The dumbest way to insult a referee

By Mike Woitalla

The ref calls a foul. The halfwit coach of the kid who committed it yells, “It’s OK, Timmy! You didn’t do anything wrong!” -- believing he’s cleverly circumventing the dissent rule because he’s not screaming directly at the ref.

The last time I got this kind of snide response from a coach, the phrase was, “It’s OK, Sarah, I like how you’re playing!”

The call on the preteen was for pushing an opponent, after the second time I whistled the same kid for the same infraction. She had also done it in between the two calls -- stretching her arm out as far as possible to fend off an opponent -- but I didn’t call it that time, because the other player survived the push, won the ball, and dribbled away. But I told the girl, “You can’t push with your arm.”

Before I get back to the dissent issue … pushing with arms is something I see very often at young ages. And it’s done so awkwardly that I’m convinced coaches are teaching it, and the kids are trying to “use their arms” the way some coach demonstrated it, failing miserably at doing it subtly enough for a ref to ignore it.

Regardless of whether kids are being taught to foul -- although I’m quite sure they are -- the pushing-an-opponent call is a difficult one for the referee because quite frequently both players are pushing. The ref must be very alert to judge who deserves the call. If you ignore the pushing, things start getting out of hand and you get blamed for not cracking down when a kid goes tumbling. When you call it right away, you get that, “Let the kids play!” B.S. that coaches only yell when it’s their player who’s doing the fouling.

So I‘ve found that if you call the pushing right off the bat, you send a message to the players that you’re not allowing this foul – and you prevent it from escalating into elbowing or blows to the face. Players tend to comprehend because their instinct is to test boundaries. But when coaches interfere it undermines the ref and the players.

In the case of serial-pusher Sarah (obviously, that’s not her real name) -- I stopped the game and explained to the coach that it was the girl’s third blatant push. The coach actually argued at me, with the girl standing yards away, sending the message to the girl that blatant fouling was OK.

When I thought about the incident after the game, I recalled something I did when I was a 15-year-old player. The ref called a foul throw-in on me because I stepped on the sideline. I grumbled that I’m allowed to do that. On my next throw-in, I got called for the same infraction, and my coach subbed me.

I complained to my coach that the ref didn’t know the rule. To which my coach said to me that he didn't care what the rule was, if the ref calls foul throws for stepping on the touchline, “Don’t step on the touchline!”

That makes perfect sense. Players need to adjust to the refereeing. If they don’t, they’ll hurt their team’s chances to win.

When a coach loudly condones a child’s foul after the ref called it -- the coach is basically telling the kid to keep doing the same thing. That doesn’t sound like a good game plan to me.

23 comments about "The dumbest way to insult a referee ".
  1. Amos Annan, May 29, 2015 at 9:18 a.m.

    Referees should ignore the sideline and stop trying to read things into comments.

  2. Thomas Hosier, May 29, 2015 at 9:38 a.m.

    Enforcing the laws of soccer before the game gets out of hand .... what a novel idea.

  3. Shawn Johnson, May 29, 2015 at 9:40 a.m.

    I get that referring is hard, and I have learned a lot from reading articles on this site. However, if a referee is consistently making bad calls, then I think he needs to have a discussion with the coach if requested. In a recent U9 game, the referee continually called 'hand ball' fouls despite there being nothing close to an intentional movement towards the ball. This disrupted the game and takes away from what is supposed to be a fun game. From what I've observed, more often than not the referee's are unwilling to consider that they might be causing more harm in a game than good.

  4. Shawn Johnson, May 29, 2015 at 9:42 a.m.

    I do second Thomas's comment - two-handed pushes to the back to the ball carrier, inducing a change in possession - completely then things escalate. If a team wants to break the rules, call everything in the beginning of the game - try to settle it down.

  5. Joe Dooley, May 29, 2015 at 10:39 a.m.

    During a recent mls telecast a former player from an Spanish premier league team said he got so upset at recent US youth girls tournament that refs keep calling using hands to fight for positioning. He said thank God I didn't grow up playing soccer in the us. "I'm not that fast, what the hell would I do if I couldn't use my hands". While a two hand push to the back should be called - too much is called in youth soccer!!! Physicality should be encouraged - especially in youth girls!!! Sounds like coach was doing good job to not let ref get in players head. All developing players should be treated as individuals and a ref who sees a player once- has no way of knowing how or what a good coach is developing a particular player into.

  6. Bob Ryan, May 29, 2015 at 10:39 a.m.

    In general sure, but on this particular item - when you have the ball at your feet offensively, keep your arms/hands down? See how far that gets you...

    Offensive players need to learn to protect themselves at a young age. At higher levels, it becomes impractical to stop defenders from doing this all the time - there would be no flow to the game.

