Give the young whistlers a chance
There is a bizarre attitude in Hong Kong that officials should all be adults - how is the next generation supposed to develop?
It is easy for players, coaches and fans to judge and vilify referees but funnily enough none of these armchair critics ever dream of picking up the whistle.
Even attempts to teach players, coaches and fans the basics of officiating usually fail because many individuals - who proudly claim to have decades of experience playing, coaching and watching the game - are too set in their ways to cast aside their bias and accept the neutral perspective.
A common misperception is that having plenty of experience as a fan, player and a coach entitles people to criticise referees, when instead their cumulative knowledge only qualifies them to analyse players, coaches and tactics.
This is exactly the same with TV pundits - usually ex-professional players and coaches - who are paid to demonstrate their tactical acumen, pitch-side experience and dressing-room knowledge.
However, when they stray on to matters of law and officiating - of which they know very little - they fail spectacularly.
Since there is truth to the adage about old dogs not being able to learn new tricks, the best solution for a brighter future for the game is to focus on coaching young players.
However, even this apparently common-sense approach is fraught with bias and danger because of the attitudes of some coaches who possess a win-at-all-costs mentality.
Watch any youth tournament during any weekend and there will always be a few competitive coaches (and parents) who prefer to win at all costs than lose gracefully, ignoring the fact their team played well and enjoyed themselves.
Young players in this environment may also become fearful and lose their love for the game when coaches aggressively push them beyond their limits and sometimes even beyond the law.
This is why respect and admiration should go to the majority of youth coaches like those from HK Dragons FC who, whether win or lose, always encourage their young players to have fun and look ahead to playing another day.
Young referees have an important duty because they help coach young players to play within the boundaries of the law, which, ironically, should be the coaches' responsibility.
For instance, when young players commit an illegal throw-in, young referees may allow them one more chance, telling them what the problem is.
This is usually because coaches fail to teach and remind their players of the proper technique.
Even worse, when their own player commits the offence they slyly urge the young referee to "let it go" but when an opposing player makes a foul throw-in they will chide the same referee for not pulling it up.
Coaches (and parents) must realise that young referees are providing an invaluable service to the game since, along with their own development, they help coach and develop young players, too. This is a win-win situation for all.
Bizarrely, there are even some coaches who are openly against having young referees officiate junior competitions.
The Soccer Sevens is an excellent example where young referees can cut their teeth at competitive games. This weekend anyone attending will see young referees officiating in the junior Plate and Cup finals.
Young referees need to be supported and encouraged for the sake of the game's future.
Yet some coaches do not want them there, claiming these inexperienced 13- to 15-year-old referees should not be officiating at "important" tournaments.
Incomprehensibly, these critics would rather have experienced adult referees seriously officiate 10-year-old players.
Taken to its logical conclusion, this would mean there would never be any development of young, promising referees.
This is obviously absurd because even important youth tournaments such as AFC U13 to U16 regional tournaments use inexperienced referees from around Asia.
Why should Hong Kong be any different? Yet adult referees predominately officiate at local youth competitions.
Referees all need to start somewhere and officiating at important tournaments is the best way to be challenged and develop.
These cynical coaches are an example of closed-minded traditionalists who do not hesitate to criticise rather than encourage youth development among both players and referees. They need to be culled from the local soccer scene.
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