By Mike Woitalla
After Donna Olmstead made a convincing case against berating referees or their assistants in her Youth Soccer Insider column, "Before you scream at a ref ...", we received some feedback from readers pointing out that there may be times when game officials should be told if they're erring or missing violations.
Richard Weishaupt, agreeing that belittling a young assistant or screaming at the referee is wildly inappropriate, said that, "Telling a referee, calmly and politely of a shortcoming can be helpful and appropriate. Suggesting calmly to the head referee that an assistant referee was out of position -- if done respectfully and after the game -- is a behavior we want to encourage, not discourage."
What about a more extreme example? You're the coach and see that one of your players is being dangerously fouled by an opponent and the referee doesn't take action. Perhaps the referee isn't seeing it. What to do?
Stanley Lover, longtime international referee instructor and author of the recently updated "Official Soccer Rules Illustrated," agrees that there is a proper way to address a grievance with refs.
"It's basically down to approach and attitude," says Lover. "All referees are happy to talk about the game at any convenient moment. A friendly approach and polite comment or question will draw a similar response."
So what to do when their No. 6 is throwing elbows at your No. 10? With a right approach, the coach can make her case to the referee.
Lover suggests the coach say, "A nice match, referee, but that young Blue No. 10 is near to tears because of the rough play of the Red No. 6, particularly her flying elbows." Enough said, the ref has got the point.
As in real life, civility goes a long way.
"The body language of an enquirer will warn the referee of what may follow," Lover says. "An aggressive movement; a menacing stance; a thrusting scowling face; a sharp accusing question, will put the official on the defensive and not invite an answer which satisfies either party."
Mark Butler, a NISOA regional coordinator, college and high school ref, says, "If there is a genuine concern, especially in the area of protecting a player, it is acceptable to speak to the referee. It's all about the approach. It's not screaming, or getting personal. But a coach can approach the referee at halftime and raise his concerns.
"The approach should not be confrontational, boisterous, demonstrative -- and the discussion should not be prolonged."
Brian Hall -- former World Cup ref and four-time MLS Referee of the Year -- has a long history of youth officiating and youth coaching. He is now the U.S. Soccer Federation's Manager of Referee Assessment and Training. Hall says approaching the referee at halftime may not be optimal.
"If a coach talks to the ref at halftime," Halls says, "what will the other coach or the spectators think?"
Hall suggests a quiet word with the assistant referee on the near side. A coach could say, in a positive manner, "Maybe you guys can discuss that at halftime ..."
Also acceptable, says Hall, is if the referee comes near the coach during the game -- perhaps at a throw-in or a free kick near the sideline -- and the coach asks the referee to keep her eye out on something, "in a professional, controlled, positive manner."
The worst is, especially with young referees, to scream and shout at them during the game. This is most unlikely to help and more likely to result in the referee losing focus.
Hall also believes in coaches providing feedback on referees to the league's assignors -- and not just when it's a complaint.
(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, coaches youth soccer with Rockridge SC in Oakland, Calif. His youth articles are archived at YouthSoccerFun.com.)
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