I've long believed that coaches lashing out at referees is a counter-productive practice. After reffing and ARing nearly 40 youth games in the last year -- and surveying other referees -- I'm even more sure of it.
As a referee, you get a very good sense of the players’ mood because you see their faces up close.
What I’ve seen over and over again is how children react to getting screamed at by their coaches. You see the confidence drain out of them when they’re berated by the pacing, grumpy, angry adult on the sideline.
The common scenario is the momentum is going against the team, coaches get frustrated and through voice or body language send the message they’ve lost faith in their players. And the players respond, predictably, by being so self-conscious of their next move that things get even worse for their team.
I also see how the kids respond when they hear their coaches -- or parents -- scream at the referee.
Sometimes they start dissenting with words or gestures. I’ve seen this from kids as young as 9 after obvious fouls. I actually find this somewhat humorous because they look so silly in a cute childish way -- but then you wonder whether they might not end up believing their sloppy tackling is a proper way to play. Or that they’ll keep getting offside because the coach 50 yards away screamed at the AR who was actually in position to see the play.
The one that really gets my goat is when after a foul is called the coach yells at the player, “It’s OK, Johnny! You didn’t do anything wrong!” Do these guys actually think this is a clever way to circumvent the dissent rule? More importantly, they’re setting the kid up to keep making the same mistake.
I’ve been screamed at “How was that a foul?” from a coach 40 yards away from his player who pushed down an opponent with both hands from behind – which my AR, two yards away and I, 10 yards away, both witnessed clearly.
I’ve had a coach in one game scream at me “That’s a foul!” when her player tripped on the ball and "Let the kids play!" when her player threw an elbow into a chin. This coach was more than twice the distance away than I was on each incident.
I get the frustration of coaches when we do err. But refs at the very highest levels average a few mistakes per game – and somehow the man, woman, boy or girl who’s reffing your U-12s is going to be perfect?
The fact is that when the youth coach demonstrably questions the referee the players not only tend to get distracted, they are being handed an excuse for why they’re not succeeding.
As for the coaches who claim there’s a method to their madness, do they really believe that “riding the referee” is going to help their cause? That a person they’re abusing is somehow going to give their team the benefit of the doubt on the next close call?
Any referees worth their salt do not get sucked into making a makeup call and any coach who tries to win youth games by intimidating a referee shouldn’t be around kids’ soccer. (It is, of course, paramount that refs stifle coaches’ dissent immediately so to avoid any speculation that the coach is having an influence.)
I am happy to report from the many youth games I’ve reffed and observed in the past year, the coaches who abuse refs are in the minority. From the repeat offenders -- and I have heard paid coaches drop F-bombs at refs in front of 11-year-olds -- I believe there’s another reason for their disgraceful sideline theatrics: They want the parents who pay them to think it’s the refs' fault when their teams aren’t playing well.
(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, coaches youth soccer for Bay Oaks/East Bay United SC in Oakland, Calif and is a Grade 8 referee. He is the co-author, with Tim Mulqueen, of The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper. Woitalla's youth soccer articles are archived at YouthSoccerFun.com.)
My most "enjoyable" matches involve abusive coaches who have trained their players AND parents to mimic their behavior. Just because their incompetent/unregistered club refs let them get away with it at Home doesn't mean it will fly at Away matches. There is no wonder why we can't retain youth referees in this environment.
I understand the impetus to protect refs from unfair criticism. I really do. Given the shortage of refs and the amount of unfair abuse they have to take, it makes sense. Sure, I’ll moan about the odd offside call or out of bounds. But as a coach, I rarely get truly angry unless either a) my players’ safety is at issue or b) the ref’s ignorance of the rules significantly affects the game. B is uncommon, but does happen. I try to remain in control because players are usually a reflection of their coach. If I lose my composure because the ref misses a call, my players are likely to lose their focus too. That being said, rather than pooh-pooh all coach complaints, why not offer a road map as to how coaches can CONSTRUCTIVELY channel what they feel are valid concerns? For example, one complaint I often have is that overly permissive refereeing – usually by less experienced refs terrified to blow the whistle – is dangerous to the children I am responsible for. Telling me I should just ignore it is not an acceptable answer. I think we’re more likely to see a change in culture if we start educating coaches about positive alternatives rather than just slapping them on the wrist.
