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 www.preventiveofficiating.com/)