Where are the Girls? Weston Soccer Referees
This weekend BAYS (Boston Area Youth Soccer) teams re-take the field after a year of cancellation and/or adjustment. There was no Weston Soccer last spring, and last fall the teams played only other Weston teams. The best part of the fall season is that the kids got outside with their friends and teammates. And Weston won every single game. Undefeated, baby. This spring, Weston Soccer takes the field against other towns with 11 boys teams and 9 girls teams (grades 3-8 only; there is no competitive soccer pre-K to grade 2).
One of the Owlets, at age 14, is now old enough to be a BAYS referee. The training involved 5 hours of online coursework, a 4-hour zoom training class, a test, additional safety protocol training, and finally an in-person outdoor referee training run by the priceless Sara Osborn, referee assignor for Weston Soccer. [As a side note, the number of hours that Sara and Weston Soccer volunteers put into town soccer is extraordinary–and should be more appreciated]. The Owlet has also played soccer since the age of two (half-Brazilian) so has fairly extensive knowledge of the game–or is supremely confident of it, which helps as well.
At the optional in-person referee training, the Owl observed non-scientifically that there were many more boys than girls. For full disclosure, the Owl played soccer only until eighth grade herself and being old, does not remember anything about referees being boys or girls or even on the field. The Owl does remember Germany beating Italy in the finals of New Canaan town soccer. Also, snacks.
The Owl checked in with Sara Osborn to get the numbers. The good news is that Weston has a strong referee program–there are 28 middle school and high school referees (and an additional 3 adult refs). Of those 28 referees, 9 are new this year. Four of the 9 new refs are girls, joining three returning girl referees. So, pulling out the Owl calculator, 7 out of 28 means only a quarter of the referees are girls.
A check of Weston Soccer numbers shows that girl and boy player participation is close to equal at the youngest ages, with a slight downtown for the girls in middle school when sports like field hockey and cross country appear to steal a few. And in a statistical coincidence (or is it?) one-quarter of Weston Soccer’s head coaches are women. So what’s the deal?
While chatting with some moms of girls, the answers seemed to fall roughly into two categories. The first is that girls may have more options for jobs like babysitting for their weekend hours. The second is a bit more sobering: girls in their early teens may have lost some of the confidence of earlier years. Reached for comment, John “JP” Power, president of Weston Soccer and Weston High School Girls varsity coach, confirmed some of this:
“I think that the confidence required to take such significant responsibility, especially in a venue where parents occasionally howl at perceived mistakes, might be in shorter supply among 14-year-old girls. Reffing is really performance art, you have to command a very large space with bold gestures and loud calls and whistles. You have to call a lot of attention to yourself. “
Having attended a few games with my sons over the years, the truth of difficult sidelines is real. Everyone’s a referee in a folding chair.
One thing everyone said who commented for this article: they would all love to see more women referees and women coaches in soccer. Weston Soccer would love to see more girls reffing in general, and in particular, reffing the girls games. So the next time referee training rolls around, and perhaps in preparation for fall soccer, have a chat with your teenaged soccer-loving daughter, niece or neighbor. The money in reffing is not insignificant, you get to be outside doing what you love, and you’re inspiring the younger girls. Also, you get to yell and be in charge: there’s your leadership training.
As a final note to any soccer parents out there: be respectful of the referees. One of them is my kid who is doing the best he can. And what you do from the sidelines is seen and heard by everyone on the field. Respect goes a long way towards building the kids we want to see on the field in maroon or yellow jerseys.
And, for your reading enjoyment, history has been made on this very recently, with the first woman to officiate at a men’s World Cup qualifier game.