BTW-I will not apologize for prioritizing the safety of my players. The referees share that responsibility with me.
The other thing I have learned as a coach is that once you start to yell at the ref and challenge every call, you're less likely to get the benefit of the doubt on close calls that may or may not get called. Having said that, there are some very poor refs out there who don't know the rules (or aren't willing to enforce them) and act as if they don't need to respond to coaches. But for the most part, I've learned to lay off the referee. It doesn't benefit your team in any way. Bite your tongue, turn around, walk away...do what you need to do in order to keep your mouth shut. It takes a lot of practice and patience but you can get there eventually.
Brian Something -- as a referee, former coach, former player and parent of a goalkeeper, I agree with you 100 percent on the issue of protecting the players. I have seen far too many referees who are reluctant to call fouls -- and it's not just the young/inexperienced ones. My daughter is a high school player, and some of the most egregious examples of dangerous fouls that I've seen have been among high school refs -- who in my area are, by and large, are men who have retired from other jobs and are available in the afternoons.
But I'd add this caveat: At the youngest levels I've been screamed at by parents who believe every collision between players where an 8-year-old goes down is a foul. I've also seen parents who scream that their kid is being pushed but don't see that their son's arm is in the other player's stomach -- which I see because it's three feet in front of me.
My experience -- and I refereed for a dozen years when I was young, from the time I was 14 until I met my husband at 26, before resuming refereeing a couple of years ago -- is that what happened when parents and coaches scream for a foul on every bump, every collision, the kids get riled up and start looking for foul calls. That only adds fuel to the fire.
If you as a coach feel the game is getting too rough, I would suggest you speak to the referee at halftime. Express your concerns. And if the game continues to be too rough, file a complaint with the body governing the games your team is playing in -- and be sure to forward your complaint to the referee coordinator and/or assigner as well. Be very specific about your complaint and keep the emotion out of it. And if you have a parent who's taken video, submit it. That -- along with a calm letter -- can have an impact. My daughter's team played in an indoor league last winter. I was videotaping just for the heck of it, and the game turned out to be incredibly rough -- including a player getting a two-handed shove out of bounds that nearly put her into an aluminum bench. Our coach filed a written complaint, as did a few of us. I sent them a DVD of the game, breaking down where I as a referee would have called fouls on both teams. The referee on the game has since been dismissed, and the league has taken a far tougher stance on misconduct.
+ 1 on refs needing to share responsibility. This one-sided article doesn't address situations where criticism is valid.
Over T'giving in a tournament in Vegas, one boy literally put his arm around another boys neck and pulled him to the ground. There wasn't even an attempt at getting the ball. The result - no whistle! When such ridiculous things go unchallenged, coaches/parents get understandably upset, the players become confused and seek to get even with the opposing team. I've seen it time and time again, in a hotly contested and important game where an inconsistent ref allows the game inevitably to become what I call "a card-fest. Particularly when players are getting hurt, I know of no form of good review for exceedingly unacceptable refereeing.
This is one referee's assessment, which no doubt has some merit. However, I have also seen too many instances when the referee literally becomes the center of attraction with constant interruption of the game. I have also seen incompetent refereeing in games that invites the type of yelling cited in the article. Referees are important to the game, but there should also be accountability.
