Skip to Content

“They think they’re out there watching the World Cup”: Soccer leaders alarmed at uptick of adults’ misbehavior at youth games

EL PASO, TEXAS (KVIA-TV)-Youth sports today face double trouble with the success of stars like Lionel Messi, Ricardo Pepi, Megan Rapinoe, and Mia Hamm. Now more than ever, competitive youth sports are being built around elite athletes— the kids who play one sport all year round are usually considered the best players. Sometimes, those kids have an increased amount of pressure on them. These are also dangerous times for referees who call penalties with some overbearing parents robbing the fun.  

It's the start of a new season for soccer players in the Sun City, and with the new season comes sideline antics. Juan Torres is the referee coordinator for the Northeast Soccer League. He started his career as a referee when he was 14 while playing youth soccer, looking to earn extra cash. Torres says the game has changed from when he first started to now: "Parents yelling, going crazy, people cursing out kids and refs."  He explained that he's seen parents screaming at kids as young as six. 

 "It's soccer; it's supposed to be fun." He said.  

He explained that parents have aggressively approached referees', which is alarming because most of the refs are high school students. Torres explained, "It's a beautiful sport; this anger makes it ugly and scares young people," Torres said many of the coaches and refs volunteer their time to officiate the games. "You don't want to ruin the one thing they love, being a coach, mentoring, be more considerate." 

 Miguel Morales is the association secretary for the Soccer Referee Association in El Paso. He says, "There has been a referee shortage. The pandemic had something to do with it. But also, some referees have quit because of abuse from fans." 

He explained that referees play different roles in city league and school sports events. The referees that belong to the TASO (Texas Association of Sports Officials, the association that referees soccer district games in Texas) are more protected than city league Referees.  

In June, the state legislature passed HB 2484, filed by Representative Ryan Guillen. The new law sets penalties for fans who become physical with officials. The TASO Legislative Team assisted the new law that protects officials from harm at sporting events. 

Morales says, "Schools must investigate incidents, and fans will be barred from attending UIL events for up to five years.  

In city leagues, referees are on their own. For school district games, there is a requirement to have an administrator and or security to start a game. TASO and UIL (University Interscholastic League) have worked to put guidelines in place to protect referees from abuse. 

He stated," The districts have been very helpful and cooperative with this guideline. Anytime a fan gets out of hand, the referees can get a hold of the administrator and security and, if need be, have the unruly fan removed," according to Morales. 

NESL also has rules in place for unruly spectators who attend matches. If a fan misbehaves, it will be banned between two to five years, depending on the situation. 

Officials and coaches with the NESL understand that parents get emotional. Joe Mesa works for the sports organization; he started his career as a coach five years ago. He said growing up in California, his coach taught him the importance of the game. As a Marine, he trained in many different roles and instilled those values in his soccer players, but sometimes, parents lose sight of why athletes are on the field. Mesa explained. 

Parents try to live vicariously through their kids." he said, "They forget they're out there to support. I don't think they differentiate professional sports from youth sports". 

Seventy percent of student-athletes stop playing sports by the age of 13; the reason? Their parents' bad behavior. The National Alliance for Youth Sports conducted this study.  

" There should be positive reinforcement; talk to them like they want their kids spoken to. Put yourself in their shoes. There are ways of doing things; aggressively and violently aren't one of them. Often, parents are thinking about themselves and not what the kids are thinking or what they want. "The kids don't want to go out there and get verbally abused; nobody does," Mesa said. 

The head coach for El Paso United, Andres Gonzalez, started his coaching career in 2018. The father of five says he finds great joy in teaching young kids the importance of fast decision-making skills. He trains kids from the ages of 6 to 13 years old. Gonzalez and his coaches work one-on-one with players to get the most out of each player every time they step on the pitch. Gonzalez says he has seen a change in how parents behave during soccer matches over the years. He says parents and coaches know athletes' potential, which affects their behavior. 

"They know their kids and their potential, they know what they can do, some coaches get extreme too; it's embarrassing for the kids, that's my dad, that's my mom yelling," Gonzalez said. 

 Sometimes, overly passionate parents get in the way of him developing young players during the soccer matches: " I had a parent come out on the field, I put my hand and said hey you need to sit down, I got this. I see them looking at their parent, I call them to look at me. You're ok". He explained,  

" We try and teach the kids that making a mistake is not a big deal; we will get over it and keep working through it. If parents understand that, the game will be much more enjoyable for the kids and everyone around." 

As the 2023 soccer season kicks off, NESL wants parents and spectators to remember that this is just a game, "Be patient with them, be understanding with the coaches, listen to the refs, be a parent, and enjoy them."  Gonzalez said. 

Officials with the Northeast Soccer League are always searching for referees. If you are interested in applying, click here:

Article Topic Follows: News

Jump to comments ↓

Author Profile Photo

Nichole Gomez

Nichole Gomez is the ABC-7 StormTRACKer on Good Morning El Paso and co-anchors ABC-7 at noon.


KVIA ABC 7 is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content