How to Ref Boring Games

By Randy Vogt

Not every game that a referee is assigned will be for teams whose ability is comparable to Barcelona or Manchester United. Over the course of a referee career, an official will be assigned games where the teams struggle to put three passes together. Many times, I have spoken to my officiating colleagues at halftime and the first words out of their mouths is, "This game is awful!"

Recently, I was to referee a boys under-16 game and my assistant referee was already at the field officiating another boys U-16 game but of lower division teams. He look very bored as he was slouching, with his flag behind his back and not paying total attention to the game. He put himself in the precarious position of something developing during the run of play and him needing to make an important decision but he was totally unprepared should this have occurred.

After the game, the referee said to me in front of the AR, “Randy, my assistant referee did not pay attention to the game.”

And the AR responded, “That’s because it was so boring!”

In the game we officiated together, the teams were of a higher quality and he did pay attention to what he was doing. Yet this AR is developing a reputation of not giving 100% for every game. I cannot see him advancing through the ranks, especially since the refs grade the ARs after every game in this league. He certainly is not making a positive contribution to many of the games he officiates.

So how do you officiate a game that is not nearly as exciting as others? The same way that you work at a job that you do not like. You think of the positive qualities of that job to put you in a better frame of mind. Regarding officiating during poorly played soccer games, you think of all the good things occurring for you at the game: You are engaged in a wonderful cardiovascular exercise of running up and down a soccer field, you are meeting new people and making new friendships plus you are getting paid. What could be better than that?

With relatively unskilled players, there is even some acceleration of play in spurts. And although lower division games might not have as high a standard of play as other games, there is a moment or two of brilliance in every game. If you are sleeping, you will miss it but more importantly, you could miss an important call and the game could spiral out of control. Your body language should convey total concentration on the match. Instead of being bored, work on a part of your game that you are weak in such as positioning, mechanics, etc.

No matter what the level of the game -- whether it’s intramurals, travel team, premier, school soccer, amateur or professional soccer -- people talk. Officials who work as hard for lower division games as much as they do for Division 1 games plus work as hard for girls and women’s matches as much as boys and men’s games get good reputations. Officials who take off from a game or two do not. After all, whether it’s Division 1 or Division 6, that game is important to those players.

Many leagues encourage their coaches to rate the referee after every game. Coaches have a much easier time determining if the referee worked hard than if the referee made the right decisions. Refs who take off games do so at their own peril.

Since becoming an official more than three decades ago, I have heard complaints from my referee colleagues about favoritism of certain officials by assignors, referee organizations and leagues. These “favored” officials seem to get many of the so-called top assignments in addition to being assigned games on days when there’s little activity. I am certain that organizations and assignors have found these officials to be reliable, to hustle at every game they are assigned and to have forged a good or great reputation. Their hard work is being rewarded.

(Randy Vogt has officiated over 8,000 games during the past three decades, from professional matches in front of thousands to six-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

7 comments about "How to Ref Boring Games ".
  1. Brent Crossland, May 16, 2012 at 9:31 a.m.

    Totally agree! Doesn't matter if it's a U-19 boys game at a college showcase tournament or U-8 girls in the local rec league. It's the most important match of the day to those players and we as officials need to respect that.

    I also agree that the officials who consistently get those 'primo' games have generally proven themselves to the assignor. I'd be interested in your perspective on the other side of that coin -- the referee who shows up at a tournament and announces "I don't do anything lower than U-16 Boys and I don't do lines".

  2. Barry Tuck, May 16, 2012 at 9:41 a.m.

    Agree as well. Would add to your ideas of "re-framing" boring games that some of the worst soccer, for example, many middle school games where the ages and skill level of the players varies so much it can make for absolutely horrible to watch soccer, are actually some of the hardest games to ref. High level U-16's, you have a pretty good idea where to position, where the ball will be played, etc, there's no telling with a low level game. Yet the players in that may be trying just as hard, so we owe it to them.

  3. beautiful game, May 16, 2012 at 10:21 a.m.

    What does 'boring' have to do with performing your duties during a game. Obviously such a mentality has no place in sports.

  4. Randy Vogt, May 16, 2012 at 11:54 a.m.

    To answer Brent's question above, I do not think much of a ref who might show up at a tournament and say that they will not work as an AR or do any games lower in age than BU16. Neither, apparently, do many assignors and leagues as refs like that either change their attitude or find something else to do on the weekends. Thankfully, those refs are a real minority of officials.

  5. Kent James, May 16, 2012 at 12:49 p.m.

    Refereeing boring games, games that are beneath your abilities, games in bad weather, or games as an AR for a referee you don't like (or is not very good) are all tests of your professionalism. Such games should be seen as a challenge, and referees should strive to meet the challenge. You can't control the circumstances, but you can control how you ref the game. Even if the game is boring, if you're focused on critically examining the game and how you're reffing it, you won't be. Everyone puts out the effort in games that obviously require it, but the really good refs do that as second nature.

  6. Emilio Tellini, May 16, 2012 at 2:14 p.m.

    One of the first games I ever officiated was an BU8-8v8. I was there as usual at least 1/2 hr before game time. Nobody was there but the visiting coach with his son. So I had time to check the field and I noticed some holes in the nets. I asked an attendant to give me some ties to fix the holes and I would do it myself. The attendant was completely in awe. He said to me:"Nobody does this for an 8v8 game! Great job!". Not only he brough the ties but he fixed the holes himself. Apparently he talked to somebody because I had instant recognition. It always pay off doing your duties!

  7. James Madison, May 16, 2012 at 2:24 p.m.

    Bravo, Randy! I recently was supposed to assess the referee in a U19 boys game, but the game proved to be non-assessable because one team showed up with only 9 players. I stayed to do a D&G. The game was totally one-sided. The most significant aspect of the officials' performance prompted the first words out of my mouth when debriefing: "Good professional job, guys. Even though the match was dull, you kept your heads in it the whole way."

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