Ref Watch: Why three is so much better than one

By Randy Vogt

When I moved to Florida for business 27 years ago, I lived and worked in Orlando and also worked in the state capital of Tallahassee, 250 miles away. So I officiated in both cities.

What I remember over a quarter-century later is the beautiful grass fields as well as all games U-13 and above having three officials. And thought that it’s going to be more challenging when I return home to New York as I was refereeing nearly all games here, senior and youth, by myself. Just a handful of games that I refereed in New York annually had assistant referees, which were then called linesmen.

As I kept a very brief note on every game that I officiated, I knew that the number of cards that I distributed were much higher per game in matches officiated by myself than with the help of assistant referees. Which makes sense as the players are aware of two more sets of eyes watching so they should be more fearful of getting caught for misconduct -- plus the ref with assistant referees is concentrating on fouls instead of having to always be aware of the position of attackers and defenders for the offside call.

In New York, there has been a gradual progression to three officials per game for nearly all matches played U-13 and above during the past two decades. Some leagues were much more enthusiastic than others about putting their financial resources toward three officials but now all have made that commitment. I remember reffing a girls U-16 game with two other officials where the number of fouls roughly equaled the number of cards distributed by the lone official refereeing a men's over-30 game on an adjacent field. Those players even approached me and asked why the girls have three officials and they have only one.

By the time a player has turned 12 years old, he or she has generally graduated to a large field after playing small-sided soccer as a young child. I realize that given the referee shortage in many parts of the United States, most areas would not be able to have three officials for every game. But if not, maybe every game on a large field could have three officials.

Three officials for every game from U-12 on up would certainly help develop referees. The most experienced ref could be in the middle for what is perceived to be the most challenging match of the day with the other officials being ARs while the other two could move to the middle for other games that day with the most experienced ref being the AR. The experienced ref could give helpful suggestions to the others in their performance as both ref and AR.

Certainly, we have to move away from officials being in the middle for 3-4 games per day. I’ve noticed that my performance tends to suffer by my third game as a referee since fatigue is certainly starting to set in.

For Soccer Americans wondering why referees would want to be in the middle for several games per day or be on fields from 9 am to 5 pm, most of us do not want this heavy workload. But assignors need to get the games covered. It would not be this way if most refs did not quit within their first two years of starting. As verbal abuse by adults is the No. 1 reason that refs quit, remember that when you yell at a ref, you could be contributing to our referee shortage.

(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

12 comments about "Ref Watch: Why three is so much better than one ".
  1. Joseph Stewart, March 24, 2015 at 11:55 a.m.

    Two key points from your post:

    1. Referee effectiveness declines with fatigue, so limit yourself. I stick with 3 games or maybe 4. I'll always remember that I forgot to watch for a deflected ball on an indirect kick, largely because I was tired.... And the ball went in....

    2. Three refs make for a better game because the Referee can focus more on fouls and not worry about offside and out-of-bounds.

  2. John Bishop, March 24, 2015 at 1:40 p.m.

    What should be stressed first and most about uSA reffing is how bad it is at the youth level. It is atrocious. Academy games reffing is terrible. Refs have no concept of how an a game should be reffed at the highest youth levels. They are terrified of handing out a red card or calling a PK at this level. This alone makes for a badly played game because there is no control of how clean a game will be played. Players lose sense of when they should stop fouling and to be more careful in their challenges. Home teams will rarely see a red card because they have to ref that club's other nonACademy teams or at least hope to. How then can a Player learn to manage a full game with intelligence? And we worried about 3 refs to 1?? WHy?? If all 3 suck? I am speaking in general terms of course. Not all are bad but certainly most. It should be given the importance it deserves by the USSF.

  3. ROBERT BOND, March 24, 2015 at 2:03 p.m.

    had 2 rook sides, only called in/out, ref called passive as soon as you got possession other teams half at the point the ball was, not the off-sides player! did not call an active on their last goal-still, who wants to ref in a country whrer most parents never played, but are experts anyways...

  4. Thomas Hosier, March 24, 2015 at 3:12 p.m.

    Youth referees allow too much shoving/pushing, grabbing, and tripping without consequence, therefore stiffling the talented skilled players. No wonder we don't develop Messi's and Ronaldo's ... our youth players don't have to develop their skills they just have to be the best grabber, pusher, and tripper. Thuggery and muggery abounds in USA Youth Soccer.

  5. Brent Crossland, March 24, 2015 at 6:56 p.m.

    Mr. Hosier -- not just youth. At every level US referees let too much go. "Trifling" does not mean "he could have played through that". Call the fouls that prevent the skilled players from playing.

  6. Brent Crossland, March 24, 2015 at 6:58 p.m.

    Randy - I think the point that you made which frequently gets left out of the discussion is the need for referee development -- meaning low stakes games for young/beginning referees to serve as AR's and eventually Centers. Unlike Mr. Bond's dad's on the sidelines, you don't just read the LOTG and immediately know how to referee.

  7. Brian S, March 24, 2015 at 10:37 p.m.

    In Colorado, "competitive" games (U-11 on up) have 1 CR and 2 ARs. On rare circumstances, we will have to solicit a parent volunteer "linesman" who's sole responsibility is to signal "in/out." "Rec" games are up to the club - some clubs pay for the DSC system (1 CR, 2 ARs), some will only pay for a CR. I do not know about the 8v8 U11 "competitive" games which are new to our state this year.

    For those who complain, if you are a current/former ref, then get involved as a mentor. If you've never picked up a whistle and been a CR, then sign up for the course and get your butt out there.

  8. R2 Dad, March 25, 2015 at 1:11 a.m.

    Sounds like some of you don't have very robust referee communities in your states. Do something about it! There has been a referee shortage the past 3 years and there is always the need for adults to pick up the whistle. Cal-N may not boast many world-class soccer players but referees, we gottum:

  9. Brent Crossland, March 25, 2015 at 9:06 a.m.

    Dear Dad: I retired from refereeing after 20 years doing youth games. There has been a GROWING referee shortage in many places for 10 of those years with (as Randy mentioned above) referees trying to cover 3,4,or 5 matches in a day. Despite that officials of one local club told me that "referee development was not their problem". Oh well, you DON'T get what you DON'T pay for!

  10. Rick Estupinan, March 25, 2015 at 1:20 p.m.

    If you are talking about having 3 officials in the pitch,with the other two on the side lines,it would not be a good game to play or to watch.This is Okay for the American game,where the pace of the game is not continuous,and these bunch of zebra looking guys can position themselves in areas where they will not be in the middle of the action.This,in Football,(Soccer),would be very confusing,to say the least.This is the way it has been for over a hundred years,and this kind of change will not happen.

  11. Thomas Hosier, March 25, 2015 at 9:30 p.m.

    @ Brent: Totally agree! Just call the fouls and boot out the thugs and muggers and the skill set of US players will definitely improve. Until the thuggery and muggery is stopped the skill level will not improve. With 1 ref or 5 the skill is not going to improve when skilled players are constantly being mugged without consequence.

  12. James Moody, March 26, 2015 at 11:57 a.m.

    We have a relatively new club (3 years old) in NW Georgia and have teams from U6-U19Girls. All but 2 teams play recreational level. We have just certified 5 new refs and I as assignor have had to place them in centers so I can readily understand the frustration of new ref's. We however are providing mentors for every game and debriefing afterward. I am a R15 and former State Assessor who spent 20 years away from the game (Orlando Fl area)where the only time a dual system was used was in JV High School. I am proud of the way our club is developing both players and ref's from U12 up we only use a 3 man system C and 2 AR's

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