Dealing with the Problem Player: Refereeing Young Children (Part 2)

By Randy Vogt

Most referees starting out will begin with the games of young children. It's very important that the ref do a good job plus enjoy the experience -- otherwise, the ref could quit before his or her career really begins.

Previously, I wrote about dealing with adults, the main issue when there is one in officiating young kids games. Yet there is another potential problem for the ref with young kids games -- the young child who does not know how to play well with other kids or to behave. This kid pushes the other kids and yells at them. A referee might only see this player in 5% of young kids’ games but it’s important to spot this player early and know what to do. When this type of young child is on the field, the referee’s presence can make all the difference in the world between an enjoyable experience for everyone and something very different.

It’s important that the ref cheat the diagonal so he or she is as close to the problem player as possible, especially when that player is near the ball. This should not be difficult as the field is much smaller in young kids games. By being close to the player, the ref should easily spot fouls and being close might prevent that player from committing continuous fouls.

Should there be a pattern of fouls committed by the player, the ref blows the whistle hard and tells that player, so everyone on the field can hear, that bad behavior will not be tolerated. The smart coach will substitute the player and talk to him or her to calm down. This hopefully will do the trick. But if the player continues to misbehave, the ref has no other choice but to reach into the pocket and produce a card.

Sadly, I’ve had to send off two young boys during the course of my referee career. I generally do not get questioned about players getting red cards but in both cases, an adult approached me after the game to vehemently protest that I shouldn’t send off a young kid. If memory serves me right, both were boys U-11 players.

One player had a strange pattern of committing late, studs-up tackles. The first time, being a young boy, I thought that it was simply poor coordination and verbally warned the player, which the coach clearly heard as the foul occurred by both benches. The second time, he received a yellow card and the third time, he was sent off. There is no doubt in my mind that he was trying to hurt someone. I never refereed that team again but hope that the player cleaned up his behavior.

The other player was a keeper, about to win the Best Goalkeeper Award of an indoor tournament, who the coach put in as a forward for the last game of the tourney. After an opponent passed the ball, he deliberately pushed the kid from behind. I blew the whistle hard and verbally warned him to behave. A minute later, another player passed the ball upfield by the touchline and this kid ran up to him, pushed him with both hands from behind, sending him into the first row of the bleachers, which left the kid screaming. I sent off the player for violent conduct.

It turns out the tournament has a very good rule that players who have been cautioned or sent off during the tourney cannot win awards. So he missed out winning an award because of his very bad foul.

Finally on the lighter side, at the coin toss before the game, give your coin to the home team captain, ask the visiting team captain if he or she wants heads or tails, tell the home team captain to toss the coin in the air and let it hit the ground. Some young children love to toss the coin, most take it rather seriously and I have heard them say to their teammates, “Wow, that was really cool! The ref let me toss the coin!”

With these young kids, it’s sometimes too much to get the visiting team captain to say “Heads” or “Tails” while the coin is in the air so ask before the toss. If there’s a way to get the coin to wind up heads or tails after being tossed and hitting the ground (where it could roll over upon impact), none of these young kids have figured it out and neither have I.

Read "Refereeing Young Children (Part 1): More Teacher than an Enforcer" HERE.

(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

4 comments about "Dealing with the Problem Player: Refereeing Young Children (Part 2)".
  1. Joel MacDonald, May 30, 2013 at 10:31 a.m.

    The young child who does not know how to play well with others? Funny, I've been playing with lots of grown men for years now who fit that description.

  2. R2 Dad, May 30, 2013 at 7:26 p.m.

    It seems the young kids are generally OK seeing a card, but the parents and coaches go mental even though they don't know the LOTG. And don't get me going on Handling....

  3. feliks fuksman, May 31, 2013 at 7:26 a.m.

    Working with children is so much fun and at times could be challenging. I noticed in Brazil and perhaps in other countries as well, referees don't use cards but there is an understanding with the coaches that they will substitute the youngster at the referees request instead of a card. Another well written article Randy, keep on writing; it is interesting to hear from a referee's perspective.

  4. Randy Vogt, May 31, 2013 at 9:18 a.m.

    Thanks very much, Feliks, and to everybody else who has commented on these referee articles. To Feliks' point, I was certainly faced with a dilemma toward the end of a BU11 game recently in which the red team was leading by several goals over blue. There had not been any disciplinary issues in this game up to that point. The blue GK made a save and was lying on the ground with the ball when the red attacker ran five yards up to him and kicked him while trying to kick the ball, which the GK was holding. Thankfully, the GK was not hurt. I’ve sent off an older player, who should know better, for doing the same thing. But what about a 10-year-old boy? I suggested to the coach, a good guy, that he take him out of the game and speak to him, which he did and left him on the bench for the last several minutes. The coach apologized to me after the game that the kid did not know any better and he spoke to him. Let’s hope that kid learns for the future. I was refereeing another small-sided game where there was a PK call for a push which had the 4 D’s so it was DOGSO. But I kept my cards in my pocket as nobody would have understood the call and I would have a hard time explaining why I sent off a young girl for a foul where she was certainly not trying to hurt the other player. By a quirk, I wound up refereeing the same team their next game and was warmly greeted by the coach, who I have known for years. You think that the reaction to me might have been a bit different if I had sent off that young girl and she was suspended for that game?

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