More Observations From 35 Years of Reffing (Part 2)

By Randy Vogt

Here are some more of the things I have learned in 35 years of refereeing (Read Part 1 HERE):

* In youth soccer, there are telltale signs before the match as to what type of game it will be. If the opposing coaches talk to one another before the game, some players on opposing teams are friends and the teams are lined up in order with shirts tucked in and are quiet when the ref is checking passes, chances are it will be a very pleasant game.

* Games at the U-10, U-16 and senior levels are all officiated differently. What looks like a red card in a pro game might not with younger players. You have to look at the intent. For example, studs way up on a sliding tackle, 99 percent of 11-year-olds would not know that’s a bad foul. A man or woman would. That would be a send-off in those games. At U-12, you simply blow the whistle very hard and explain, “Don’t do it again,” as someone could get hurt.

* What can be quite challenging about officiating youth soccer is the dissent from adults unfamiliar with the game can come from unusual situations. Some people yell if they believe the ref made a mistake -- whether it’s the direction of a throw-in at midfield or a penalty kick decision. Yet referees understand that a PK has a much greater impact on the game than the direction of the throw and question why people are getting so excited about a throw-in.

* It’s understandable that many people have difficulty grasping the subtleties of the offside rule. Yet many involved with soccer do not know that all defensive restarts inside the penalty area (not just goal kicks) must clear the penalty area to be in play, the kickoff still must be played forward, the coin-toss winning team only selects which side to attack (the other team gets the first-half kickoff) and all players on the field including keepers should have their shirts tucked into their shorts.

* The moment that I think that I know it all is the moment that game becomes very challenging.

* Many refs quit within their first two years of officiating with verbal abuse by kids’ parents being the number one reason for quitting. So before you yell at a ref or AR, just think how you might be exacerbating a referee shortage by doing so. And if you are so certain that the officials got the call wrong, why don’t you become a referee?

* Leagues with sportsmanship programs that place a high value on these programs have fewer discipline problems than those leagues without a program.

* Did you have a good time at the last tournament you attended? Chances are the tournament format had a lot to do with it. I’ve refereed hundreds of tournaments and have found that people tend to be happiest with tourneys that use a straight round-robin with a championship game if need be. The worst format is modeled after the World Cup: a couple of games of group play followed by several elimination rounds. It’s in the elimination rounds that things can get hairy with people scurrying to the tournament tent to complain about an officiating decision or that “our team did not give up a goal all tournament and was just eliminated in a shootout.”

* When I briefly lived in Florida over two decades ago, I officiated in both Orlando and Tallahassee, the state capital 250 miles away. All games U-13 on up had more than one official in Florida. I thought that when I return to New York, it will be quite challenging again as I’ll return to refereeing all games by myself plus have many more ethnic rivalries in New York than in Florida. Slowly, the situation in New York during the past two decades became better so that all youth games U-13 on up have three officials. Sadly, at least one New York senior league still has difficulty having all its teams pay for three officials per game. An example of how this plays out: I was an AR for a youth game while a men’s game on the adjacent field had no ARs. That game had as many cards as our game had fouls.

• Twenty-five years ago this summer -- as a young man refereeing the Pele Cup in Brazil -- I had the great pleasure of meeting Lynn Berling-Manuel, Paul Gardner, Dan Woog and Michael Lewis for the first time. What’s most memorable about that journey, a quarter-century later, was the surreal trip as our plane was diverted to some pretty exotic places. But that’s another story for another day …

(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

6 comments about "More Observations From 35 Years of Reffing (Part 2) ".
  1. Kerry Ogden, June 5, 2012 at 9:57 p.m.

    Alot of good points to look at and another good article Randy! A question I have is is there ever a point in a game that a coach may want to pull his team off the field because of terrible/one sided refeering? I have seen atrocities on the pitch that should have warranted redcards for offenses but no penalty or cards issued by the ref and play in this manner on the pitch would continue from start to finish. I agree that fan's can get unruly at times but when these fouls continue to the point that players are being carried off with broken bones then who is actually at fault here? The ref or the fans for screaming foul to the ref.

  2. uffe gustafsson, June 5, 2012 at 10:33 p.m.

