How Referees Keep Coaches Under Control

By Randy Vogt

In the early 1990s, the college referee chapter in which I am now a Vice President, NYMISOA (New York Metro Intercollegiate Soccer Officials Association), started a sportsmanship award.

Each official was sent a ballot. The instructions said to grade the coach of that team of squads we officiated during the season on the scale of one to 10 -- one for none or a very small amount of sportsmanship and 10 for much sportsmanship.

I read the instructions incorrectly and started grading the players of the teams instead. After nearly completing the form, I realized my mistake so I crossed out my answers. In now grading the coaches, my points mimicked what I had written for the players of those teams. In nearly all cases, the points were exactly the same! So if I had given a seven for the players of State U., the coach received a seven as well.

The lesson to be learned here is how much coaches influence the conduct of their players. And these were college players, most of whom had been playing soccer for a decade or more. Youth players with less experience playing plus in life in general should be even more impressionable.

Therefore, the conduct of coaches is an extremely important factor in controlling the game.

So how do the officials control coaches who need to be controlled?

Soccer’s world governing body, FIFA, says that the coach is not to be shown a yellow or red card, unlike the players. A coach can simply be dismissed.

What I would do in this case is if the coach starts yelling at or constantly complaining to any of the officials, nicely and calmly tell the coach, “Coach, let us concentrate on officiating the game and you concentrate on coaching your players. Otherwise, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

Should the coach continue, dismiss the coach. No exceptions! If you do not dismiss the coach, you will most likely lose control of the match, in part because you did not do what you said would happen. Plus that coach will think that he or she can yell at officials with impunity and will probably do the same to the officials at the team’s next match. In fact, you could be receiving the effects of a coach who is a yeller and possibly a referee-baiter but who has gone unpunished up to this point.

Upon dismissal, the coach must leave the field area for the duration of the match. The locker room or a distant parking lot would be a good place for the coach to go.

Should the coach refuse to leave the field area, simply tell him or her, “Coach, if you refuse to leave the field area, I will be forced to terminate this match because of your actions.”

Then terminate the match if the coach still refuses to leave.

Write a report about why the coach was dismissed and send to the appropriate authority for their review, including any inappropriate comments or actions by the coach after dismissal.

Most leagues have passes. With these leagues, it’s likely that a coach is sanctioned by a referee displaying yellow and red cards, just like the players. Check with the league or your referee association first before officiating the game.

In these leagues, follow this protocol: Verbally warn a coach in a nice and calm voice after he or she starts yelling at an official or constantly complaining about the calls. Some coaches will stop at this point.

If the coach continues, display the yellow card for dissent. The great majority of coaches will stop after that. Yet a few coaches are not going to keep control of themselves. Should any coach continue yelling, display the yellow card, then the red card for receiving a second caution in the same match.

Should a coach curse at an official, the other coach, an opposing player or one of his own players or a spectator, the coach is immediately dismissed for using offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures.

Most coaches will be very well behaved. A small percentage of coaches will not be and they need to be controlled. Control them, control the game. Don’t control them, the match will most likely become out of control.

Follow and enforce the rules, and you will be surprised how much support you receive. The league, after reading your game report, will suspend the coach.

You might also receive support from people at the field. After all, people do not like it when others curse or constantly complain, especially if it’s in front of their own children.

(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

6 comments about "How Referees Keep Coaches Under Control".
  1. Bill VM, August 10, 2010 at 11:48 a.m.

    I completely agree with the way the refs should rate the coaches for sportsmanship but at the same time the coaches should have the same ability to rate the refs after each game. Unfortunately a good ref is hard to find these days and putting players out on the field with a bad ref is a liability and a safety concern for players. The difference between a great official and a bad official in my eyes is someone that will admit his mistakes on the field and talk to coaches and players. If you can't explain your calls you probably shouldn't of made it. No one is going to get 100% of the calls correct in a game no matter how good you are. Its how you handle yourself under the pressure. Just look at the umpire in baseball who blew a perfect game for a pitcher or the head official from the Steelers-Seahawks Super Bowl who have come out and admitted their mistakes compared to the official in the US-Slovenia game that made no comment about the game whatsoever. Officiating is a hard thing to do especially with the speed of the game these days. Unfortunately in youth sports there is no one or way to keep an official accountable for his actions on the field.

