If you haven’t figured it out yet, I used to ref. Soccer. And I was pretty bad at it and mostly only reffed 12 and under games or college intermurals. But I had the uniform and the whistle and my very own stopwatch and the power to make a break a game for a team.
And they don’t give just anyone that yellow shirt (actually anyone can buy one), but you have to take a class and pass a test to earn your badge. Or get official jobs. And there are forms to fill out with every game. And you get an awful knee tan. And everyone pretty much hates you. The only plus was a decent workout and some cash in your hand at the end of the day.
My days reffing taught me a few things:
That the angles on the field and the ones on the sidelines are not the same.
When you can’t see how kicked it out it is always best to call it in favor of whatever side you are closest to.
Not to hesitate or waver on your call – do it fast and with confidence even if you don’t have a clue.
That it isn’t cool to yell at your kid. But it is really cool to yell at the dad who is yelling at his kid.
That it is really fun to give someone a card.
That almost every spectator thinks they know what off sides is, but almost none of them really do.
That it hurts bad, to get hit in the back of the head with the ball.
That extra time is discretional.
That sometimes I could run off the field faster than any of the players if I thought there was going to be trouble.
That no one likes a team that runs up the score.
That there are lot of rules to keep straight and weird what if scenarios, but more importantly than any that I found in my 37 page manual was something called “spirit of the game”.
Because in soccer there are lots of clear cut rules. But there is also lots of interpretation and discretion. There is also something called advantage. Unlike basketball, if a player is fouled, but the fouled team is in good position possibly to score you don't stop the game for the penalty. You let the fouled team play on. Sometimes you don’t call a bad throw in or an accidental handball or a flop. If a ref stopped the game for every teensy violation – soccer games would take forever and be almost as slow to watch as baseball. A bad ref makes too many calls and impedes the flow of the game OR not doesn’t make enough calls and let the teams get out of hand. And as a player you know within the first 10 minutes of the game how rough the ref is going to let things get. Too rough and people get hurt. The rules are there for a reason. For players protection. A good ref knows when to make a call and most importantly when not to. And makes good decisions all based on the “spirit of the game”. Because whether it is a professional team out there on the pitch or the cutest five year old I know. It is still a game.
And I teach school. We have a giant handbook full of rules. And they are all there for a reason. Most of them I even understand and agree with. But sometimes we have to remember why we are here. And it isn't listed in any code of conduct. And not everyone sees it this way. There are plenty of people in my building who are strict rule followers. Some of my best friends are. They insist that consistency is key and that you have to show your kids that you mean business. And that you follow the rule in every situation and scenario regardless of the situation.
But I don’t really care about meaning business.
I care about teaching them. And I just care about them period.
So occasionally, I ignore a rule in the spirit of the game.
I give them the advantage.
And I don’t think I should have to apologize or defend this.
I worry about them first, then my content, and then the rules. And a lot of teachers go in the opposite order.
And maybe they have higher test scores than me. So be it.
And a lot of Christians look at the bible the same way.
Rules first, content second, and then getting down to loving last.
Which I'm pretty sure isn't the order it should go in.
And I’m pretty sure I made more than my share of bad calls on the soccer field, and maybe I should bust a few more kids for ids or tardies or cell phones.
And I think that rules are important. In games. In schools. In society. And even in within our faith.
But. They were never meant to come first.
Maybe not even second.