Youth sports referees in Arizona are ejecting more coaches and players from games, and it could have an impact across the nation. Parents, coaches, and players have all taken note of the fact that, while the players haven’t gotten more visibly aggressive, refs are starting to eject people for provocations that would have gone unnoticed just a few years ago.
According to report from AZ Central, there was an increase in ejections across all youth sports in this school year: from 618 last year to 815 so far this year. That number doesn’t include any parent or coach ejections, which also seem to be on the rise and are considered one of the main reasons for referees’ shorter fuses. “I witnessed refs being much less tolerant of players on the field,” said Elliott Belden, an Arizona soccer coach. “I had my captain and leading scorer tossed out of a game after a hard tackle with another player, in which, post-tackle, she was moved at aggressively. After not getting the call, she asked the ref about not getting the call. Straight red [card].”
Doug Meyer, a boys basketball coach in Arizona, noted to AZ Central that “officials are regularly subjected to verbal abuse,” before explaining that refs don’t just make the calls, but they themselves often escalate the argument.
While the refs that remain are seemingly getting angrier, there are also fewer of them, as many officials are quitting or retiring from officiating because of angry and verbally abusive people in the stands or on the sidelines. Fewer officials means more of the same officials having to officiate even more games. Naturally, that means refs are put into the line of fire more often than they would be.
This problem is bigger than Arizona; Missouri recently passed a law that would give refs even more legal protection from assault by parents and coaches. The difficulty in solving this problem is the cycle it creates. Angrier parents and coaches mean angrier refs, who eject more players, which in turn angers players and coaches. As the cycle rages on, more and more referees quit, which acts as a catalyst for further problems. This is all without mentioning that youth sports officials aren’t paid very well.
If something isn’t done about the referee shortage around the country – whether by increasing pay, putting stricter rules in place to stop angry parents, or something else entirely – ejections will likely keep rising as a side effect, as they have been in Arizona.