The president of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Soccer Club is “fully supportive” of Ontario Soccer’s decision to use bodycams to try to reduce abuse of young soccer officials.
The decision by the province’s governing body is a necessary step to determine if it reduces “inappropriate behaviour” by players, coaches and fans, says Carrie Plaskett.
Part of a pilot project by the Ontario organization, the bodycameras won’t be used in NOTL.
However, with soccer associations across the province having trouble retaining referees because of the backlashes they face on the pitch, “the Niagara Soccer Association has stressed the importance of supporting our referees,” Plaskett told The Lake Report.
“It is important to note that it is not just the older age groups that the referees are having trouble with,” she added.
In the Niagara region, coaches have received suspensions for inappropriate conduct toward referees as young as 13 during games with players on the field that are nine and 10 years old, she said.
“What sort of example does that set? There should be zero tolerance of any sort of abuse.”
“I am fully supportive of seeing if officials wearing cameras will reduce this type of inappropriate behaviour.”
She noted the NOTL Soccer Club is excited to have a team of eight referees this year, all 12 to 14 years old who are either rookie officials or have one year of experience.
“Refereeing is a great opportunity for these young individuals to support local soccer and earn some excellent wages,” Plaskett said.
The NOTL officials are all under the mentorship of head referee Lucas Mitchlick, an experienced official and student at Brock University.
Plaskett said the club’s philosophy is to try to help young referees feel part of a supportive team.
“It can be very intimidating going into matches for the first time and making any calls,” she said.
“They don’t need the added stress of potential backlash from coaches, players and spectators.”
Joe Pagnotta, the NOTL club’s head coach and technical director, echoed those sentiments, though he’s a bit saddened that it has come to this point.
“Soccer should always be about having fun, even at the rep level,” where competition can be intense, he said.
Emotions on the pitch – and on the sidelines – can run high and games can get chippy as a result, Pagnotta said.
As a coach and a parent, he worries about player safety and wants referees to not hesitate about taking charge. No one wants a child to get hurt
But it can be tough for a young teenager to do so when they’re relatively new to officiating and people are yelling and complaining.
That’s why it is important for everyone to support referees and recognize the job they are trying to do, Pagnotta said.
He recalled a competitive U10 game last year in which NOTL was up 3-0 by half-time. Then emotions took over and the other team got really physical in the second half.
That’s when coaches need to focus on sportsmanship and not intimidation.
When the game ended, one of his players came to him and said, “Coach Joe, that wasn’t fun. And that’s not what sport and soccer is supposed to be.”
“I’ll never forget it,” Pagnotta said. “A 10-year-old said that.”
The player had it all figured out. Now, it’s up to parents and coaches on the sidelines to recognize what children’s sports are supposed to be about.