I just had this conversation with my parents and director of coaching. I agree with Brian and Karen, if the players' safety is threatened it is a coach's job to advocate for their players (this doesn't mean yelling abusive language). I also agree with Brian that egregious rule interpretations should similarly be called out, otherwise our players won't learn the CORRECT rule interpretation. We have a referee in our area, a nice guy by the way who calls a pretty fair game in terms of physical play, who has grossly misinterpreted two rules that affected the outcome of games. In one instance the other team's keeper handled a back pass, ref blows for an indirect kick inside the penalty box, but he lets the opposing team stand two yards on OUR SIDE of the ball. I tell the played to ask for ten yards and the ref looks at me and says "that is only in front of the ball, not behind." So of course the opposing team disrupts the pass and the shot and we get nothing out of what should have been a great scoring opportunity. This season he called a fair foul on us just outside our 18 and three or my players form a wall about five yards from the ball. This is a standard move so that the opponent has to ask for the 10 yards, thus negating a fast restart, and allowing us time to align the wall. The referee steps off 10 paces, my guys move to the spot and my keeper is on the post lining them up when the referee immediately blows the whistle to restart. He never gave my team a chance to line up the wall, the opponent shot to the far post form my keeper and they scored. Now, in both instances my players looked at me and one or two asked outright "I thought we were supposed to get 10 yards all around the ball/a chance to set the wall" and in both cases the players were correct. I truly believe that my silence at that moment would have left the players completely confused at an age (U14) when they are just learning the finer rules and tactics of the game. I do agree with the article, however, that berating a referee for judgment calls is counterproductive both for the outcome of the game and the development of the players.
I'd also like to see that I like Karen's idea about video evidence. For this reason, though really more for a coaching tool, I'm asking for a good video recorder for Christmas!
Bravo, Mike! I've seen every reaction that you describe among players on the field and more. If the CR is missing it, take it up with him or her respectfully at halftime or after the match.
There needs to be a system where coaches can go online and make constructive observations about the referees, and the referees and their assignors would have access to read them.
Great article, but I have to differ with the title statement. I have seen many games where "bullying" the referee brings the desired result--the complaining coach starts to get the calls, and that helps his team "win". As with most human behavior, we repeat what works. Sadly, it seems most effective when there is an "angry adult" coach yelling at a young novice referee, but coaches "work" the referees at all levels. The only solution is "zero tolerance", ie, NO addressing the referee. Claims of risks to player safety can only be voiced by removing the team from the field.
I really enjoy reading these referee pieces. I have learned a lot and book-marked a number of them under my "coaching" file. I agree wholeheartedly that blaming the ref for the outcome of a game does not help players develop--it takes them outside the focus on their playing. W/ re to bad calls, I say to my U-15's--a ref's mistake should be treated the same as a mistake by a team-mate: deal with it and move on; there isn't anyone on the field who isn't going to make a mistake; it's what you do next that marks the kind of player you are.
To Dante's comment about working the ref, I have seen coaches try it, too; fortunately I have not seen it work. More often than not the coach (or trainer) gets cautioned, which seems appropriate. I coach in the Mid-New Jersey league, and while I have seen some howler calls, I have never seen incompetence.
Note: blaming the refs at the highest professional levels: we have the 'local'--and appalingly consistent--example of Clint Dempsey hounding the middle man for his employers the Seattle Sounders (after laying hands on--I believe it was Jair Marrufo v. the Galaxy during the second leg--he followed him to the sidelines and continued his dissent). Not the person to set an example for young people--and certainly highlights the questionable decision to recently name him USMNT captain. One of the most wrongheaded comments made by players, coaches, media alike is 'The referee lost control of the match.' Our players play the match and can take responsibility for their actions (even as 8-12yr-olds). Yes, the coaches MUST back them up with the spirit of fair play...and YES, referees will often be incredibly inept--especially at the youth level. But preparation and calm temperament is key from a coach's angle.
Speaking of safety of players, I beleave it's a responsibility of not only the referee but equally for coaches and especially for the coach that have a player that playing in an unsafe manner.
If I yellow card a player for dangerous play I beleave it's the coach responsibility to take that player off the pitch and sit the player down and explain that is not how we teach you to play.
And you are not playing the rest of the game.
Sadly I hardly ever see coaches do it and leave all the responsibility to the referee.
