Rating refs improves officiating

By Randy Vogt

Just as there are not enough referees to adequately cover every game, there are not enough assessors to help referees. So assessors tend to watch the games of the refs who are going somewhere as well as the refs who are the subject of many complaints.

Should refs be fortunate enough to have their game assessed, they should listen to what the assessor has to say, and it’s probably a very good idea to act on the advice as well.

Yet every game, the ref is being assessed by players, coaches and spectators. Listen to criticism that they have of you. If you see patterns of criticism developing, act on them.

When I started refereeing, I heard comments like “Ref, let us play,” “The teams are playing nicely, so could you call less fouls?” and “You meant well, but you interrupted play too much.” I learned to whistle fewer fouls while still maintaining control of the game, to everyone’s benefit.

I’ve been a member of the Long Island Soccer Referees Association (LISRA) for over three decades. For our games assigned in the Long Island Junior Soccer League (LIJSL), coaches are asked to send in their comments about the refs. Rarely have I ever been graded. But I have read the few comments about me by coaches and they are not nearly as informed as that of an assessor who knows the rules and how to officiate. Yet the ratings by coaches can still be significant. Just like the verbal comments by players and coaches, patterns can start to develop about an official. For example, if you as a ref read many comments that you did not cover the field, it’s time to take fewer games or improve your fitness regimen.

A decade ago, LISRA started a phenomenally successful assistant referee program. Up to that point, most games had one ref and two club linesmen and the ref was responsible for being in position for spotting offside as well as fouls, which can be challenging, especially in the older age groups. Today, all games from U-13 to U-19 have two AR’s who are generally teenagers. LISRA’s AR certification classes have hundreds of students and are held throughout the year.

The assigning website we use is Arbiter and referees are told to evaluate each AR after every game: 10 is the best rating, 1 is the worst and the refs are encouraged to add comments on what the AR has to work on. Through these ratings after every game, the best and worst AR’s are sorted out. The best are given choice assignments (such as cup finals) plus encouraged to become referees and the worst are watched more closely as AR’s.

Rating every AR after every game works as I have refereed cup finals with the highest-rated AR’s and they’ve been terrific. The only mistakes they made were subtle. I received very nice e-mails from coaches after the game from the last two cup finals that I refereed thanking me for my performance, yet they did not realize that the two excellent AR’s made my job much easier. I’m also happy to write that I have been an AR for many youth games too and I never received a rating below an 8. Go figure!

One coach from every game needs to report the score on the league website. I believe that it would be beneficial to leagues and referee associations throughout the United States if every head coach, both home team and visiting team, are required to evaluate the ref using the same rating system and could rate the AR’s if they would like to do that as well. All it takes is a few minutes after every game with the option to write comments on the website.

With ratings after every game, the best refs and worst refs would be sorted out pretty quickly and this could be helpful in helping fill in the blanks for assessment programs that are overstretched.

(Randy Vogt has officiated over 9,000 games during the past three decades, from professional matches in front of thousands to six-year-olds being cheered on by very enthusiastic parents. In his book, 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

11 comments about "Rating refs improves officiating".
  1. Kent James, September 21, 2016 at 6:41 p.m.

    Good advice. I was a college assignor (as well as referee) and found peer assessment's to be the most useful. Coach's sometimes had good input, though some seem to base their decisions about a referee's performance almost solely on whether or not their team won the game. I think the assessments need to be confidential (so refs can do it honestly, though perhaps constructive comments could be shared), and it needs to be clear if you are rating the referee overall or that particular performance (because sometimes good refs have bad days and vice-versa). While you may get some people settling scores by downrating people they don't like, if you get enough data, you'll see where the outliers are and be able to ignore them.

  2. stewart hayes, September 21, 2016 at 9:08 p.m.

    Sounds like a good idea, that should be mandatory, or else coaches with an ax to grind will be the only ones to report; as perhaps should be the rating of teams and coaches by referees. This could raise the honesty and quality of all concerned regarding how the game is played with respect to the rules and behavior.

