Referees - Why do they bother? It is simple.
I bother because I love the game. We spend a great deal of time in this country talking about the need for better coaching and better player development. But let us be clear, if it weren't for me and my colleagues who step into the role of a referee, there would not be the games that thrill our youngsters, mesmerize us on the professional level and bring joy and passion to so many fans at all levels.
I got my first referee's license at age 10. My father got me special dispensation from the Florida state soccer association to take the test. I took the same test (twice) as every other referee (there had been a cheating scandal in southern Florida that year which necessitated taking the test again). I refereed at that time to make money (which I did and my father told me to save most of it). I have held a referee's license on and off since then.
I have been verbally abused by coaches, a few fans and a couple of players. I have made thousands of calls, most of them right and admittedly a few were wrong. I have made mistakes--I am after all human. But I take pride in my refereeing skills and I work hard to improve them. To do otherwise is a) contrary to who I am and b) disrespectful of the game.
the vast majority of referees will never referee any game beyond a weekend youth league. That is fine, we need them to keep doing that because the kids deserve that much. Most referees will only referee for a few years whilst their children play the game. That is fine also. But they volunteer their time and effort to really learn the rules of the game, to understand what is proper behavior on the pitch and what is not. And unlike the vast majority of their peers with kids on the team, they have volunteered to assist with the game outside of their child's team and that is to be applauded.
I will tell you this, referees, even teh weekend referees are usually paid a small fee for their services (and in some leagues it is a very small fee). I would do many games for free and I am glad that the leagues see fit to reimburse me for my time, but a fair amount of us referees don't do it for the money. (Trust me, even at the high school level, it would take me doing at least four 90 minutes games to make what I bill in hourly in my law practice--so I am not going to get rich as a referee).
The game is much more than the players, the coaches and the fans. To be sure, a referee should not have the visibility of the players or coaches or the fans, but the referees are an indispensible part of the game. You can disagree with a call, you can argue if the referee is right or wrong, but remember, they are human too and without them, what would you argue about, really.