And I don't think mike was referring to dangerous play in the article, but how some coaches behavior stifle players in how to learn the rules.
And it's a commen thing I see a lot on the field.
And on the incompetent referees, it take years to learn all the rules and what each infraction is to be played. I see plenty of coaches that don't know the rules they might think they do, but they don't.
Will also point out that it is instructed--EXPECTED--of my teams (in the 7-13yr-old ranges) that there is to be no complaining to the referee--in spite of the occasional absurd call. If consistent dangerous play happens, I speak--in a calm and firm--and sometimes loud voice, as an example: 'Referee, that's the second time #3 has fouled from behind...' The point is usually taken by the CR. If the players have ref complaints, we discuss it at the next practice--where we often laugh about it. Guess what--children move on and can still continue to grasp the importance of fair play (which I do not mention as some sort of trivial FIFA advertising)--despite what adults bring to the moment! Under the same philosophy, we also have 'no-contact' training sessions at least once a week--no sliding, no touching, etc.--and the players actually learn skillful defending (play the ball, not the opponent--imagine that, Diego Godin or 85% of MLS defenders) AND the attacking team has the opportunity to employ their full creativity. Sportsmanship does wonders for impressionable youth; the hope is that it can also produce fine players.
I don't believe that coaches who follow these issues on-line are the problem, so present company excepted. I also recognize that there are....less- desirable...referees out there that I avoid working with because they swallow their whistle, their foul calls are uneven/misapplied--we know who these people are. Lucky me, I can choose which referee team I want to work with while you get stuck with whatever shows up. However, my experience has been that player saftey-related calls are maybe 5% or less of the situations out there. Have you whined about line calls? Do you refuse to sub per league/referee instructions? Have you marched the length of your half of the pitch shouting instructions rather than stay in your technical area? Do you rush onto the pitch the moment one of your players goes down? Do you instruct your slow back 4 to play a high line, and you find yourself regularly complaining about offside calls? Have you requested an explanation for calls that occurred at the far end of the pitch that you couldn't see? Have you ever gotten into a shouting match with the coach(es) in the opponent's technical area? These are all "quality of life" issues that unnecessarily raise the tension on the youth referee. I'm a grownup and can work the process to manage the match, but a 14 year old doing a U9 match will not have all the tools to combat the coaches and parents who insist on uncivil behavior--it's rarely from the players themselves. And it only takes 1 of your parent's comments to forever put off a youth referee from ever doing another match. The fact that your parents pay fees to the club DOES NOT entitle them to say whatever they want, to whomever they want, at a match. As a coach you have the power to enable our youth referees to become confident, competent and a great resource in the community. Judging from the shrinking referee pool across districts, coaches are shirking this responsibility. We need your help to grow the referee pool. Please remember this the next time you step on the pitch.
USA Refs are terrible in their majority. Everyone here knows this to be a fact. The problem with this is that you cant have a quality game without quality reffing. there is less to learn from a game if reffing is subpar. To add to this problem is the overwhelming lack of common sense. From U8-U10 game, no matter what the level, refs refuse to hand a yellow card much less a red, no matter the situation. This is absolutely ridiculous. A last man tripping a player from behind is a straight red. An intentiuonal hand ball inside penalty box is straight red. Maybe we can let this slide in rec soccer but why is this such a taboo in competitive soccer?? The whole idea behind travel soccer is to "learn and play at the highest level following FIFA rules to the full extent". If we fail to make obvious calls and hand out obvious cards then what really is a meaningful difference between travel and rec other than competition level?? And we are surprised that USA players lack "player saviness" and why they are so behind?? A deserved red card changes the game completely for the good. The punished player now understands that he cost his team a player less in the game. A yellow card insures a defender will adjust his defensive tactics and therefore actually play better defense. The degree of how bad reffing is in USa can be seen at the highest level of youth play - The USSDA Showcase event. I watched a few games where refs refused to call PK's, hand out obvious Red Cards and waited until last 20 minutes to hand out yellows. Several parents told me that they understand why refs dont enforce these calls. they said "If he makes that call he changes the game" and "if he cards him he might miss rest of showcase". maybe these refs can stop players from getting injured as well so they dont miss the showcase. This is the dumbest thing I have ever heard. How can a tecnically good player showcase adequately when the defenders are encouraged by refs to make unnessacarily intentional fouls?? thats exactly what refs are doing when not pulling out the right cards. Players understand they can get away with sevreal dirty fouls before ref will give him what he deserved in the first few minutes of game. Would we have a basketball showcase with no tecnical fouls or 5 fouls ur out rule?? No wonder we are behind.
