indoor that he hung up his whistle for good.

He said he was worried what he might do or say the next time adults handled themselves that way.

I have always been a slow learner so I lasted about another season or two, doing a few outdoor games per season when they needed someone. I managed the middle a few times but mostly because I was a new referee, I served as the assistant referee running the sidelines at a couple of high school aged, “college showcases.”

I realized very quickly that I could do one of two things; either stay with the play or watch what was going on during the run of play.

Out of respect to the game and the kids that I was supposed to be handling, I retired from soccer officiating almost as quickly as I came in to it.

One of the hardest things an athlete has to do is to know when the time has come to throw in the towel, hang up the cleats, or put away the stick. I, for one, played well past my “prime” and well past my expiration date on the soccer field, mostly because I had some of my British friends older than me that still played and are still playing!

I’m paying for it now with a knee and hip replacement in the books, and another knee on the horizon.

Obviously the same can be said for officials who are still in the game well beyond their ability to stay with the play or make accurate, spontaneous calls at levels that have long since passed them by. I was teasing the officials at our home game the other night that as much grief as I give them, every time I leave the county, I quickly appreciate the quality we have here in Carroll County.

And I meant it. For the most part.

I always say that if a referee is older or fatter than I am, they shouldn’t still be refereeing. Unfortunately, most counties don’t adhere to my “rule,” and so we’re stuck dealing with someone who is unable to stay with the flow of play.


I’ve witnessed refs in this situation basically move only 10-15 yards past midfield at both ends, unable to make an accurate call when the situation dictates itself.

I understand the major dilemma of the referee shortage that’s going on in soccer and I’m sure many other sports are the same way. Mostly, the players who recently ended their careers are too busy enjoying life as a twenty-something to get involved with officiating.

Many are making decent money and don’t think the time to get their ref license is worth what they’ll make on the sidelines of a soccer game. Then there’s the constant barrage of insults and screaming that comes from the bleachers or the sidelines (on par with what my son went through and didn’t tolerate) that make it an unpleasant couple hours at best.

No wonder nobody is lining up to get their license.

My rule would work in many cases, but I wouldn’t go so far as to add an age restriction because there are number of officials that work on their fitness and their ability to keep up. It still doesn’t change the fact that if you are out of shape (regardless of age) and/or your age prevents you from keeping up with the speed of play, that you shouldn’t reconsider your career plans.

German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once wrote, “Just remember, once you’re over the hill you begin to pick up speed.”

If that could only be the case with referees.