The latest guest on New England Soccer Journal’s “The Goal” podcast has been working diligently to help resolve a significant crisis impacting youth, club and high school soccer.
Adam Scott is a New England Soccer Journal contributor and is also the head boys varsity coach at Pembroke (Mass.) High School, and the League Director at the New England Premiership (NEP). He played his high school soccer at Weymouth (Mass.) High School, where he helped the program win two state championships in the late-1990s, and then went on to play at the University of Vermont.
Scott joined the podcast to further discuss the alarming referee shortage at all levels of soccer, which was also the subject of his columns in each of the last two editions of the New England Soccer Journal magazine. He spoke about just how serious the problem is and the steps being taken to address it, and the process of fixing it.
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Here are some highlights from our discussion with Scott in the latest episode of “The Goal”:
On the decline in referee numbers as a whole:
Scott: “I think back in 2019 we had about 5,000 referees that were sort of in the pool of referees. We are down below 2,000 now. I think the pandemic certainly pushed some of those numbers a little bit lower and maybe people didn’t want to come back out, and they were on the fence of actually refereeing or not. But the real issue that we have is we don’t have enough referees in the game to cover our games in every league that is in our region. And it’s not certainly just New England, it’s across the country, where even at the top level, the MLS NEXT level on the boys side, for example, they are struggling to get referees.”
On one of the primary causes for the problem:
Scott: “I really feel like it’s just a general lack of respect. I’ve seen some coaches, who just from Minute 1, and it’s 80 minutes in a high school game, and they are just all over the referees and there’s no time to breathe for them. I don’t think it helps their team when the coaches are just constantly berating the referees, and I don’t think it allows the referee to do their job.”
On players having the ability to help the problem:
Scott: “The cool thing about working with the high-school-age boys, especially in the high school setting — because I lived it and I loved it — is that they love that season. They love their high school program, they love their high school season, and they live for it. So, they’re passionate about it and they want it to go well. When it doesn’t go well, they’re obviously going to feel a certain way. But I do think that the modern day high school student-athlete is more than capable of understanding the dynamic of respect, especially in a referee setting and working together to make sure they can support each other as a team.”
On who is most to blame for where things are?
Scott: “I think it’s a shared responsibility between parents and coaches. I’ve been on the touchline as a coach, where I know that the parents of the team — not my high school team, but in a club setting where they’re being unruly and being disrespectful — and I had to walk across the field. I looked at the other coach one time and I was like, ‘We’ve got to stop this.’ Because then it was the two parent groups going at each other, and I looked at the other coach who I knew and I was like, ‘I want to stop this.’ He was like, ‘Yeah.’ And we walked across the field and addressed the parents in the middle of the game.”
On what it will take to fix the referee crisis:
Scott: “It’s going to be a marathon fix, not a short-term fix. It’s going to take time for this to happen. How do you get the referee numbers to go back towards 5,000 if you’re below 2,000 right now? There’s a lot of work to be done.”
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