Part of the problem is that people are frustrated with the fact that there is no accountability on the part of the refs. So they make a bad call. Or they miss a call. They have all of the authority, without any responsibility.
Coaches have authority, but also responsibility. They can be replaced if they do not produce.
Players can be benched and lose playing time.
What happens to refs if they make a bad call? Miss a call? Nothing. People are frustrated with this.
Just like everyone else, when you know you are being evaluated, or if there are consequences to your actions, you try harder to do better.
If there are no consequences, there is nothing invested, nothing lost.
Shultz Rockne makes my point while trying to justify his inappropriate actions: He IS working the referees, and is part of the problem! Regardless of how calmly, considerately, and soberly he delivers comments such as "Referee, that's the second time #3 has fouled from behind..." (which he admits must sometimes be delivered in a loud voice), he is attempting to substitute his judgment for that of the official. You can't justify this by saying "Well, it's OK for me to engage the ref during the game because I'm a reasonable person acting with pure motives" because, guess what--the jerk coach who is berating the ref thinks his actions are justified too! We can't have it both ways.
If one has legitimately referreed AND coached (and played, for that matter) a variety of matches on a variety of levels in this country, one will plainly admit that this game is not played within a vacuum. Generally, there are parents, 'fans,' other coaches, players, etc. that add banter, jeers, comments to/during the proceedings. While it would be ideal to silence those who engage in obsessive and obnoxious commenting on the ref--fanatical parents aplenty--that's not realistic. You cannot always contain parents, but if the ref is distracted from his weekly bender or the safety of the players (either side) is compromised ON THE FIELD OF PLAY, it is within an adult's responsibility (namely, the coach) to--audibly, if necessary--bring it to the CR's attention. Just as you can, if need be, remove your team from the field, write letters and/or make phone calls to the league director, while also rallying fellow coaches in support of ousting referees who are out of their element. All perfectly practical ways to deal with rogue refs while still maintaining a strong sense of sportsmanship. It's often HOW you address ref concerns that really matters--calm equals class outside of the vacuum. Teams can actually nullify a referree's influence (namely, excessive blowing of the whistle) by playing cleanly and ignoring blown calls by the headmaster ref or the 'ref who wants to be noticed'--referees who attempt to 'work the game' (rather than ref it by law) in other words. And frankly, if there exists a definitive LACK of judgement by any CR, there is nothing to substitute...merely filling that void for the safety of the players. But those are extreme (but true) circumstances...but yes, we WILL have it ALL WAYS, because the spirit of fair-play is the responsibility of players, coaches, AND referees.
Just look at how games are reffed in other parts of the world or just go to Hispanic league and see how it is done there. It is embarrassing to see how 1 ref in a Hispanic league is 10 times more adequate than a 3 man system in top youth leagues or even the USSDA. Whats worse?? Working the ref or working "with" a bad ref?? I have seen many times coaches that are all about winning work with the ref and applaud stupid 50/50 fouls because his team is too weak to win a ball. these slick coaches get on ref's good side even if they know they are wrong. I have coached against these clowns who after the game say "sorry dude, that ref sucked". Heard that way too many times. in one game a racist ref would not card a player who constantly made late hits. Shoved a player from behind full force out of bounds. Gave the player about 5 warnings throughout the game. No card. Then in 2nd game of season this kid got red carded for saying something silly to AR or disagreeing a call. Something really stupid. Face it people. USA refs suck in their great Majority. I see them getting worse every year.
