In today’s world, the job market continues to tighten. And that tightening means that there are fewer opportunities for jobs for teenagers.
But there is a solution for Soccer in the Streets teenagers that keep them close to the game by teaching them to officiate. What better way to use their knowledge of the sport, learn life skills and make a few dollars from game fees?
The growth of Soccer in the Streets programming continues and with it grows the need for certified officials – right down to the youngest levels of participation and small-sided matches. Thus, the program has taken root from the Clarkston refugee program to the College Park community program and to date, 38 young adults have been screened, trained and are now certified US Soccer referees.
It’s not easy being an official –, particularly for younger players. Many quit after only a short time. But officiating offers a way to bridge the gap for young people from under-resourced and under-represented communities, to have access to the entry-level jobs that are afforded through soccer.
Leading the newly certified referees, Project Owner, Jill Robbins. She has witnessed first hand the growth of each individual.
“It’s gratifying to see the kids go from casual interest to eager apprentice, and from there, become certified and start to work as a professional referee,” Robbins said. “Over time and with experience, you get to see them increase in proficiency and confidence. They also take their responsibility seriously and appreciate the benefit they’ve received. Then they feel an obligation to help their peers as they enter the ranks of soccer officials. It’s a virtuous circle.”
The program was her brainchild. And, she believes this program has influenced these players in an impactful way. It has introduced these bright, resourceful and mentally tough young people to the job market as well as the ranks of new officials. And, what makes it interesting is that they receive the training, skills, and resources to succeed.
The four goals of the referee project are:
Goal 1: Increase the pool for potential referees in underserved communities and better prepare them for joining the ranks of soccer officials.
Goal 2: Provide an entry point through which candidates will be recruited, screened, trained and certified to officiate youth games and move candidates through that process.
Goal 3: Provide the support needed to retain referees once they enter the ranks of soccer officials.
Goal 4: Provide employment opportunities to the new referees and the resources needed to access these opportunities
Though it all sounds good, there are other barriers that don’t let teenagers officiate. The main barrier for many aspiring officials is that initial cost - from uniforms, whistles, flags, wallet, watches, and the certification program itself. That startup cost is over $200 and for some kids, that is a barrier that keeps them away. Soccer in the Streets is eliminating that barrier. The program provides kits for the referees, with all of the needed tools and a bag, and the program also covers the fee for the U.S. Soccer Grade 9 course.
There is another benefit to the program. These young officials become role models and influence their peers as well as the younger players to join. And, they see them out working matches and jamborees.
Clarkston Refugee, Elvis Niyokwizera, is newly certified referee and excelled exponentially in the Referee Program.
“I am overwhelmed by the experiences I have been through in the past months,” said Niyokwiezera. “I am now a leader to the younger kids because I was in their shoes back in the day. Now I am officiating their games and it is exciting.”
Once you have your certification, then you have to get games assigned specifically. So, Robbins introduced the Clarkston FC newly certified referees to the head DDY referee assignor, John Hermann, who is now utilizing some of these new officials to work matches.
“There are many job skills are involved in the role of a referee,” said Hermann. “These skills will carry over to most any job later in life such as: being on time; taking care of one’s appearance; learning to be as pleasant as possible when others are acting much less pleasant; making a quick decision with limited information; being confident and looking confident; working with others who have different opinions; learning rules and procedures; managing job commitments and planning.”
So, keep your eyes on the sidelines and you just might see one of the newly minted officials working a match.