Refs, a smile goes a long way

By Randy Vogt

Leo Durocher was a baseball lifer who was a better manager than player. So much so that his teammate, Babe Ruth, called him the "All-American out."

The Baseball Hall of Famer is arguably best known for saying, “Nice guys finish last.” As he won two World Series, playing with the New York Yankees in 1928 and managing the New York Giants in 1954, I don’t know if that means he was a nice guy, in his own view, during his six decades in baseball.

But for the youth soccer referee, I have found that nice guys, and gals, do not finish last and they often finish first.

Refereeing in New York, I generally do not hear complaints about other officials but if I do, the two main complaints are that the refs are “mean” and do not run the full length of the field. Perhaps these two complaints are related as these refs have too many games to officiate due to a shortage of officials on very active weekends. They could be in a bad mood because of all the games they are assigned, knowing that they will not be able to keep up with play.

While there is not a simple fix for being in a good position for five games, being nice to players and coaches, plus smiling, is not difficult and goes a long way to winning friends and influencing people in youth soccer. After all, the players, coaches and spectators might not know the subtleties of the offside rule or the advantage clause but they can figure out pretty quickly if the ref is a positive person.

Arrive at the field with a smile on your face. Perhaps you don’t feel like smiling -- maybe you don’t feel well or did not get a good night’s sleep. Smile anyway. It could even put you in a better mood.

Attitudes are contagious. If you’re having a very good time, you would be surprised how many other people you are affecting with your positive attitude. Those song lyrics often come true, “When you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you.”

Never bring your problems to the soccer field as it will greatly affect your refereeing and other people’s perception of you.

What is becoming more and more obvious to me is that being a nice person quite literally pays off. Others might win the battle but they lose the war as people do not want to deal with the complainer, the egotist or the self-centered person. For example, complaining a good deal might briefly get them what they want but they either eventually get tuned out or others do not call, such as an assignor on a weekend that has few games.

I’ve heard assignors say such things as, “He’s an excellent referee. Too bad he does not focus on that and keep his mouth shut as people complain about his bad attitude all the time” or “His fellow referees just do not like him as he is always complaining so the games are given to refs with a better attitude instead.”

Ref Randy Vogt is on the right.

(Randy Vogt has officiated over 9,000 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

6 comments about "Refs, a smile goes a long way".
  1. Robert Russell , December 1, 2014 at 4:42 p.m.

    That's a good lesson for life, not just soccer. With all that goes on in life, the one thing you always control is your attitude. A positive one will go a long ways to making things better.

  2. uffe gustafsson, December 1, 2014 at 5:46 p.m.

    Wish that coaches would come with a smile on their face.
    When you have a visiting coach coming to the field and first thing out of their mouth is bitching about the size of the field or goals are not the size they like, you know you are in for a long day.
    Hard to keep smiling, you know it's a coach that will argue every call against them, and also you know the parents think it's a their right to scream.
    They learned from their coach.
    Seen to many of them and makes it hard to love being a referee. That said I also worked with refs that think they are referring a BPL match.
    Instead of a youth game and that is not what we do. I agree coming with a positive attitude that the game will be a fun and fair game will make things go way smooth.
    But all of us have teams that no money in the world will make us sign up for them.
    When you worked a cpl of games w those teams you learn your lesson and let somebody else deal with them. The match reports don't really work on visiting coaches bad behavior only on your own clubs coaches.

  3. Randy Vogt, December 1, 2014 at 8:52 p.m.

    Uffe, a ref should not meet a coach's negativity regarding this or that with negativity as well as it will all go downhill from there. Instead, manage the situation by being positive and you could eventually win that person over. And even if you cannot, you are still winning friends at the field, including other coaches, by trying to be positive. --Randy

  4. uffe gustafsson, December 1, 2014 at 10:03 p.m.

    Yes you are correct that if you run into coaches that start out being a complainer, you have stay positive.
    But reality is that it's very diffecult too referee that game and make sure you make the proper calls and stay 100% neutral with coaches crying of every call that goes against them.
    The reason is a coach like that think he will get one of those questiable that goes in his favor.
    Or you will make up for a bad call from earlier.
    And I'm certain you know what I'm talking about.
    We all make mistakes and they want us to make up for that mistake. But to me 2 mistakes don't make one right.

  5. Randy Vogt, December 2, 2014 at 7:19 a.m.

    Uffe, if you stay positive and yet the coach believes he or she can give a running commentary about your decisions, you obviously cannot allow that as your control of the game will suffer. You go over to the bench and briefly ask the coach to focus on coaching his or her team and let yourself officiate the game. Most coaches understand that, especially if you approach them with a smile and speaking calmly. And most will stop complaining. The ones who do not and continue their poor behavior will not be around to watch the end of the match. But it rarely gets to that point after you speak to the coach. Many coaches calm down immediately and will apologize to me after the game as well as thanking me for speaking to them in a positive manner. I've only dismissed six coaches in my entire career, which is not a lot considering all the games I have refereed. --Randy

  6. Alan Rubin, December 2, 2014 at 4:35 p.m.

    I have never been an advocate of Leo Durocher’s “nice guys finish last” theology. I also agree with Robert that smiling through life helps in so many ways.

    I ran a family owned retail appliance store on Manhattan’s Upper West Side for forty years. A friendly smile, and listening to customers, solved just about any problem.

    I’ve been a soccer fan since I began playing in 1948 at age 14 and was a goalkeeper for 10 years. Since retiring to the Berkshires eight years ago, I again became active in soccer as a volunteer high school and youth goalkeeper coach.

    Four years ago I developed an online educational soccer web site to explain how to watch and understand the game of soccer to parents and grandparents.

    At the same time I began teaching an “Understanding Soccer” adult education course. A professional referee, the son of a friend, gave one of the hour and a half sessions on refereeing. He was qualified to referee at the A level, and an AR in the MSL and the women’s professional league.

    Since then, I watch three teams on the field and try to evaluate their performance and effects upon the game.

    When fans criticize the referees or players, they should understand that split second decisions are made on the field without the benefit of hindsight.
    A lack of understanding of the rules is very common, including TV announcers.

    I do not know why, but as a youngster I always read the baseball and soccer rule books, often to good advantage.

    I was Lehigh University’s keeper between 1954-56. Before each game, I asked the referee to clearly announce whether a free kick was direct or indirect.

    Throughout my three year career, we saw many of the same referees and I developed an appreciation for what they did and realized that they were aware of many players.

    At that time, kick-ins, rather than throw-ins, was the rule for out of bounds balls and they were indirect.

    Late in one game, there was a kick-in from past half field. Since the sun was low and in my eyes, I was afraid to handle the ball, so I stepped aside and let it in. Initially, my coach and bench were horrified until the referee whistled “no goal”.

    He was an insurance salesman who had refereed many of our games and we had discussed my becoming a referee when I began working after college.

    After the game, which we won by a goal, he came over to me and with a big smile said, “Isn't it nice to know the rules”. In fact, he always smiled throughout the games.

    Now I know why he was my favorite referee.

Next story loading loading..

Discover Our Publications