To what degree should a referee protect players on the field from harassment from their own parents? Or is this a coaches job as well as a referees job?

Example: This past Saturday, a 9 year old keeper missed a ball on the ground, resulting in a goal. Her father berated her from the sidelines. She was upset…I told my wife that she would miss the next ball that came to her. Sure enough she did, likely as a result from her tears blurring her vision. Her mother then berated her from the sidelines.

I played keeper growing up and realize the physical and psychological components of the position and part of my concern is one of empathy with the player. Is such an incident in the realm of the local youth club jurisdiction in so far as a parent conduct issue only or have the laws of the game been violated by a spectator interfering with the the game by harassing a player on the field?

Answer (October 10, 2012):
Unfortunately some soccer parents just do not know when enough is enough. In theory such people as this exemplary mother should be controlled by the coach and other team officials, as the referee has no jurisdiction or specific authority to deal with spectators’ behavior — unless it brings the game into disrepute or puts participants in danger. Unless leagues set rules of behavior for their spectators, such as making the coach and other team officials responsible, there is little that can be done other than to warn the coach about his spectators’ behavior. Most coaches are good about this, but some, eminently regrettably, are even worse than the mothers and fathers.

The Laws of the Game do do cover spectators to any particular extent. In fact, the referee cannot be faulted for a decision to stop or not to stop a match due to spectator interference or any problem in spectator areas — this is not defined to any degree whatsoever, but left to the referee’s discretion — or for a decision to abandon a match for whatever reason — again discretionary.

If the actions of the spectator(s) or team officials do bring the game into disrepute (a wonderful collective term for all sorts of irresponsible behavior), the referee can warn the team(s) that he or she will abandon the game if the actions continue, or may directly abandon the game. (The referee can also expel team officials for any act he or she deems to be irresponsible behavior.) If the actions do continue, the referee must then follow through.

I would recommend that you speak to the league regarding its rules of competition and how they may affect the behavior of the spectators.