Refereeing in Different Systems

By Randy Vogt

The youngest youth soccer players start out by kicking a smaller ball into a smaller goal on a small-sided field. By the time they have graduated to U-13 and often sooner, they are playing 11 vs. 11 with a No. 5 ball on a regulation field with goals that are 8 feet high and 8 yards wide.

Small-sided games, with fewer players, smaller fields and shorter matches, would seem to be the perfect way to develop new referees. Except that some adults -- coaches and spectators -- can be nuts when their kids start out playing soccer. I know many experienced refs who are unenthusiastic about refereeing small-sided games or ask not to be assigned them for this very reason.

When I ref younger kids, I often find adults who have no understanding of the rules whatsoever. These parents who never opened a rulebook or watched a soccer game other than their child’s somehow believe, unlike a generation ago, that they are authorities on the sport. They particularly do not understand the advantage clause.

Most refs quit in their first two years of officiating with verbal abuse by kids’ parents being the No. 1 reason for quitting.

Some clubs assign two new refs, one on each touchline, to referee their youngest intramural players. Although I am not in any way an advocate of the two-ref system, it is perhaps OK for these games as it gives a new ref, just a few years older than the very young players, a partner and a friend to officiate with. And with a much smaller field and fewer players, the problems inherent to the two-ref system are minimized. Yet the best solution for a new ref would be for an adult to watch him or her and keep control of the parents if needed.

I started out refereeing U-10 intramural games in 1978 at the age of 16. I was paid $6 if I refereed the game alone (with club linesmen) and $4 if I refereed with a partner (a friend on my soccer team). After two years, I needed a new challenge so I graduated to refereeing the travel team Long Island Junior Soccer League, then started receiving phone calls shortly thereafter to ref men’s and women’s games. I refereed those games by myself back then but assistant referees were used in championship games.

Refs who go from using club linesmen to having assistant referees often forget they have assistants. So the flag goes up for offside and seemingly everybody sees it except the ref. My way around this was when I cross the halfway line on my diagonal, I make a mental note which AR I should be looking toward.

Any ref can see when an attacker is five yards or more offside. Refs who have done lots of games by themselves can also see many of the closer offside situations. This even helps when officiating with ARs as it can tell the ref what the AR is seeing, signaling and why.

When referees go from being a ref to becoming an assistant referee, they often forget that they are to assist the referee and not insist. But perhaps the bigger problem are ARs who somehow think that what they are doing does not matter. I have heard people say, “I’m just an assistant referee” way too many times. It’s easy to recognize that poor attitude of the AR on the field and as a referee, I become quite concerned as one poor decision by the AR could have a dramatic impact on the game. I believe that I have enough to do without having to motivate the ARs too. It’s so much easier to officiate with the majority of ARs who do not believe that being an assistant is beneath them or who might realize that doing well is a springboard to being assigned as a ref.

The comments by Soccer America readers to my last article indicate that slowly but surely, high schools are thankfully moving away from the two-ref system to one ref and two ARs. For the ref who wants to develop, it’s important to take every match seriously and officiate as many games as possible in the diagonal system.

(Randy Vogt has officiated over 8,000 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 "Refereeing in Different Systems ".
  1. uffe gustafsson, September 5, 2012 at 7:14 p.m.

    Randy you are totally correct when going from being the only ref to get lines men, its been a struggle to see them, especially the lines men that is on your back side. I have done many games alone so you tend to have your back towards the one lines men on your right side. I have had to learn to start facing my vision down field with my back towards the opposite goal so I can see my lines men and not my back towards the side line.
    the young kids parents will always be vocal they are very excited and I had to grow some tough skin and not let them influence my refereeing, things can fast get out of hand if you listen to the side lines. and never ever do i let parents do anything else if they help out on the sides but ball over the touch line, which is really hard to see most chalk lines are faint at best.
    I don't think you can stress the parents behavior enough to keep our new referees in the game, i can very easy see why they stop doing games who needs parents screaming at you or coming up at half time to complain.
    My biggest thing is you have 12 or 13 year old and the size different can be huge so when a big player put there body in there against a half a size kid the little kid will loose but the big kid didn't commit a foul and the parents screaming foul, its a physical game and they just don't understand that, that said my job is to make sure nobody gets hurt but that can be tricky to keep that physical play in check.

  2. uffe gustafsson, September 5, 2012 at 7:25 p.m.

    randy I wish you would write an article about the coaches that starting to teach the young kids of trick play's, starting to see so many young teams doing the corners and free kicks with the foot roll the ball a foot away and walk away like they didn't kick the ball and another player comes and take the shoot or pass it especially on a indirect free kick.
    really do we need to teach em trick plays before they even know the different's of a direct or indirect free kick, how about basics of the rule book first.

  3. Randy Vogt, September 6, 2012 at 9:47 a.m.

    Regarding Uffe's comments above, there are many good youth soccer coaches and many coaches who are trying to become very good. Yet every once in awhile, I will officiate a youth game in which the coaches taught something more advanced while not putting enough emphasis on the basic. For example, the coach of young players who spends more time on training his defense to play an offside trap than trapping the ball. At a time when it's quite dangerous to play an offside trap every time down the field because of the interpretation of offside as well as denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity. So for those coaches, having their players perfect the basics would make for a more pleasant youth soccer experience. Randy

  4. Jack Niner, September 6, 2012 at 11:25 a.m.

    What is the point of this article? Tp promote Mr Vogt's book?

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