Observations from 35 Years of Reffing (Part 1)

By Randy Vogt

Here are some of the things I have learned in 35 years of refereeing:

* I have officiated many good players as well as a few good players who thought they were great and let everybody on the field know it. Such as the high school senior playing forward in a New Jersey college showcase who kept yelling, “I’m not getting good service!” The kids who keep telling others that they are “premier players.” The interesting aspect of this is I never heard another thing about any of these kids, not in college soccer and none of them every received a sniff of the pros. Sometimes becoming pro players were the kids in youth soccer who were very good players and always worked very hard. Jesus was right, “Those who exalt themselves shall be humbled, those who humble themselves shall be exalted.”

* Good teams that have one go-to player to score goals win games but rarely win championships as an opposing team or teams figure out a way to legally mark that player out of the game.

* There are unfortunately some youth coaches who are way too concerned about winning instead of developing their players’ skills and character. These coaches often teach gamesmanship instead of sportsmanship. The same coaches who yell at their players constantly often wind up yelling at the referee. Many of these coaches learn to settle down. The coaches who do not had enthusiastic players at under-9 and often wind up with no players at U-14 as the kids find something better to do than get yelled at. Sometimes it’s the club that forces out the coach as they grow tired of being fined by the Arbitration Committee for their coach’s misbehavior. But the coach who loves to coach and develop players often winds up taking a young team after their son’s or daughter’s team graduates.

* When I’m refereeing youth games and when there are positive coaches, the kids will be having fun and people sometimes come up to me at halftime or after the game and say that I am “the best referee we ever had.” It’s so nice to be a smiling ref in these games. Yet it could be just my very next game having to ref a team with a coach who is way too intense for youth soccer and I need to ask him or her to calm down just a few minutes into the match. That coach’s view of my refereeing is not nearly as pleasant as the people at the previous game.

* Regarding my points above, maybe the next Pele or Mia Hamm was on an under-9 team with a bad coach who turned off the kid to soccer. For me, this is the area for those concentrating on developing our national teams should be concerned about -- the very difficult mission of making sure that every kid has a good coach rather than banning high school play for the Development Academy players.

* Just as there are coaches who should not be coaching, there are referees who should not be officiating. You know the refs that I am writing about, such as those who are way out of shape, those who only think about officiating after they put their uniform on, those who do not attend referee clinics and those who somehow believe the game revolves around them. Leagues and referee associations that do not have a ref shortage should be much more willing to force out the bad referees while other groups need everybody as they have too many games to cover for the number of officials they have.

* One of the saddest parts of officiating is seeing a good, enthusiastic young ref with potential quit before he or she really develops. Perhaps life such as relationships, marriage, kids, job, etc., gets in the way or perhaps verbal abuse by adults much older than the ref ends an officiating career. I am one of those who started as a teen and obviously stuck with it but I’m definitely in the minority.

• I’ll Have Another Sport. My long-deceased grandfather, Peter Ruocco, and I were subjects of a 2009 New York Times article on horse racing. It was great that the article appeared on my mother’s birthday!

(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 "Observations from 35 Years of Reffing (Part 1) ".
  1. Jorge a Forero, June 1, 2012 at 1:07 p.m.

    I agree with Mr. Vogt about young and bright referees quitting on the game because coaches, players and many parents abuse them. After taking and passing the refereeing class, these future referees should be part of a team where an experience referee will be at the games to provide feedback for at least the first two years. If young soccer players have coaches and individual trainers why can’t we provide a similar development for our future referees?

  2. Christopher Janusz, June 1, 2012 at 2:11 p.m.

    I also agree with Mr. Vogt about young referees quitting because of coaches and parents. But I have to add that leagues are sometimes responsible for this. Example, my u-10 team played a game where the combined age of the referees was no more than 50. That is unacceptable. There should always be a senior ref who knows how to help the younger ones in tough situaions. I also like Jorge's idea about personal trainers for young refs.

  3. Carlos Thys, June 1, 2012 at 5:18 p.m.

    I encourage any thoughtful referee to keep a diary. It helps in many ways. It chronicles the ups and downs, it highlights the lessons learned. It aids in focusing on where to improve. And it can make for entertaining reading and bring back memories five, ten, more more years later. But it also reminds of the dark side of refereeing that Mr. Vogt refers to. Parent, coach, and player (once they are old enough and mimic what they see the adults doing) abuse on referees is huge. Every referee who has actively refereed for a decade has ample stories of not just serious verbal abuse lined with hate but also moments of real physical abuse. To include threats. To include having to plan ahead and park the car in a strategic spot as to afford a better getaway. Mr. Vogt's point about the referees who stop their professional development, cease attending ref clinics is also very true. One's learning and improving must never cease. And the more senior referees are to be there not just for their own continued improvements but to aid and encourage the younger referees who do need the encouragement and mentoring. Refereeing takes a special breed of human, not just in soccer. It is very often thankless and unappreciated. But it also has its golden moments that make it all worthwhile. A good article. Thank you.

  4. R2 Dad, June 2, 2012 at 1:16 a.m.

    Nice article. I think it's very telling that retiring professional players never take up the referee's whistle, only the coach's.

  5. Kerry Ogden, June 2, 2012 at 1:10 p.m.

    Good article, but there are many side's to this story when it comes to refing, as human's we each view things differently and this includes referee's. The question I have is if a senior ref, in reality, is a terrible ref how can he properly teach a younger up & coming ref? The one problem i've seen through out the yrs. is that ref's are not being evaluated on their performance during games at least at the amateur level, I have seen too many terrible senior ref's in "my area" make bad calls with no repercussions and this problem occurs again & again in alot of games. What can be done to change this and get ref's fairly ruling each & every game.

  6. Randy Vogt, June 2, 2012 at 2:34 p.m.

    To answer Kerry's question above, yes there are some experienced referees who have never been very good. That official's on-field performance might not be good but as long as he/she knows what to do, even if the official cannot always physically perform well on the field, that ref could still be a good teacher. In fact, that might be that ref's calling to improve the game. Maybe assessing or assigning instead. Kerry believes that senior refs make bad calls with no repercussions. Could be...that's part of my point above: "Leagues and referee associations that do not have a ref shortage should be much more willing to force out the bad referees while other groups need everybody as they have too many games to cover for the number of officials they have." How do we change this? Less verbal abuse of officials will lead to more refs sticking with it and more refs will mean more assessments plus far fewer or no assignments for refs who don't make the grade. Also, a training program as advocated above which a few ref associations already have in place could also help a good deal. Randy

  7. Kerry Ogden, June 2, 2012 at 8:50 p.m.

    Thanks for the feedback, Randy. I have other question's but I'll wait to see what you have in part 2 of this segment.

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