What exactly do you expect from referees at your soccer tournaments? After paying travel costs, registration fees, you deserve “good refs”, right? And if the officials don’t meet your expectations, it’s okay to abuse them, right? Absolutely not!

However, there are plenty of things you can – and should – do to improve the quality of referees at youth soccer tournaments. The trick is, they all need to happen way before you show up at the next tournament.

There are no tracking indicators of referee quality that exist for tournaments. At best, tournament rankings are loosely driven by team ranking services whose factors include past tournament performance, distance those teams travel to compete, and maybe league standings. By the time your team begins warming up for your first match, the officials who are assigned to that match are a foregone conclusion, and unlike at a restaurant, you can’t send back a bad cheeseburger and demand a new cheeseburger that is cooked more to your liking.

If getting “good refs” is important to you as a club or a team, the time to voice that priority is before your team sends in its tournament registration. ASK about the previous year’s referee pool – how many officials were regional or national referees – who earn that status by completing advanced training and demonstrate player management skills that have been evaluated by US Soccer professional assessors or referee coaches. How many officials in last year’s tournament were cross-certified by NISOA to referee NCAA matches?

Beyond past performance, what does the tournament plan to do to develop the officials at the fields? An increasing number of high profile tournaments are offering on-site feedback from qualified US Soccer referee professionals, video recording of their matches for subsequent analysis, and opportunities to work with similarly positioned officials who are motivated about future professional referee assignments. Who pays for those services *IF* they are provided? The TOURNAMENTS. The same tournaments who are cashing your team’s registration fees – and the same tournament organizers who may listen if enough prospective clubs want “good refs” and are willing to invest in it.

The last aspect is crucial – it requires time and effort and a financial investment to achieve good outcomes. No shortcuts.

Some competitions are the soccer equivalent of vacationers renting a property. They get permits from field owners who do the year-round maintenance, they get their referees from whomever lives closest to the fields, and they are motivated to maximize profits. Their mindset is if spectators and coaches abuse officials, so be it — those abusers are paying customers, and referees are a dime-a-dozen costly sources of grief.

More successful tournaments see their events as the soccer equivalent of home ownership – and they invest in all aspects of the team experience because it will pay dividends in happy teams achieving their objectives. They get good outcomes in the referee community by furnishing advanced training, by demanding good behavior from coaches and spectators, and by catering to a higher quality of play by securing officials who are equipped to manage the skill level of the players.

All that said, as a parent, do you have the courage to look at your own club and honestly answer whether your club is a good soccer citizen? It’s not enough to show up at the fields and play, and it’s dangerous to assume common assets such as field quality and referee quality are someone else’s problems.

Across the country, referees have been driven into retirement by widespread referee abuse and assault, and we are on the wrong side of the retention curve – more have quit in the last two years than are currently certified. We need good soccer citizen clubs to promote referee certification as an urgent priority – as important as to whether your players can commit to the practice schedule.

We need good soccer citizen clubs to emphasize the character of players and coaches, and the parents that they bring to the field. While those adults wear your club colors to the touchline, their behavior – and referee abuse – reflect your club’s values.

What you tolerate, you approve. And no referee, whether they’re a teenager or an adult, deserves abuse that would result in arrest in any other setting.

The best news is that every tournament can commit today to improved outcomes from the referee community. The trick is whether club parents and tournament stakeholders are willing to put their money where their mouth is.

For more information on tournament referee selection, please check out our zoom here: DCREFEREES.COM – 2021 Officiating Soccer Tournaments – ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

About the Author: Jesse Rosenthal is a USSF Assignor with more than 15 years of soccer tournament experience. He has previously assigned Generation Adidas, the Rael Vodicka WAGS Tournament, DC United Labor Day DA Friendlies, the VDA College Showcase Tournament, the East Coast Premier Cup, and also assigns ECNL, EDP, and Girls Academy matches throughout the DC metro area. He can be reached at [email protected] for tournaments looking to improve their outcomes.