  3. R2 Dad, September 22, 2016 at 1:07 a.m.

    Thanks for including the assessment aspect of refereeing. For those who might be intimidated by a state-level assessor, I would recommend requesting a Development & Guidance assessment, which is to improve form rather than qualifying for the next grade level--very good feedback. Forms are here:

  4. Referee Parent, October 4, 2016 at 4:55 p.m.

    I ran into this blog looking for guidance. I'll leave my comment/question here hoping for feedback. My son, 12, was certified last Spring (Grade 8) and started as an AR. He was exclusively an AR for Spring and the start of Fall and decided he wanted to try being a Center. He started off with U8 rec games and was a bit shaky to start (expected) but he's improved tremendously. I asked an experienced referee to watch him at one of his games and he provided some feedback at half and also "coached" during the 2nd half. He was overjoyed with the guidance he received. I don't watch every match, usually last half of his last match of the day, but my assessment of his recent matches has shown his confidence soaring, his calls appear consistent, he really works well with his ARs, etc. From my VERY BIASED opinion, he's doing a very nice job. I know he cares and I'll ask him as we drive home about any interesting calls or "loud" parents/coaches. Usually he'll explain the nuances of a call and mention some light grumbles, but nothing bad. He has thick skin and feels confident that he knows the laws of the game. His last match, the tone was different. He said one of the coaches was riding him the whole game (this was U10 boys, "premier" division 6). I was NOT there, so all of this is second hand. I asked what calls had him upset and mostly it was calling hand balls the coach didn't agree with, calling illegal heading that's not allowed at that age, and a direct pass back to the goalie that used his hands (the coach was made when a deflection wasn't called against the other team). My son claimed the coach told him he was a "bad referee" at half time. I asked if that was a quote (or something my son inferred) and he said he told him he was "bad" or "garbage" or something. My son said he considered ejecting him. I asked if he used bad language or was threatening and he said no. I suggested he get the field marshal involved, but he/she was not around for any of the match.

    At this point, I wrote a note to the league detailing the concern, but not filing a "formal complaint" since I did not witness it. They stated they will reach out to the club. I suggested better coverage by the field marshal but they don't have many at the fields. I also reached out to the head of referee training for guidance as well. Recognizing that my son is fairly new, it's quite possible he was doing a poor job. From my observations, it would certainly not be due to lack of trying or some sort of bias against a team (he doesn't know those teams or players). We have a formal mentoring program and he's received a number of observations as an AR. None so far as a Center. I requested they watch a future game ASAP to get some expert assessment of his game and guidance.

    I know this is a long time coming, but my request to those that are reading is when should he consider ejecting the coach? I looked up the bio of this particular coach and he's a big dude.

  5. Referee Parent, October 4, 2016 at 5 p.m.

    Continued. . .my concern is that if he tries to eject a coach that is "above average" on the complaining scale (this is the first time my son has mentioned a coach that complained excessively) will it take a bad situation and make it worse? Will he get belligerent. If there was a marshal there to "back him up" then I would feel better about it. Or if I were there, same, although I have not engaged parents/coaches when I've observed my son as I don't want to undermine him. The only other time I heard complaints in a game were parents complaining about offside calls the AR made -- which were extremely clear and correct (one of them they had two boys offside, one by close to 10 feet). :)

    I don't want the coach to feel like it's acceptable (and by example show his players and parents the same) to berate the officials. It's against the coaching code of conduct for the league anyway. If he was threatening or using foul language, I told my son to for sure eject. He has a monthly referee meeting next week that he'll attend and I suggested he bring it up (I also emailed the leader with the same). Thoughts? Suggestions?