    Both your articles been spot on, wish alot of new referees read your stories and learn from them. I certainly do.
    and the comments of leagues that have in place the rules of how you treat referees are so valuable hope all leagues will adopt those, I have found out half of of the coaches and parents think you do a great job as long as they are winning but the other half that is on the loosing side think you stink.
    not sure why since all I do is to make sure we are following the rules, we dont score goals the last time I checked.
    I do more girls games than boys my daughter plays competitive and what a different on both coaches and parents on girls games they complain all the time on why is that not a foul and at boy's games the same is never questioned,
    the rule book is the same for both girls and boy's, a foul is a foul but some how it is different why?
    I also would like to see us referees be able to score the coaches and parents on our report cards so the clubs can see how the different teams behaviors are some of the younger teams have some bad coaches and parents, as you said they are new to the game and have not learned the rule book, come to think of it they never read the thing.

  3. Randy Vogt, June 6, 2012 at 8:53 a.m.

    Regarding Kerry's comment above about a coach wanting to pull the team off the field because of terrible or one-sided refereeing: There are so many things that a coach could do instead. The coach or captain having a nice word with the ref could go a long way. Yelling at the ref will only exacerbate matters. Coaches controlling their own players and fans also help a struggling referee maintain some control of the game. I have certainly seen coaches doing this, in one case because they wanted to avoid a brawl. Get through the match and the coach could then write a negative appraisal about the ref to the league and/or referee association. If it's coming from a coach who rarely complains, the powers that be will certainly act on the complaint. There would be less initiative with a coach who sends in negative appraisals every week. Regarding Uffe's comment about the rules being the same for males and females, that's certainly true and it's quite unusual to me that lacrosse has very different rules for both genders. Randy

  4. Kerry Ogden, June 6, 2012 at 12:47 p.m.

    Thanks for the reply Randy, I was at a game last week where the ref had allowed the physical play by one team to get out of hand which resulted in physical play by both teams, the other team in retaliation for calls not being made by the ref, when the coach approached the ref, which this coach rarely ever say anything to players, while the game is going on to avoid distracting the players on the pitch, the ref had a negative attitude towards the coach when he asked why a particular call was given, needless to say it didn't end up good. I can honestly tell you that alot of coaches do send reports to the association responsible for these's ref's and nothing is ever done, the only thing I can assume is that the association has a limited no# of ref's and don't want to lose the few they have now. Do you have any insight to possibly resolving this type of issue in the area where I live that I could possibly pass on to others?

  5. Randy Vogt, June 6, 2012 at 1:04 p.m.

    Any insight that I would give would be that leagues should utilize both a carrot and a stick. The carrot is rewarding the sportsmanship winners, as determined by the refs. The stick is strong suspensions, fines, etc. for misbehavior by arbitration. Many refs can choose which leagues they ref and leagues that have a sportsmanship program and strict arbitration often do not have ref shortages that other leagues might have. With no shortage of refs, referee associations could work on improving refs who are not very good and no longer assigning them if they do not improve. Randy

  6. Carlos Thys, June 6, 2012 at 2:47 p.m.

    Mr. Vogt, thank you for this follow-up part II. (Don't stop! Well - okay, to get more, we need to get ahold of your book.) I understand completely what you are writing regarding younger players not necessarily at all grasping what they are doing as compared to older players. Yes, one has to view, regard, and respond differently to a 18 on 18 year old in game altercation, a 15 on 15 year old and 11 on 11. But, if I may, I would add that, having also coached 10 and 11 year olds for several years, I found that some of them could be very devious (with intent) in their fouling and conduct. Often, upon a closer look, this was stemming from that 10 or 11 year old having an older brother or two or father (sister/mother too!) "coaching" the 10 or 11 year old in this manner. We do want to believe that at age 10 or 11 kids are still kids and mostly still very innocent. However, what we want to believe and what is true are often at odds. We all know that times have changed in this regard. Kids at these ages today already have lots of potential issues. I see a real trend, very real; if there is violence, abuse, abandonment in the home, this can come out in a player's conduct at various points in a season. This is as true for the 10 year old as it is the 18 year old player. However, your point is still well taken. All I want to point out is that, very sadly, even at that young age one can encounter some real ruthlessness that one cannot ignore. As I coached, I have benched (pulled out of the game -- not to return to the game) my own team players -- at this very age -- for outright dangerous behavior. The player gets a talking to, and I've had to several times inform both player and parent(s) that this will result in a 1 or 2 game "ban." Twice I have removed the player -- yes, at age 10 and one at age 11 -- from the team (both were for repeat "offenders.") I use this strict but fair line as an instruction moment not just to that one player but to the rest of the team. Thank you for the comment about how one can often, as the match referee, know by the telltale signs prior to a match just how the next 60 or 90 minutes will go. This is very true.

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