How Refs Can Improve: Listen to Assessor's Criticism

By Randy Vogt

Unquestionably, I’ve made many mistakes officiating soccer games. If there were a list of soccer referees in the United States and the number of mistakes they had made, my name would be near the very top of the list. Yet a longtime coach recently said to me, “But the percentage of calls you make that are wrong is very low.”

Could be and if that’s the case, it is because I learned from my mistakes.

The assessor comes to a game to rate the performance and give the officials helpful ideas. The ref needs to listen to what the assessor has to say, and it’s probably a very good idea to act on the advice as well. It would be great if we had more assessors in addition to more referees.

My first assessment was by Jack McCabe, who came to watch a youth game that I was refereeing. Jack, who went on to become the chair of U.S. Soccer’s Referee Committee, had heard some good things about me so he watched one of my games and gave me some helpful ideas. But I had been refereeing nearly five years (the first two in intramurals, the next three in travel team and amateur games) before Jack or anybody else assessed my ability.

Sadly, very few games are assessed by a person trained to do so as there are so many games and not nearly enough assessors. However, the officials are being assessed every game by players, coaches and spectators. The ref should not simply become defensive but should listen to criticism they might have. If there are patterns of criticism developing, the ref should act on them.

In my first years of refereeing, I heard comments like “Ref, let us play,” “The teams are playing nicely, so could you call less fouls?” and “You meant well, but you interrupted play too much.” I learned to whistle fewer fouls while still maintaining control of the game, to everyone’s benefit. Jack McCabe and other assessors who followed were then able to refine my ability through their sage comments.

Although I am not a certified assessor, I will be asked on occasion to watch officials and help them. Recently, I did that for a 16-year-old girl, with a couple of years experience as an assistant referee but who had never been in the middle before. Until she was assigned to ref a boys U-12 cup game with no assistant referees (as there are no ARs in that age group in this league). I knew the coaches, both very nice guys who are not too concerned with winning.

Some of her decisions were correct and some were not but the important thing is she tried, was making calls, was hustling and controlled the game as best she could.

There weren’t any discipline issues partly because of the coaches’ calm demeanor and good attitude that their players emulated. Her nervousness subsided as the game proceeded. Wouldn’t you know that the keepers played very well and this cup game was scoreless through regulation and overtime. So we went to kicks from the mark, also called a shootout or penalty kicks (although no penalty has been committed). It was there that she was confused about the procedure and needed my guidance.

Let’s hope that she can accomplish half of what the last ref who I watched in his first outdoor game has been able to do. Back in 2001, I watched him and he had a natural ability plus made a very tough but correct decision that experienced officials often miss.

The type of play that you might see once a year in which the keeper is well off the goal line, one defender is on the goal line and the ball is played to an attacker in the goal area who scores. The problem is that the keeper was off his line so the attacker needed another defender closer to the goal line than him.

I told the ref it was a great decision when he whistled offside to disallow the goal and a wonderful start to a career. Brian Dunn is now an assistant referee in MLS games and was honored in 2011 as the Referee of the Year in both Eastern New York and the New York Metro NISOA chapter.

(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
8 comments about "How Refs Can Improve: Listen to Assessor's Criticism ".
  1. R2 Dad, August 27, 2013 at 6:29 a.m.

    So few referees are officially assessed, so I think the process doesn't work for the majority and is thus irrelevant as currently configured. There are grade 9s and 8s, which make up 90% of referees, who never get feedback. Then there are 7s, 6s, etc, that must:
    1) take physical tests to stay current
    2) get assessed to upgrade to the next level
    If there is no incentive or money in upgrading (and getting assessed), is there any wonder so few do it? I've had several D&Gs because I wanted to improve my skills, but had to drive to BFE to get it done.
    Our referee pool in this nation is a mile wide and 2" deep, IMO.

  2. Justin Motzkus, August 27, 2013 at 2:39 p.m.

    Randy, what you say might be true at younger ages, when the play and coaches are "nice" - but the advice to refs to "let them play" is particularly wrong headed if the players are older, and when winning really does matter, like in competing for tournament opportunities, scholarships, etc. As my son's grown older I've seen the violence in the game escalating exponentially. If a ref does not keep control of the game and uses his whistle appropriately, or worse, uses it inconsistently or makes game altering mistakes - the players are left confused and the inevitable result is retaliatory fouls and by then the game becomes a card festival not only to the players, but when the Coaches start yelling to protect the players. I have seen no accountability in Refs at all. Except after a game among rival teams after players were sent to the ER. And the "assessor" focused on the parents. If related problems in the game are to improve, then the training and levels of referees - and holding them accountable - must also improve.

  3. ROBERT BOND, August 27, 2013 at 2:43 p.m.

    how expensive would it be just to add one more ref?

  4. Justin Motzkus, August 27, 2013 at 2:59 p.m.

    Robert, I think it would help if the sideline refs were more active. I've seen more than one just cringe at the center ref's calls - and yet they say nothing.

  5. ROBERT BOND, August 27, 2013 at 4:15 p.m.

    adding a ref would help positioning, give several quick opinions, also agree with getting the sides also more involved, though they tend to be apprentices.all of this easier and cheaper than (UGH) technology, which only increases the time basketball, folks fall down, it's either a charge or a block, cuts down on flopping...

  6. ROBERT BOND, August 27, 2013 at 4:16 p.m.

    also cheap to test....

  7. James Madison, August 27, 2013 at 7:12 p.m.

    As an Assessor, I agree that regular D&Gs would do more to improve the quality of officiating than formal assessments, which some never experience and others experience only infrequently. In our local area, assignments for most youth matches are the responsibility of the host club. Where this is so, clubs should engage and pay Assessors to do D&Gs regularly for all Grade 9s and those Grade 8s who are not interested in advancement. The same practice can and should be sponsored by leagues where the same grades of officials are assigned centrally.

  8. Paul Spacey, October 9, 2013 at 4:03 p.m.

    Randy's book is fantastic. I am a US Soccer and English FA qualified referee (I'm also a coach) and have to say the book has helped me immensely. Talk to players, take feedback onboard (good or bad) and use it to improve. One bit of advice I would give to any new referee is to COMMUNICATE with the players. If you do that well, it makes your job a whole lot easier. Too many referees I see just run around the field like dictators and don't talk to or listen to the players, they just give out instructions and warnings. They quickly lose control of the players. Communicate effectively and players will be more willing to let it slide when you make a mistake. Be firm but be approachable. Oh, and smile!

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