  6. R2 Dad replied, October 5, 2016 at 12:57 a.m.

    Sounds like your 12 YO is enjoying refereeing, which is important. Making good money is a nice benefit, but enjoying the process means he will want to continue refereeing and that's critical to getting over this issue. The problem he's having is NOT that he needs to eject the coach, it's knowing what to say so he can AVOID having to eject the coach. Unfortunately, those verbal skills and intestinal fortitude are very rare in referees so young. The best youth referees I've seen rarely can manage that sort of command before the age of 16. Still, in lieu of sending-off the coach, there are many things a referee can do to "manage" difficult coaches. And believe me, it's always the same coaches, year after year, from the same clubs, that are the problem. 1) learn which teams/clubs to avoid--don't sign up for matches as a center for those. 2)ask for the assignor's help--typically the assignor will know about these coaches/clubs that are...problematic. 3) Get tips from older refs--tactics for dealing with coaches--your son will find some work for him and some don't, but having more tools in the toolbelt is always helpful. 4)Coaches have a harder time abusing you if you don't talk to them--dialog with coaches during a match is solely optional. Almost all communication can be handled effectively with hand signals. 5) Coach questions asked during the run of play can be ignored. This is hard, because we teach our kids to be respectful of adults, but learning to ignore harping coaches is a useful tactic. Your son doesn't need to explain a call. If he chooses, he can speak with the coach at the half or after the match, after they've cooled down. Having said that, there are many ways to communicate non-verbally so people on the sidelines know what's going on, and maybe your son just needs to communicate more frequently/effectively. Randy is the resident referee expert on this site--I recommend his book on this very topic: Preventive Officiating:

  7. Referee Parent, October 5, 2016 at 9:56 a.m.

    Thanks for the comments. We were discussing this at dinner last night and I did tell him that if he wants to send off a coach, it shouldn't be the first time he talks with him. Basically (and I'm pretty sure I read this on this site, probably from Randy) he should sternly warn a coach that he'll take care of being the referee, the coach can take care of his team and if he has to talk to him again he'll ask him to leave.

    Per your point, I also have encouraged him not to engage the coaches and definitely not the parents. He's made comments like "I almost told the parents XXX" to which I told him it's best to ignore them. If a parent is willing to berate a 12 year old, it will only encourage him to do more if he gets a response.

    Certainly if he has this guy again and has issues, it will be the last time I allow him to be scheduled. I'll talk to the assignor at that point. I try not to be difficult in my scheduling because there are about 1500 referees he deals with. But you're right, he's "the guy" for youth soccer assigning around here so I'm sure he knows the problems.

    The league is pretty big so I'm not sure he'll run into him again. . although I know a lot of the premier coaches have multiple teams, so it's probably not uncommon to hit them again. My son mentioned the other coach in the game is someone he's had before and he's a "good coach" (that I think my son defines as is respectful). He also mentioned the problem coach was yelling at his players a lot so I think that's his mentality, unfortunately. I asked my son if it was a tight game and he said no, the coach lost 4 - 0. When I was looking up the team to find the coach's name I saw that his team is winless. So I think that's probably part of the frustration . . .he's in the wrong division for the talent/skill level of his team and is probably taking it out on the players and referees.

    I've enjoyed Randy's articles. I'll look for the book. Hopefully I can get my son to read. . .I'll read it, but that won't be very useful if I'm just trying to relay it.

    He definitely likes being a referee and has the fortitude to put himself out there. I was surprised and impressed at how soon he wanted to try being a center, so I know he has the courage to do it. I want him to challenge himself, but I don't want him to put himself in bad situations and/or do a bad job. Fortunately the mentor program is strong and so I'm hopeful to get him scheduled for an official mentoring very soon to get some more feedback. I'll also have him talk to his fellow referees next week at the monthly referee meeting for advice.

    Thanks again for the excellent response.