  2. Kerry Ogden, August 10, 2010 at 12:45 p.m.

    Good follow up Bill. Like you stated, good ref's are hard to find anywhere in the world and the lack of standing up in public and making a statement that he/she, the ref, might have made a wrong call is non-existant in todays soccer tenure.

  3. Amos Annan, August 10, 2010 at 12:50 p.m.

    The whole thing is idiotic. Soccer referees have too much control and are too sensitive to any complaint.

    This notion of not complaining made sense in the old days or with volunteer referees, but now that they are making $100 an hour, they ought to be able to ignore some dissent.

  4. Bronson West, August 10, 2010 at 2:34 p.m.

    Very interesting article. I would like to comments about the coaches ability to keep a game under control by keeping his players safe from dangerous play. I have coached far too many games to agree that the referees should be the only people to keep control of the game. A less-experienced or even a poor referee can keep a game under control if he/she allows constructive dialog. When referees ignore coaches or treat them as enemies the game becomes tense and dangerous for the players. There are a few instances in every game where a simple explanation would keep a game from getting out of hand. Please educate the officiating crews accordingly and let's avoid dangerous situation for our young players.

  5. Stephen Sullivan, August 10, 2010 at 6:47 p.m.


    Please immediately sign up for the next referee course offered by your local or regional soccer club. Here on Long Island, every new u-10 travel team is required to certify one member of their coaching staff as a USSF Grade 8 referee. It's an eye-opening experience for many. Some of your comments make me wonder about your general attitude and conduct on the sidelines towards officials. Most officials do a good job. Some are excellent. Some are terrible. Also, I don't know where you live, but I don't remember volunteer soccer (or football referees or baseball umpires) in organized leagues - ever. The time, travel and harassment would make it impossible to recruit officials. And how many amateur games have you coached in which the officials were paid $100/match, never mind $100/hour? All 3 of my kids (21, 18, 15) referee USSF matches, and they certainly earn much more than the minimum wage their friends make at Dunkin Donuts. But they're performing a physically demanding, stressful adult job. Why shouldn't they make $20-40/hour?

    How would you feel if the parents or children of your co-workers publicly heckled you? EVERY coach can and should file a report on EVERY official each week, good or bad. Sadly, few ever do. Those reports are read, and acted upon - at the intramural and travel level. They're much more effective than yelling at the official directly, no matter how good it feels at the moment.

  6. Kent James, August 11, 2010 at 2:31 p.m.

    I have both coached and refereed at almost every level (never coached at the professional level), and have felt the frustrations of both sides. But would like people to consider two things. As a referee I was much more likely to card people for dangerous fouls than I was for what people said, because physical violence is more dangerous to the players. But I came to realize that allowing coaches (or players) to constantly criticize every call, even if it didn't bother me, contributed to an atmosphere in which players stopped playing soccer and began to focus on what the ref was calling (or not), which leads to more violent challenges and more vocal dissent. Eliminating the dissent removes one of the forces building that negative pressure. Some coaches use their criticism of the referee to inspire more aggressive play from their players. Politely warning coaches, and ejecting coaches who do not heed the warning, should be done to return the game to the players who want to play.
    My second comment is as a coach. Yes, there are some horrible referees out there and even good referees make bad calls. While I think polite, occasional feedback is appropriate, a constant barrage of remarks directed at the referee rarely improve the ref's performance and often hurt the game (as described above). And as a coach, I would like to believe that my team has better skill than the other team, so that a game that degenerates into a hackfest where the referees have lost control will not be to my team's advantage. And my team will play better if the team ignores the referee and focuses on playing. So I do my best to refrain from talking to the officials during the game. But if the other coach is constantly "working" the ref, I can be penalized for my silence. Refs should not be thin-skinned, but they should recognize when dissent is hurting the game and deal with it.

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