  7. Joel MacDonald, May 29, 2015 at 10:43 a.m.

    Sometimes a developmental level referee gets it wrong. Sometimes a developmental level player in trying to challenge correctly for the ball still gets called for pushing and being too aggressive. In that instance the player doesn't understand. He/she is confused and frustrated. That player has done what the coaches have been teaching and now he/she has been told it's bad. Sometimes the best thing a coach can do is to tell the player to keep doing the same thing. Sometimes that is the best game plan.

  8. R2 Dad, May 29, 2015 at 12:40 p.m.

    I understand your points Mike and am in general agreement. However, this whole issue of players using hands/arms is dependent on skill level and is still problematic for me. We often tell kids to Put Their Hands Down, but usually that's addressed to a defender at the younger ages and lower skill levels who is pulling/pushing. The LOTG address pushing and pulling but using a straight arm to keep an opponent off the ball at your feet is allowed. The kids see it on TV and are emulating at the U8-U10 level--we just may not be ready for it at that age. Sometimes I have time to explain it to players but it's a very referee-dependent call, unfortunately. RE: Handling, I can see where referees who wouldn't whistle ball-to-hand might change their interpretation if every player/parent/coach is whining for Hand Ball. When I have 2 hispanic teams, the expectation for Handling is much higher, regardless of age and skill level. The easiest thing to do is stick to your interpretation because it allows you to be more consistent, and consistency will be your friend in a difficult match--even if it's with little kids. And yes, I've had middle-aged women follow me to my car to complain that I deprived her kid of a penalty because I didn't call Hand Ball in the box. It's why I carry the LOTG in my bag--here's your sign.

  9. Kent James, May 29, 2015 at 12:49 p.m.

    While I agree with the thrust of this article, sometimes players are genuinely confused about what they did wrong, and sometimes the refs are wrong. In such a case, when a player is looking for guidance from the coach, it might be okay to say something like "it looked like a good tackle from here, but the ref must have seen something different". But if such a conversation can be had a halftime or after the game, that would be better. Letting everyone know loudly that you disagree with the call is a form of dissent; probably best to let one such utterance go (let 'em blow off some steam), but if it turns into a pattern, a conversation with the coach is probably warranted. And, of course, Mike is right that even if the ref is wrong, that's the way the game is being called, so players need to adjust. It's not usually wise to have a test of wills with someone who can eject you.

  10. Kent James, May 29, 2015 at 12:59 p.m.

    The use of hands to "fight for position" can be problematic. Using your arms to shield the ball is an important part of maintaining possession; doing so with your elbow bent and not pushing with your arm is clearly legal. Pushing with the arm (bent or otherwise) is a foul, and should be called if it has an impact on the play (otherwise it's trifling). The straight stiff arm (as I think R2 is suggesting) is more of a gray area; philosophically, I do not think that should be allowed, since if the defender is truly at arms length, he cannot attempt to touch the ball (the bent arm makes it hard for a defender to reach the ball, but it's possible). Most players who use the stiff arm commit fouls, either by grabbing the jersey of the defender (in an attempt to get keep the defender from getting around the stiff arm), or by actually pushing. But FIFA should clarify how the arms may be used in shielding the ball, because it is unclear.

  11. Kent James, May 29, 2015 at 1:02 p.m.

    Bob, I couldn't get the link you provided to work, and from the context of your comment, I'd guess you are suggesting that players need to use their arms to defend themselves, but Messi seems like an example of a player who does not engage in a lot of hand-checking. He's so quick and deceptive, his guile gets him by defenders before they have a chance to get into a shoving match with him.

  12. Kelly Moller, May 29, 2015 at 1:41 p.m.

    Being a referee is difficult and I get it. I generally say nothing to the ref in a game because it rarely makes any difference. But, I have little patience for referees that do not know the rules. I do not want them coaching my players either. And if I tell my player to move on and keep playing hard after they get called for a foul then I sure hope that the ref is not so thin skinned to think I am talking to them. Fouls happen. They sometimes get called and sometimes don't. I always want my players playing aggressively and hard and so sometimes they will foul. I never want them to play softer just because they have a foul called and will tell, them so. And to any coaches that coach their players to cheat shame on you. I wish that I had a player or players that were so good that the only thing I could further coach them or help them to improve on was how to bend or break the rules....

  13. Mark Konty, May 29, 2015 at 2:45 p.m.

    We don't have to teach our players to use their hands, they learn to do it from playing in games where other players get away with it and it puts them at a competitive disadvantage. I also think its appropriate for a coach to tell a player "it's okay, keep playing hard" when they are battling another player and they do the thing that earns the foul. It's not dirty play, its two kids engaged in a contact sport. If its a foul, call it, that's what the rules are for. But don't assume that every player who fouls is doing it because they are a "dirty" player, and don't assume that every coach who says something positive in a negative situation is coaching "dirty." BTW, I do agree that the "let them play" standard for refereeing is hindering player development in the US. It rewards physical, athletic play over skills and tactics. Want to help player development, call a tight game where players can pass and dribble without held, pushed or charged off the ball.