  8. Randy Vogt replied, October 5, 2016 at 8:34 p.m.

    If I may add my two cents. I started refereeing when I was 16 years old. I started with intramurals, then travel teams and moved up to adults after three years of officiating. No matter what level I refereed, I came across a few coaches that either saw me as an easy target or just did not like my refereeing. I don't think that they personally disliked me as I am very likable and positive, even as a teenager. But there were many more coaches, more like 95%, who either tolerated my refereeing or actually liked me officiating their games. And that gave me a lot of confidence eventually not to pay too much attention emotionally to the unsporting coaches and just deal with them, for the benefit of game control and myself. So the irony is I had to be the mature one in dealing with those coaches, who were 2-3x older than me. As wrong as it may be to yell at a ref in their late teens, it's much worse to yell at a 12-year-old. And this is where a field marshall needs to step in and be an important presence at the field for a young ref.

  9. Referee Parent, October 6, 2016 at 3:10 p.m.

    Thanks for the comments, Randy, and always feel free to add your two cents! My son has the right temperament to be a referee from what I've seen and doesn't really seem to be bothered by the coach in question (I think it's the protective father that is more bothered -- ha ha). He feels confident in his knowledge and sense of fairness so he lets stuff roll off his back. But I do want him to be armed with the ability to deal with these coaches (and as he goes up in age, aggressive players) and ideally diffuse them before issues arise (as an aside, your book is on order). To your point about the field marshall, that was my first thought and biggest disappointment. I've been at the fields and watched good marshalls see a situation build, walk over and make their presence known to the coaches, and engage to diffuse situations. This did not happen in this case and I let the league know. This is the first time he's worked this set of fields (usually he works ones closer to our house that seems to have a large presence of marshalls). I'm not sure if they hire fewer for this field, some were missing, the layout prevents them from getting around as much, or they were just being lazy (this is my concern -- I think some of the marshalls like to hang out in the golf carts, pick up the game cards, and not do much else). Just like there are good and bad referees, coaches, etc. of course the same is true for marshalls. Anyway, this was a single occurrence and has not dissuaded him a bit. He's doing a bunch of U10 (girls) tournament games this weekend, so we'll see how it goes. I imagine since it's a tournament and not a league game the chance of crazy coaches and parents will be escalated. We'll see. I did ask the head of mentors to schedule an observation for him, but haven't heard back. I think it would be good to have a "check in" with him and some additional pointers as I know it helped him tremendously when the experienced referee took some time to help him a few weeks back.

  10. Randy Vogt, October 6, 2016 at 8:53 p.m.

    So you crawl before you walk and you walk before you run. A 12-year-old ref controlling players younger than himself is doable. But expecting a 12-year-old ref to control a dissenting adult is too much. Last year, I gave a clinic for refs 10-15 years old who were refereeing intramural players younger than themselves in their local club. My goal for the clinic was not to make them the next Pierluigi Collina but to go over the rules and give them some tips to survive and if they do so, maybe they will consider refereeing travel team games one day. And the question came up, "What do I do if an adult yells at me?" And the answer from myself and the club is to let the field marshall take care of the situation. It's not going to end well, for the ref, for the coach and for the club, if we expect a 12-year-old to control a dissenting adult. And let me repeat that there is something wrong with any adult who talks negatively to a 12-year-old referee. Good luck and thanks for buying Preventive Officiating.

  11. Referee Parent, October 7, 2016 at 12:57 p.m.

    Thanks again. I actually figured out the coach in question works at my company (large Fortune 50 company so I don't know him). It's tempting to contact him and let him know his behavior is unacceptable, but I'm going to pass at this point. If I had witnessed it myself and knew EXACTLY what happened versus what my son, who sometimes has his own interpretation of reality, shared then we'd already be talking. I did contact the league who claims that they contacted the club. I'd like to at least get on the record that there is concern so that if something comes up again with someone else it will be known this isn't isolated. As was pointed out earlier in the thread, it's most likely an already known fact if this coach was willing to "yell" at a 12 year old, that's not his first time. I'm looking forward to this weekend to see how it goes. He's doing U10 girls -- 7 games over two days. So, lots of opportunity for some positive experiences. :)

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