Put refs and coaches in the same room

By Mike Woitalla

Last month I co-hosted a workshop at U.S. Youth Soccer’s annual gathering in Philadelphia with longtime referee and National Instructor Barry Towbin titled: "Coaches and Referees Improving Relations for the Good of the Game."

Whether referee or coach, the aim is for kids to enjoy the beautiful game and to create an environment to help them excel. The purpose of the session was to explore ways to make the coach-referee relationship cooperative rather than adversarial.

We started off by pinpointing what upsets each party most frequently about the other.

What coaches dislike from referees:
* Not staying with the play.
* Inconsistency.
* Not knowing the Rules of Competition.
* Nitpicking over uniform details.
* Not explaining calls.

What referees dislike from coaches:
* Abuse toward officials.
* Inciting with their actions poor behavior from players and parents.
* Not knowing the rules, eg: handball and back-pass to keeper (must be deliberate), offside-no-offside on various restarts.
* Getting berated for offside calls from coaches who are in no position to have made the judgment.

For their part, referees stressed the importance of a mentorship program to help referees improve.

A major concern that always comes up when discussing refereeing at the youth game is that the No. 1 reason for teenage referees quitting is abuse from parents and coaches. To have young refs be accompanied by an adult mentor as much as possible – and to have that mentor confront the coaches and parents when they abuse the referee, is an idea I found excellent. Or, as one member of the audience suggested, have monitors roam the fields to warn those screaming at refs that such behavior won’t be tolerated in their league.

A point of frustration for coaches is that in soccer -- unlike sports such as basketball and football – referees aren’t obligated to reveal what infraction they called.

Peter Walton, the general manager of the USA’s Professional Referee Organization (PRO), was in attendance and agreed.

“We do want referees to be more demonstrative because we also have a duty to the audience and the players,” Walton said. “You can stop dissent or undue unrest with a signal so the guy on other side of the field understands what the call is. We talk about making sure you ‘sell’ your decision. It should be a sure, sharp signal.”

I’d like to see coaches be required to referee a couple of games to get an idea of just how challenging the job can be -- and coaches and players take a basic test on the rules.

Referees have a responsibility to officiate in a manner that creates a fair and safe environment for the players -- a goal that coaches should also strive for. Walton recommends more dialogue between coaches and refs outside the game-day environment.

“We like to invite referees and coaches to sit in a room together and talk about the situations when they’re not in the cauldron,” he said. “So they have more of an understanding of each other, and then on Saturday they see each other as humans.”

Towbin, the Director of Referee Education for New Jersey Youth Soccer, says:

“We do it in Jersey. We get coaches and referees together and discuss their goals, and talk about issues -- about respect, technical-area decorum, rule changes, pre-game procedures -- and things that coaches, players and parents get upset about. And ask questions back and forth.”

(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, is co-author, with Tim Mulqueen, of The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper and co-author with Claudio Reyna of More Than Goals: The Journey from Backyard Games to World Cup Competition. Woitalla's youth soccer articles are archived at Woitalla refs youth soccer in Northern California and coaches at East Bay United/Bay Oaks.)

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8 comments about "Put refs and coaches in the same room ".
  1. Coach Referee, February 20, 2014 at 1:47 p.m.

    I've been licensed for 30 years. During my son's first year of being licensed at 15 years old, some parents were on the touch yelling at him for his decisions. I walked over and asked if they had children on the field. Each of the three parents pointed to their children. I asked them if it was ok for me to yell at them like they were yelling at my son. All of sudden it got very quiet. What a lot parents/coaches don't realize is that refs don't really get to practice. Their practice is on Saturday while the teams are all dressed up ready for an actual match. The day of 100% silence from the touchline will never happen, but if we can change the behavior of one person, then that's better than the previous day. Great article again Mike.

  2. Kent James, February 20, 2014 at 2:08 p.m.

    Lance, excellent technique on the parents. Also excellent point about the fact that refs don't really get to practice (especially young referees). One thing that might be pointed out to coaches is that there's not much benefit to constantly berating the referee. Rarely will a referee's performance improve under a barrage of criticism. The other tactical deficiency of a coach constantly being on the ref is that that behavior encourages players to focus on the ref, instead of the game. And again, players do not play as well focusing on the ref rather than the game. Now if a coach's team is much weaker, and can even the game by getting away with fouling the other team, then such a tactic might help the coach's team win, but that's a pretty sad reason to do it. On the other hand, most referees will usually respond to a respectful question or even a respectful comment (a suggestion to tighten it up, or a request through the AR to watch a specific player, e.g.).

  3. Steve Greene, February 20, 2014 at 3:36 p.m.

    As a referee I completely agree with the SENTIMENT of having a coach referee to see the other side of things. In practice however it isn't fair or really a good idea. It would be better to record antics of coaches, parents, and referees and have them watch that and comment in the room with referees and coaches together.

    Having a coach shadow a referee in a scrimmage might be fun, at least we could try to run them near to death and they would see what we deal with and how (like coaching) it is NOT as easy as you think when you are actually on the pitch with whistle in hand.

    After receiving specific training to referee and even after having refereed many games it still is not an easy thing to do. Asking someone to do so with no training is almost guaranteed failure and ultimately would accomplish nothing.

    Taking a LOTG test should be mandatory for anyone involved (as in players, coaches, parents, and referees).

  4. Bruce Gowan, February 20, 2014 at 4:20 p.m.

    I think the retention of youth refs is a serious problem in youth soccer. I am asked by assignors to work games with youth refs so they feel like they are being supported in what is a hostile environment. It seems the worst possible situation for a youth ref is working a U10/U12 rec league game where the players are not skilled and the coaches are inexperienced. I fault clubs for not having someone at the fields to supervise their coaches and parents. It is not reasonable to expect a 14/15 yr old ref to control adult coaches and parents.

  5. Brian Something, February 21, 2014 at 10:46 a.m.

    I think every coach should attend a rules seminar. Maybe it should be part of USSF coaching certification courses.

    I’ve reffed a few dozen games over the years when officials haven’t shown up and it’s been tremendously instructive for two reasons. First, I’ve made a point of learning some of the lesser-known rules so I could make correct calls. Second, as a coach, I have a better understanding of what the ref can and can’t see in various situations.

  6. Brian Something, February 21, 2014 at 10:48 a.m.

    My pet peeve as a coach would be keeping the game under control. I may grumble about missed handballs or offside but I don’t really get upset at refs unless I feel my players’ safety is at risk by reckless opposition and officials (and other coaches) refusing to control it. In other words, you have knowledge of the LOTG, you have a whistle, use both. I’ll always defer to an official erring on the side of fewer broken bones.

  7. Ann Sansbury, February 24, 2014 at 3:35 p.m.

    This is a great article. Our high school association bring coaches to our general membership meeting once a year to voice their concerns about referees and it allows referees to speak to coaches about the challenge of keeping them in check. A two way street always allows the best process of information!

  8. Chuck Locke, March 4, 2014 at 3:10 p.m.

    I commend Brian Something for reffing games and now has a perspective that few coaches are willing to achieve. But I vehemently disagree with the notion that a referee would refuse to control a match. They may not possess the skills to control it, or they may be not recongize that there is a problem but to refuse to control a match? Get real. The majority of officials working youth leagues are the young, inexperienced ones who won't get any better if they are abused and yelled at by "adults" who probably have little knowledge of the rules and certainly don't have a clue as to the mechanics and decision-making process required to referee a game.
    If a group of people were yelling at the players everytime they made a bad pass or lost control of the ball, I would bet a group of parents would intervene on the behalf of their kids, but would do nothing if that same group were yelling at a youth referee.

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