It probably comes as no surprise to anyone, but referees take a lot of abuse. Mostly verbal, though I have heard some stories and seen some YouTube videos featuring refs fighting players. Or just getting punched by players.* But I digress.
Coaches yell, players yell, parents yell. And probably the worst of all of these is the parents. It might seem a bit extreme to say that I hate hockey parents, but it’s pretty close to the truth.
There was a conversation in the ref locker room once, and a ref who had just gotten off the ice was saying that parents are the reason that kids don’t stick with refereeing. Parents are vicious. They don’t seem to realize that referees are human and not soul sucking robots here to ruin their kid’s day. They have absolutely no qualms about coming up to you after a game and telling you how horrible you are, and what a disgusting display of officiating you just put on. They might also say things about how you’re embarrassing and should probably never ref again. You’re probably also ugly and eat small children for breakfast.
I have only had to experience this twice in my four years of officiating, and for that, I feel pretty lucky. That’s really not a terrible ratio, if you ask me. The first time it happened, I was in the beginning of my third year of refereeing and doing a 19U girls game that was perhaps a bit much for me at the time. The older the girls get, the more they dance right on the line of straight checking another player, and this game was full of bumps and body contact. At the end, there was a brawl.
I was not ready for that. I had never had to break up a fight of this size before, and these girls were going at it. I panicked and probably blacked out, and when I had to walk across the lobby to go back to the ref locker room, the parents swarmed. That was almost enough for me to think about never putting on the stripes again.
The second time this happened was just a couple of weeks ago. A game that I thought would be relaxed and fun because it was non league and playoffs were over, turned out to be an awful, terrible, chippy game. There were kids throwing punches all over the ice, and after the game, a player tried to go to the other team’s locker rooms and there were parents and coaches screaming.
And once again, when my partner and I tried to go to our locker room, the parents swarmed. We were awful, we were embarrassing, we were disgusting and had no control on the ice. One particular mom got it into her head that she had the right to throw open the locker room door to continue her tirade against us.
That is why it’s hard for kids to stick with refereeing. This is what they have to deal with. Parents sit up in the stands and think they know everything, and think that they could do your job better than you can. And then they come down and tell you so to your face. And you have to sit there and hold back all the choice swear words you want to throw in their face because you have to be professional and mature and you have to not take these things personally. You have to tell yourself that if the same game happened with two different refs, these parents would be doing the same exact thing. It’s not you they hate. It’s the stripes.
But sometimes that’s hard to remember.
Being a ref means you have to have a very thick skin. Like elephant thick. You have to build up your armor, and then make sure nothing can slip through it. The older and more experienced you are, the easier this is. But when you’re young and new, it’s hard to not take things personally sometimes. I’m finally getting to a point where I’m starting to deflect the insults more easily. But when a hockey mom tries to come into your locker room and tell you how disgusting and terrible you are, and then continues to try and talk shit to you in the parking lot…well, the armor might crack a little.
And unfortunately, there are many parents like that. The more that’s at stake, the worse it’s going to be. Parents think they know everything, especially when their kid is concerned. And in their fury, they forget that sometimes the ref they’re yelling at is practically a kid too.
To the hockey parents of the world, I implore you: remember that the ref you’re screaming at and berating is only human. We are not perfect. Mistakes will be made. Refs in the NHL make mistakes. If it’s going to happen to them, it will definitely happen to us who are just starting out in the youth leagues. Try and remember that the striped sweater that you’re yelling at is being worn by a person who has human emotions and feelings, no matter how thick of a skin they’ve got. Also if you think you could do a better job than them, go get certified and get on the ice.
To the referees who may be feeling discouraged: parents suck most of the time. But for all the parents that will rage and stomp their feet and slam on the glass because obviously you missed that penalty there, there will be parents that will seek you out after the game to shake your hand and thank you for a good game. And moments like that, in my opinion, outweigh all the bad ones.
P.S. When I was playing travel hockey, my dad got thrown out of a game once, for telling a ref to keep his day job. He says that now that I am a ref, he tries to bite his tongue more often.