When you disagree with volunteers and refs -- do so politely

By Beau Dure

Parent coaches. Soccer club board members.

These people are volunteers. Be nice. If you disagree with their vision, do so politely.

Referees make a tiny bit of money. Be nice to them, too.

Dealing with referees can be tricky. Through a certain age (in our area, U8), we have no referees, and coaches are responsible for making games fair and safe. Then coaches hand over that responsibility to referees who are often young, inexperienced and timid. These referees might not call the fouls that would have made coaches stop the game and talk to the kids. They might not even understand the simple mechanics of keeping a game running smoothly.

Most youth clubs -- and certainly most referees -- will tell coaches to say nothing to the refs other than “thank you” after the game. And that should be the goal. But you’ll run into some practical problems.

Some young refs don’t make clear signals -- which team takes a throw-in, whether a free kick is direct or indirect, and so on. Many a U9 coach has yelled instructions to his team for how to take a free kick, something not often covered in practice, only to find that the other team is the one taking the free kick. Oops.

The bigger concern is safety. What do you do when a ref isn’t controlling the games, and the fouls are getting harder? What do you do when a kid gets bonked in the head, and you’re caught between obeying your licensing course’s concussion protocols and your club director’s admonition against yelling at the ref?

I’ll give two situations from my experience -- one of which I’ll apologize for, one I won’t.

We had an All-Star tournament in which our guys were getting fouled a good bit. In the second game, with our second laissez-faire referee, I had to go out on the field to check on an injured player. I made a sarcastic comment to the ref: “You know, you can call fouls at U9.” He chirped back that they were 50-50 plays. Things went downhill from there. The ref could’ve handled it better, but I could’ve, too. When I surveyed youth referees about what I should’ve said in this situation, the responses ranged from “nothing” to “Pardon me, but this is a little more physical than we’re used to.”

Back in our House league, a hard shot nailed one of my players in the head. Somehow, he didn’t fall. He just held his head and started crying. Play continued. I screamed to stop play. The ref didn’t, the other team didn’t, and our team did. After the other team’s inevitable goal, I went out to check on our team’s injured player, and I yelled to my team not to worry about the goal they had conceded.

I’m not apologizing for the latter. My responsibility for my player’s safety trumps my responsibility to let refs build up their self-esteem.

The ref and I had a good conversation afterward, so all was well. Some of the other team’s parents might’ve thought I was a freak, but they could deal with it.

But that is, of course, a rare situation. Don’t yell at refs over offside calls. They’re going to get those wrong. And it’s often tough to see who played the ball before it went out of play for a throw-in. No harm will come from getting those plays wrong. Give the poor kid or well-intentioned adult a break.

So to sum it up: Safety first; shut up otherwise.

The is an excerpt from new Beau Dure’s book, “Single-Digit Soccer: Keeping Sanity in the Earliest Ages of the Beautiful Game,” 2015, 237 pages, Kindle Edition $4.99.

(Beau Dure is a freelance writer and author who has published three books on soccer since leaving USA TODAY in 2010. He lives in Vienna, Va., where he has coached his two sons through the Single-Digit Soccer years. Follow his blog at and catch him on Twitter: @duresport.)

5 comments about "When you disagree with volunteers and refs -- do so politely".
  1. R2 Dad, September 7, 2015 at 5:09 p.m.

    Good advice, Beau. I also like the corollary, "If you've never read the laws of the game, don't yell at the ref to advertise that fact".

  2. Beau Dure replied, September 8, 2015 at 9:13 a.m.

    I went to a college game this weekend where the crowd was mostly parents, and THEY clearly didn't know the Laws of the Game. You'd think something would sink in over the years of elite travel soccer necessary to reach that level, but no. Frightening.

  3. uffe gustafsson, September 7, 2015 at 8:47 p.m.

    I have always said to our parents to be a ref that lnows all the rules takes years to learn and I'm not talking about reading referee hand book you get when u pass your exams. But nothing in that book will teach you what you will see on the field.
    With parents on one side all excited and coaches on the other side arguing every call against em.
    What is a fifty fifty tackle for the ball when two eager player going for a ball is not really clear in the book, and if you call it then on who? You will have one side cheering and the other side screaming at you. Ofcourse u have to know what level they play at, rec game u call most of them but what about a class 1 boys game, big differents how you call those things. Takes many years to get these things properly done.
    I had many games with one team not as coordinate players as the opposing team that have technicale players and get fouled all the time because of clumsy defending, and you get a coach bitching at you, why you don't give us a break you only call fouls on us. Really your players are late to every tackle.
    I also have to say this, some teams and it start with the coach are so intense that they have no restraint in how they try to get to the ball, they use cleats up and elbows high and so on, and when you try to calm the game down that coach and parents screaming their heads off.
    I don't understand why you want your son or daughter to be on a team with coaches like that.
    I give parents a bit of slack because they think that is how coaching a team is suppose to be they only seen bad coaching and don't know better.
    My last comment, do refs make mistakes yes but so does your little jonny on the field.
    So don't yell at the ref or jonny we all do it.

  4. uffe gustafsson, September 7, 2015 at 8:54 p.m.

    On the ball to the face we all stop the game no matter what level or age group.
    In the last two years it have come to the fore front of concussion and if your club don't have that rule set in place then something is wrong.
    And it's commen sense.

  5. Richard Wunderle, September 8, 2015 at 4:18 p.m.

    Why is there an assumption being made that referees will get offside and direction of re start calls wrong? Is not enough to tell spectators and coaches not to question calls because they've already conceded the referee will get it wrong. This actually reinforces the belief that the referee is less deserving of respect. How about acknowledging the real issue:players, coaches and spectators have am inherent bias, are less likely to be in position to see the play because their movements are restricted, and even if they had no bias, and no restrictions on what they can see, they also don't know the laws is the game. Asking for restraint because the referees are going to get things wrong anyway undermines the integrity of the game. It's insulting, and if it happened during a game is also dissent.

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