Mark, while you're right about the 10 yd distance on all sides of the ball, you're wrong that the ref is required to let your keeper set the wall and then get back in position before blowing his whistle to resume play. The defending team committed the foul and violated the rules (by lining up too close to the ball on the restart). The ref is moving them back to allow the team that was fouled have the free kick they deserve, not giving time to the team that committed the foul to set up the wall they want. Too many players (and coaches) seem to think it is their (the team that committed the foul) right to set up a wall (and actions of officials at even the highest levels make this seem like the case). That being said, most refs will not be that quick to blow the whistle for a restart. To avoid the issue, have the keeper stay in position and let a forward line up the wall from the other side of the ball (where refs often are less concerned about the 10 yds, as you well know!).
Karen, your actions are the best way to deal with poor refereeing. Schultz, I agree that it is possible to communicate with a ref without being abusive or disrespectful. There is a difference between feed back and dissent. As a ref, I don't mind occasional feed back given respectfully on tight calls, since it gives me an idea how players are feeling (on the other hand, questioning every call is not feedback). Particularly in the first half, a quiet word to the AR should get communicated to the CR at halftime.
Kent, it should but it hardly ever does. Just as refs get aggravated with constant feed back or questioning calls so do coaches get tired of seeing bad calls made or good calls not being made. refs have the power to dictate the outcome of the quality of the game. A coach does not. A coach only has the power to encourage his own team to play a certain way. Not the opposing team. If refs understand this they will know just how much of a positive influence he can be after each game as far as educating everyone involved. They should therefore be above the pettiness that is spoken about here. The reason refs get so flustered is because they are not 100% sure of their own output. If a ref is confident about enforcing every rule in each game the games run usually smoothly. Afterall, they have the power to red card a coach and kick out parents. Stop crying and just ref better please. You are holding the game back in USA. I say this to the bad refs only which are many.
"1 ref in a Hispanic league is 10 times more adequate than a 3 man system in top youth leagues". No, no, no. Let me explain to you how this solo ref in the adult hispanic leagues works. Since the hispanic teams don't want to pay for 3 referees, they get a solo referee. The understood conditions are that the solo referee will miss a bunch of line calls and offside calls (which I can confirm), so the players don't get worked up and the fans don't whine every time a call doesn't go their way. They want the referee to card bad behavior and they are usually adequate for that task. So from the outside everything looks peaceful and under control. But the solo referee is a simple bystander when things get ugly. With a 3 man crew, they have a strategy to secure the pitch when strenuous disagreements erupt. This is when a 3 man crew is really needed, but the hispanic adult leagues won't pay for it. Too bad, since a knife fight broke out last month at one of our local matches and that solo ref could certainly have used some help.
R2, you dont have to explain it to me. I have seen many of those games. I knwo that is the reason he refs solo. Thats not my point. But to counter your point, if those Hispanic leagues had 3 refs it would be 30 times better than the other leagues. The offside calls are better in Hispanic leagues with solo ref!!! Thats my point !!! Thats how bad linesman usually are and uselss. Alot of them dont know exactly what an offside is and most will not call a PK or ven a foul by them. I am talking about youth Hispanic leagues and comparing to non Hispanic youth leagues. Everything else as far as the Hispanic leagues sucks but when it comes to reffing they are superior. No doubt. You are talking about men's leagues. I am not. Who cares about those guys. Not me
So, I'm confused. All top leagues in Cal-North require a 3 man crew. Even when there are only 2 officials they prefer a center ref with an AR and club linesman (or 2 man crew as in high school, but that is going away). Are there top leagues in your district that allow solo refs? If US Soccer recognizes that a 3 man crew is superior, what makes you so sure a solo ref would be better? Other than, apparently, racism.
Good article Mike. Thank you.