  14. John Soares, May 29, 2015 at 5:13 p.m.

    It's bothersome, even sad that in a "knowledgeable" group like this:) has so many justifications for breaking the rules. Remember the article was about the coach agreeing, justifying, or even encouraging a player to break the rules. How sad and unfortunately common that those coaches even exist.

  15. Thomas Hosier, May 29, 2015 at 5:53 p.m.

    Thank you John Soares!

  16. Bob Ashpole, May 30, 2015 at 12:06 p.m.

    Teaching a player to use arms on the ball to make space bigger is imo a waste of time. Its value is purely an illusion. It will not prevent or even slow down a tackle (shoulder charge). And if you disagree, then I suggest you haven't encountered a player competent in tackling by charging a player off the ball.

    For a youth coach teaching players to foul impedes development. Players need to know how to play fairly. Even at the cynical professional level, players carrying a yellow must play fairly.

  17. Aaron McDonald, May 31, 2015 at 2:27 a.m.

    A couple of notes: I believe largely that the way a game is called should depend on the teams involved. Youth players will make a lot of silly mistakes and, in most cases, should be allowed to play on with a verbal warning. Severity and advantage dependent, of course. An overly strict, whistle/card happy ref is likely to drive players at the developmental level away from the sport. Yes, repetitive infractions should be called. My issue is with prima donna type referees. Yes, they are the enforcers of the law. I get that. As such, know the laws! Players shouldn't have to adjust to poor knowledge. Level of strictness and "favorite fouls" yes, but not ignorance.

  18. Ryan Shultz, May 31, 2015 at 3:23 p.m.

    What a horrible article. Another ref with an agenda. Phrases like "Regardless of whether kids are being taught to foul -- although I’m quite sure they are" and "if the ref calls foul throws for stepping on the touchline, 'Don’t step on the touchline!' That makes perfect sense. Players need to adjust to the refereeing. If they don’t, they’ll hurt their team’s chances to win." show your ignorance and tell me that you should not be allowed to step onto a field again. The game should be referred based on the laws of the game and the safety of the players, nothing else. Refs should not be noticed. Referees like you that try to influence the game and impose their will on the players are precisely the problem. Lose the agenda and stick to enforcing the rules under general interpretation.

  19. R2 Dad, June 1, 2015 at 1:38 a.m.

    Ryan, please refer to Law 18 of the LOTG. Referee have seen first-hand the poor direction given by coaches at the youth level. I can't tell you how many times I have heard from players that their coach instructed them to screen the keeper on corner kicks--unsporting conduct the coach has instructed their players to perform. Standing in front of the ball on free kicks--under the coach's direction. Impeding the keeper on punts, unnecessary contact with the keeper on 50-50 balls, rotating fouls on skilled players--all directed by coaches in order to "win". I'm sure Randy could come up with dozens more since he has been at this for decades. If a referee is perceived to have an agenda, s/he will lose consistency and the confidence of the players and fans. They are out there. Leagues do what they can to limit the damage, but at the same time we are perpetually short referees. What I occasionally see are referees who do not exhibit sound judgement appropriate for the skill level of play. Maybe it's because this referee is being asked to cover a level/age group they are not comfortable with/have less experience with. Some just have a bad game. I know I have. I suggest all players, coaches and especially parents become more familiar with the LOTG. Everyone will become better consumers of the sport as a result, and that's what leads to a more knowledgeable citizenry. eg cheering intelligent play instead of the longest ball your kid can kick. That's where we need to go as a soccer nation. It's still a long way off.

  20. Raymond Weigand, June 1, 2015 at 7:15 p.m.

    Law 18 ... mmmmm ... I cannot find this Law 18. I looked in the most current set of laws ... Sports is another stage to learn something more about ourselves and others.

  21. R2 Dad, June 2, 2015 at 9:48 a.m.

  22. James e Chandler, June 2, 2015 at 1:45 p.m.

    Thanks for the link R2 Dad. I referee tried to tell me a short time ago that he did not need to sound his whistle to re-start play after a substitution because it was not part of the 17 laws. I tried to tell him those guidelines are just as much a part of the LOTG as the numbered laws but he'll most likely continue to be a knucklehead that makes life more difficult for other referees by arbitrarily making his own interpretation of what's clearly stated otherwise.

  23. James e Chandler, June 2, 2015 at 1:48 p.m.

    I adopted a saying concerning players fending off opponents with the hands,
    "There's a fine line between cushion and pushin'"
    Doesn't make it any easier, does it?

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