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Dealing with sideline abuse
by Mike Woitalla, August 29th, 2008 1AM
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By Mike Woitalla

Brian Hall became a referee at age 13. He earned his FIFA badge at age 31, officiated at a World Cup and numerous major international tournaments, and earned MLS's Referee of the Year honor four times.

But most teens who take up refereeing don't last very long. In fact, U.S. Soccer Federation referee bosses believe that the huge turnover -- about a third of the nation's referees drop out each year -- is largely a reflection of young referees quitting because of sideline abuse.

Youth leagues across the nation depend on teens to fill their referee ranks, and many of them simply aren't willing to be screamed at by parents and coaches.

Hall, who in March became the USSF Referee Department's Manager of Assessment and Training, says referees at all levels are being encouraged to use the "Ask-Tell-Remove" approach that has been implemented in MLS to handle coaches' misbehavior.

"You ask the coach to please refrain from that behavior," says Hall. "The next step is the 'tell' procedure, which is basically to tell them their behavior is no longer going to be tolerated.

"You say, 'Coach, I'm telling you that your behavior is no longer acceptable and if you don't change your behavior, I'm going to be forced to take further action.'"

The final step is an ejection.

But in the second step, Hall says, "You always tell them, 'But that decision is yours.'"

"Now you're putting the responsibility on the coach to manage his behavior. You want to find a way to transfer the burden off your shoulders and put it on the coach's."

Dealing with abuse from parents is tougher, Hall says.

"Technically, unless certain leagues allow it, you can't dismiss parents," he says.

Hall recommends that the referee approach the coach to deal with the parents, "because the coach is a person you can control."

Hall says, "We can go to the coach and say, 'Listen, you have responsibility for the conduct of your parents and if it gets to the point where I feel they're impacting my ability to do a job, or impacting the way the players are able to perform on the field, and if it continues and no one deals with it, we have to suspend or terminate the game.'"

Hall believes leagues that restrict the parents to the opposite sideline from the coaches help the referee control the crowd.

"It makes it easy for referees to distinguish between the parents and the coaches when they want to take action," Hall says. "You know specifically who you're dealing with -- who you can do something official with."

When a coach has been instructed by the referee to quiet his team's parents, he can send over an assistant to deliver the message. Or the coach can be forced to deal with the parents while the game is stopped.

Hall cites an example:

"The referee tells the coach, 'I'll give you a couple minutes to go over and tell the parents to stop their screaming.'"

Knowing that if he doesn't deal with his team's parents, the game can be terminated and his team could be punished with a loss, the coach is forced to take action.

"When the game is stopped as the coach walks all the way across the field," Hall says, "the focus is now off the referee and on the coach and the parents."

(Mike Woitalla is the executive editor of Soccer America. His youth articles are archived at


  1. commented on: August 30, 2008 at 2:11 p.m.
    Mike:This "sideline behavior" referee article is is another example of how in touch and aware you are about the happenings in and around youth soccer. I enjoy reading all of your articles . Some of your articles are so timely and 'spot on' . The next time I am asked whom are the top 3 soccer people I would invite to dinner I will answer A. Paul Caligiuri B. Mia Hamm and 3. Mike Woitalla. Keep on writing...

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