Youth referees for Sporting Lee’s Summit will become strong citizens

SEPTEMBER 2016 – Without a team of referees, the game wouldn’t exist.

While they score no goals and make no saves, they are essential to the success of every soccer player on the field.

At Sporting Lee’s Summit, the team of referees which take the field in every match make youth soccer enjoyable for their kids.

“I truly believe the generation of young people will change the world,” said Sporting LS referee assignor Art Shinabarger.

His belief is reflected throughout SLS’s administration, where the referee program is the single largest employer of teenagers in Lee’s Summit.  Kids can begin refereeing – for pay – as early as eighth grade, which gives youngsters a unique opportunity to earn a little cash.

“Everybody who signs up will get two games (each week),” explained Shinabarger.  “They can easily earn a couple of hundred dollars (in a ten-week season), if they are committed.”

Pay runs from $10 to $45 per game, depending on the play level; rates increase with responsibility.

“Our objective is when they go to college they don’t have to work a ‘real’ job,’ ” he said.  “They can work soccer.  It’s flexible and they’ll make more money than at a retail job. You get to play every weekend with little kids and we’re paying you to do it.”

Banner Sporting Lee's SummitSoccer dad Trafton Creemer was impressed with how quickly his 14-year-old daughter, Sadie, earned her pay.

“She made $800 her first season in refereeing,” he said.  “For that age, that’s nice money.”

The program, however, offers young referees much more.

“It’s a great source of income and I think it does make them smarter about the game,” Creemer said. “They learn to understand what the referees are doing.”

He cited an example from when he coached.

“We had around 50 boys in our program,” he said. “There had to have been 15-plus that had started refereeing. You could see the difference on the sidelines. Instead of being upset by calls, they are more forgiving of refs. They are understanding more the laws of the game and why the laws were created.”

Sadie Creemer often explains calls to teammates when she is playing.

“It’s more fun when you understand the calls,” Creemer said. “It definitely has helped. My teammates get less angry. I have enjoyed playing more since I started reffing.”

Young referees also learn some adult responsibilities.

“We want the kids to become responsible on their own,” Shinabarger said. “We discourage the parents from going out to the fields with them because we want to teach them accountability from the first day. The only way they learn and get that confidence is to be there.”

That’s not to say referee parents aren’t appreciated.

“They have to be the support at home,” he said. “I thank the parents every time I see them.  Parents help get them to the fields. Most of our referees don’t drive.”

Another tremendous benefit is youngsters gain confidence.

“You’re out there and you are in charge,” Shinabarger said. “You’ve got between 14 and 22 players, the coaches, 40 parents on the sidelines. You are on stage, the center of attention. If you can do that and do it well, the impact it can have on your life is amazing. You see it in school and other activities.”

Sadie has learned to stand up for herself and to have confidence in her calls even when coaches might dispute them.

“They think they’re always right,” she said. “They think you’re a girl, you’re young, you don’t know.  But, I’m knowledgeable, so back off.”

Dealing with pressure from coaches and parents giving you flak can be difficult.

“It’s hard to have people screaming at you for 45 minutes,” Sadie said. “I enjoy it when the kids are having fun and the coaches are willing to listen. I’ve learned how to explain calls even if they don’t agree. I’m calm, cool and collected.”

Shinabarger and Sporting LS director of referees Anthony Gardner work hard to redirect coaches’ unhappiness about calls into more of a learning experience and help them understand what behavior is appropriate.

“Nowhere else do we allow kids to be bullied,” Shinabarger said. “Why allow coaches to do it?”

In addition to holding two-and-a-half day training clinics for referees, they provide experienced mentors who watch referee performances and provide important feedback after each match.

“Anthony has brought in some of the best referees in the city,” Shinabarger said. “They’re mentoring, providing a written summary so I know how to advise. He trained at the clinics and gave us tools that are going to help us.”

Shinabarger also meets briefly with young referees before and after their work to talk about what areas they should concentrate on.

“We teach them what to say to coaches and parents,” he said. “Training and teaching is the most important thing. It’s a lot like parenting. If you care about them they will respond to it.”

The program employs about 250 active referees with about half of them working each week. Most are teenagers although some are adults who have gotten involved in refereeing to remain active in the sport or to support their soccer-playing children.  In recent years, nearly 100 families have had two or more family members serve as referees, many at the same time.

Some, like the Creemers, have made refereeing a family event. Once Sadie became old enough, Trafton and his son Oliver, who is in high school, went through the training program and have even had the opportunity to work games together.

“It was really cool the first time we got to be a three-man team,” Trafton said. “To be able to work together is a really cool thing.”

Said Oliver, “That’s a lot of fun. Instead of coming and watching him, I can ref with him. I’ve done it once or twice with my dad.  That was fun. It’s something you can do that’s another soccer activity.”

He also learns about the game, which helps when he’s playing.

“You can see what the referee’s talking about,” Oliver said.  “You know when the referees are doing something that’s incorrect.”

While youngsters are gaining experience and knowledge, the adult referees are also learning.

“You work together,” Trafton said.  “Instead of a coach/player mentality, it’s a co-worker mentality. You learn a lot from the kids reffing the games. It’s great to work together on that. We’ve got some excellent youth referees.”

Although the majority of Sporting LS referees are youngsters, the program still has a tremendous need for experienced adult referees.

“We always need adults who want to stay involved and give back to the game,” Shinabarger said.  “Adults can help guide the youngsters in a positive way.  We always encourage people who want to step up and help out.”

The referee program’s importance will be felt for many years to come.

“All these young referees coming back after college will be running the league,” he said. “They’ll be board members, coaches.  It’ll continue to blossom.”

Teenagers and adults interested in joining the Sporting Lee’s Summit referee program can become involved by going to the club’s website – – clicking on the “Referees” tab and choose “Referee Training” for information about training sessions and a link to email Art Shinabarger, the Referee Assignor.

Article by Marc Bowman

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