How refs can master most important rule

By Randy Vogt

Law 12 on Fouls and Misconduct is the most important rule in soccer. Referees who have played soccer have an initial advantage in spotting fouls over those refs who never played the game. After all, the official who played knows what a foul feels like and might even know what a cautionable or sending-off foul feels like as well.

But the referee who never played the game certainly can learn how to recognize fouls as well.

In order to increase fouls and misconduct recognition, officials should watch soccer games, whether on television, video or live, and “referee” the game along with the officials. I cannot overemphasize how much watching games actually helps officials.

Let me also stress that it is extremely important that the referee call the first foul so that it does not lead to a second. For example, red No. 5 pushes blue No. 9 but nothing is called. You can expect red No. 5 to be fouled later, most likely by blue No. 9. Call the first foul and you will most likely not have a retaliation foul.

Play becomes more physical and fouls often occur after goals. The team that scored is energized and perhaps the team that gave up the goal is frustrated. Especially be on your toes after a goal.

Player Fatigue
It takes stamina to play (and referee!) a sport like soccer, which is a wonderful cardiovascular exercise. You will soon recognize signs of players growing tired -- players huffing and puffing on the field or asking you how many minutes are left in the half when there is a great deal of time left.

As players fatigue, the game tends to become easier to officiate as there can often be fewer challenges on the ball and the fouls that are committed tend to be obvious. All because of tired players.

Consistency and What to Watch Out For
To establish game control during the first 15 minutes of a game, the referee should whistle relatively minor offenses so that the slight push does not become a bigger push a few minutes later.

Officials acting decisively and correctly for an important call, such as a penalty kick, disallowed goal or caution, have done a terrific job and made the game much easier to officiate than if this important call was missed. Referees often talk about the moment of truth in the match when the control of the game was hanging in the balance. The truth regarding this “moment of truth” is that some games have them and some do not.

Particularly in tough games, be a rhino -- take charge, be unafraid and have a thick skin.

Red-card offenses are send-offs, whether they occur in the third minute or the 90th minute. The 10 penal fouls, when committed by the defense inside the penalty area, are penalty kicks whether they occur at the beginning of the game or the end.

Referees who lack courage and give cautions for what should be send-offs and move the ball outside the penalty area for fouls that occur just inside it will have a tough time for the rest of the match. Do not be surprised if the players, realizing that no penalty kicks are going to be called that day, turn the penalty area into a war zone.

Think of attending a speech. The decisive speaker who speaks looking directly at the audience in enthusiastic tones can command the room. The speaker who looks down and stumbles over words or speaks in a monotone or a whisper will make the audience bored very quickly. Which type of speaker would you like to be?

And which type of referee would you like to be?

(Randy Vogt has officiated over 7,000 games during the past three decades, from professional matches in front of thousands to 6-year-olds being cheered on by very enthusiastic parents. In "Preventive Officiating," he shares his wisdom gleaned from thousands of games and hundreds of clinics to help referees not only survive but thrive on the soccer field. You can visit the book’s website at

4 comments about "How refs can master most important rule".
  1. Kent James, August 5, 2010 at 2:04 p.m.

    Good advice (especially regarding the time of the foul w/regards to send offs and pks). A similar point of emphasis should be a cautionable offense deserves a yellow card. It drives me crazy when some refs (even experienced ones) "talk to a player" to avoid giving them a card. While there is a grey area in which talking might be appropriate, if a player deserves a card, especially for a physical challenge, give it to them. Some referees seem to think a game without cards is a success (and conversely, a game with cards is somehow a game that was not well-refereed). Most competitive games will have cards; a yellow card is the ref telling a player that that sort of play will not be tolerated, and players need clear boundaries. Cautioning the first inappropriate physical challenge usually limits the number of such challenges in a game.

  2. Bill Riviere, August 5, 2010 at 7:31 p.m.


    You make some excellent points. Some further thoughts:
    I agree with starting out a bit harsh on fouls at the start of a game to set the tone, but I think a big concern of the referee should be the start of half #2 or any OT's. After a pep talk by coaches, teams will likely come out aggressively to start another period of play--especially in a tie or close match and even more so if advancing in competition or a title is on the line. A ref should be aware that setting the tone in follow-on periods of play could be even more important than the first minutes of the start of a match. After all, there's less time left, they've heard the wrath of their coaches and the game is more on the line than at the start, when there's more apt to be a "feeling out" process going on.

  3. John h Borja, August 6, 2010 at 2:58 a.m.

    Your comments are well taken. I might add that even the 3-ref system cannot view all fouls, but that is the way the game was set up originally. This last point became abundantly clear during the 2010 World Cup. I even believe viewership increased to see the refs. But one other point that always should be included in some of these discussions is to take into account the age group of the match.

  4. Randy Vogt, August 6, 2010 at 6:37 p.m.

    This is Randy Vogt, the author of Preventive Officiating. Regarding John's comments above, the referee challenges with different age groups is in my book but did not make the cut of this excerpt. The chapter on fouls and misconduct is actually much longer than what is above.

    I would like to thank Soccer America for printing excerpts from Preventive Officiating as well as those who took the time to write comments, visit the book's website and/or purchase the book. It is my hope that Preventive Officiating can help referees just as Fair or Foul? guided me nearly three decades ago. Thank you! --Randy

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