By Mike Woitalla
Last month I co-hosted a workshop at U.S. Youth Soccer’s annual gathering in Philadelphia with longtime referee and National Instructor Barry Towbin titled: "Coaches and Referees Improving Relations for the Good of the Game."
Whether referee or coach, the aim is for kids to enjoy the beautiful game and to create an environment to help them excel. The purpose of the session was to explore ways to make the coach-referee relationship cooperative rather than adversarial.
We started off by pinpointing what upsets each party most frequently about the other.
What coaches dislike from referees:
* Not staying with the play.
* Not knowing the Rules of Competition.
* Nitpicking over uniform details.
* Not explaining calls.
What referees dislike from coaches:
* Abuse toward officials.
* Inciting with their actions poor behavior from players and parents.
* Not knowing the rules, eg: handball and back-pass to keeper (must be deliberate), offside-no-offside on various restarts.
* Getting berated for offside calls from coaches who are in no position to have made the judgment.
For their part, referees stressed the importance of a mentorship program to help referees improve.
A major concern that always comes up when discussing refereeing at the youth game is that the No. 1 reason for teenage referees quitting is abuse from parents and coaches. To have young refs be accompanied by an adult mentor as much as possible – and to have that mentor confront the coaches and parents when they abuse the referee, is an idea I found excellent. Or, as one member of the audience suggested, have monitors roam the fields to warn those screaming at refs that such behavior won’t be tolerated in their league.
A point of frustration for coaches is that in soccer -- unlike sports such as basketball and football – referees aren’t obligated to reveal what infraction they called.
Peter Walton, the general manager of the USA’s Professional Referee Organization (PRO), was in attendance and agreed.
“We do want referees to be more demonstrative because we also have a duty to the audience and the players,” Walton said. “You can stop dissent or undue unrest with a signal so the guy on other side of the field understands what the call is. We talk about making sure you ‘sell’ your decision. It should be a sure, sharp signal.”
I’d like to see coaches be required to referee a couple of games to get an idea of just how challenging the job can be -- and coaches and players take a basic test on the rules.
Referees have a responsibility to officiate in a manner that creates a fair and safe environment for the players -- a goal that coaches should also strive for. Walton recommends more dialogue between coaches and refs outside the game-day environment.
“We like to invite referees and coaches to sit in a room together and talk about the situations when they’re not in the cauldron,” he said. “So they have more of an understanding of each other, and then on Saturday they see each other as humans.”
Towbin, the Director of Referee Education for New Jersey Youth Soccer, says:
“We do it in Jersey. We get coaches and referees together and discuss their goals, and talk about issues -- about respect, technical-area decorum, rule changes, pre-game procedures -- and things that coaches, players and parents get upset about. And ask questions back and forth.”
(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, is co-author, with Tim Mulqueen, of The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper and co-author with Claudio Reyna of More Than Goals: The Journey from Backyard Games to World Cup Competition. Woitalla's youth soccer articles are archived at YouthSoccerFun.com. Woitalla refs youth soccer in Northern California and coaches at East Bay United/Bay Oaks.)