Girls vs. Boys: Should they be refereed differently?

By Randy Vogt

A decade ago at the Long Island Junior Soccer League Convention, there were two panel discussions on whether there are any differences between girls and boys in youth sports. Successful youth soccer coaches spoke about the profound differences in coaching girls and boys, particularly that criticism of girls in particular need not go overboard as females tend to take criticism quite personally.

A few hours later, successful youth soccer referees had a separate panel discussion about whether there are any differences between officiating girls and boys. The overwhelming response was no. After all, whether girls or boys are playing soccer, the ball is round, the field is the same size and the rules are the same.

Which makes sense, although I disagree as there are real differences when refereeing the different genders. On the youth soccer level, I don’t believe there are any differences with the youngest players. The differences start to emerge at puberty.

Among females, there can be much more of an emotional connection to their teammates and to the social aspects of soccer. Females tend to consider a hard foul against a teammate as an attack against their entire team. And while males might retaliate quickly, females have long memories regarding rough fouls. A rough challenge with girls or women playing could come out of nowhere during what was a calm game but it could be retaliation for an incident even a couple of years before. I have seen this occur several times over the years.

I was even refereeing a futsal game and near the end of the game, one team was leading, 3-0. The losing team scored in the last minute and there was a great deal of celebration among teammates with a lot of players exchanging high fives. How odd since that team lost 3-1 when the final whistle blew a few seconds later.

When I asked the coach of the losing team why his team enthusiastically celebrated what appeared to be a meaningless goal (at least to the outcome of the game), he responded that they had played their opponent once before and his players thought the other team’s goalkeeper had acted like a jerk in that game. So they desperately did not want to be shut out by her.

This futsal league is very interesting as I referee the same squads on a weekly basis, unlike outdoor soccer, where I might see the same teams once or twice a year. So I get to know the tendencies of the futsal players. Among the boys, it will be that No. 10 blue is very sporting, No. 20 on green commits off-the-ball fouls and the red team’s GK gets frustrated when he gives up goals and tries to take it out on his teammates and the refs. Among the girls, I’ll need to be more aware of the interactions between players, such as the green and blue teams don’t like No. 9 red or that the yellow and purple teams really get along well with one another.

There is a perception among some refs that females do not commit violent fouls against one another. So what would be a red card when males are playing is often just a foul with no card (not even a yellow) for the same foul when females are playing. Yet girls and women deliberately foul opponents, sometimes even violently.

We saw graphic evidence of that in that 2009 NCAA women’s playoff game between the University of New Mexico and Brigham Young. The first reaction to that video was “How could a young woman do that?” with the second reaction being “Why did the refs allow it?” If a man committed the same kinds of fouls, the video would not have been nearly as newsworthy and the main reaction would have simply been “Why did the refs allow it?”

Unfortunately, there are too many referees even today who do not take officiating females as seriously as when they officiate males. If you do not take any game seriously, do not be surprised if you wind up with a game control issue that most likely could have been prevented if you had been working hard.

(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 his book, “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 "Girls vs. Boys: Should they be refereed differently?".
  1. Mark Grody, January 22, 2013 at 3:11 p.m.

    Biggest problem I've seen has been when refs don't let girls play hard or physical, just because they are girls. I coached girls & boys high school at the same time at the same school, & I saw many of the same refs ref both genders, so I had a fairly good sample size.

  2. John Molinda, January 22, 2013 at 8:13 p.m.

    Good article Randy and a very important topic because refereeing relates to control of the game and therefore injury prevention. You are profoundly correct in asserting that referees are much more likely to show a red card in a men’s game than in a women’s game - for the exact same foul.

    To illustrate, I estimate that my daughter played more than 600 soccer matches from the U-14 level through last years Division 1 NCAA championship game. During that time frame I have only seen 3 red cards shown and only one of those was of those was for what the referees deemed a dangerous play. The others were 1) deliberate hand ball to stop a goal and 2) unsporting conduct. To repeat….that’s ONE dangerous play red card in more than 600 matches. By contrast a typical men’s world cup will see 20-30 dangerous play red cards in just 64 games.

    Referees simply refuse to believe that women are capable of dangerous fouls…deliberate or accidental. If anything statistics show the opposite to be true. A mis-timed aggressive tackle from behind that misses the ball and drives into the knee is several times more likely to result in an ACL tear in a women’s game than a men’s game. Women soccer players also suffer more concussions than men. Until referees acknowledge that women are just as capable of dangerous fouls, either accidental or deliberate, as men, the result will be many more serious injuries than necessary for women.

  3. Doug Wiggins, January 23, 2013 at 2:30 a.m.

    Every Game is different. Every Game needs to be approached as a unique opportunity to enforce the LOTG in a judicious and meaningful manner. Remember, the Game is for the enjoyment of the players and spectators and anything that we can do as a referee to create this, ultimately benefits The Game. In the words of Bob Evans in the book "For the Good of The Game".."The fine art of refereeing is the art of knowing when to stop the game and when to let it go. It is the art of being able to recognize what is significant and what is not; what the players can accept and what they find intolerable."

  4. Michael Williams, January 23, 2013 at 12:14 p.m.

    As Ref if we go by the rules we be fine Gil's or Boys the rules don't changes.

  5. Niko Sismanidis, January 23, 2013 at 12:22 p.m.

    Soccer is soccer whether it is played by boys or girls. If the game was played boys vs girls, then I can see the difference in officiating due to the masculinity of the boys vs girls.
    However, girls vs girls, is soccer vs soccer and the rules should be exactly the same and therefore the game be officiated the same way.
    Having said that, I do see a difference in officiating depending on age and level. But that is another discussion

  6. R2 Dad, January 24, 2013 at 2:21 a.m.

    I have noticed a disturbing trend among girls teams coming up from rec where the kids are recklessly throwing themselves into every tackle, way more so than boys at those early U ages. Maybe there are more dads who think they can coach a competitive girl's team encouraging them to be more aggressive? Anyway, I do notice that I can still give a talking to girls up to U15 but the boys know everything now even down at U12 and they expect that card.

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