The Refs Who Don't Care

By Randy Vogt

I was appalled as I saw my colleagues officiating. I was to ref the next game at the field and saw the ref, on a warm day on a turf field, wearing a short-sleeve referee shirt and black sweatpants. There was only one assistant referee and he was thankfully wearing black referee shorts but his black socks were pulled down to his ankles (maybe to avoid the “referee tan”) and he was also wearing gray running shoes instead of black. Because of their diverse outfits, they did not look like a team. The other touchline was manned by a club linesman as only one AR was either assigned or showed up at the game.

Despite the artificial turf field, the speed of play was not quick as both U-17 teams struggled with possession. But the game had its moments, as do all youth soccer games. The ref made his residence inside the kickoff circle, rarely straying outside of it. He did manage to move a bit upfield when the ball was in the penalty area but he was still 40 yards from the ball.

I checked the goals and thankfully, both were anchored. But there were huge holes in both of the nets so a ball could have easily gone through it and been a valid goal without the knowledge of the officials. So I used a lot of duct tape to fix these holes and thought how I was expending more energy fixing the goals than the officials were doing officiating the match in progress.

This did not go unnoticed. As I was going from one goal to another and back again, I passed the teams’ benches and one of the coaches said to me, “Are you wearing a Fitbit?” as I was walking a lot just to get the goals in shape before my game.

Sadly, these refs are not rare exceptions and all other officials care about what they are doing, as I have increasingly been appalled by what I have seen by my colleagues. Thankfully, the majority of refs remain quite dedicated. And I understand that not every youth soccer ref has the youth or the passion to move to the higher levels, such as adult soccer, high school or college soccer and even the pros one day. But refs need to be concerned about the players as well as their own reputations. Not caring is completely unacceptable, whether you are a referee or the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker.

The refs who don’t care are content with receiving a few assignments on the weekend and making a couple of hundred dollars.

The refs who don’t care are the ones who show up at the field just before kickoff time, even for their first game of the day, and never seem to smile. They are the officials who check the player and coaches passes in world record time and often allow illegal equipment, such as jewelry, to be worn by players. It’s the assistant referee who plays around with the flag or seems more interested in what’s happening on the adjacent field. Those who don’t care are the ones I never see at clinics, very rarely at meetings and who hardly think about officiating until putting on their uniform on the weekend.

An assignor became justifiably annoyed when he heard that a ref said, “We don’t follow the rules around here?” So if a ref does not follow the rules, then what exactly does a ref do?

Soccer Americans might ask why refs who don’t care are assigned at all and the answer is there are referee shortages across the United States and these refs are needed so that all games are covered. But they are setting themselves up for failure. After all, they will receive a reputation for not hustling and the same players, coaches and spectators at that slow-moving game might be the same people, although with different roles, at the very quick, competitive game. They will know that the ref does not hustle, at least in the game they saw. Should the ref actually move around the field in the better game, then they’ll know that he or she only works hard for certain games.

Consequently, I have never seen a ref who did not care years later as they repeatedly complain about the people at youth soccer fields and determine that refereeing is not for them. But they only have themselves to blame as they were the problem all along.

(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 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

18 comments about "The Refs Who Don't Care ".
  1. James Madison, June 6, 2017 at 7:38 p.m.

    The officials Randy is describing unfortunately are NOT making the game fair, safe or fun for the youth involved NOR are they modeling behavior we presumably want our youth to grew up to emulate.

  2. uffe gustafsson, June 6, 2017 at 8:24 p.m.

    Lump them with the coaches that complain with every call against em and make the parents side act the same. They all need to go away.

  3. Mark Calcat, June 6, 2017 at 8:40 p.m.

    Thank you, Randy. It has been 15 years since I officiated my last game and I'm now nearly 70, but I still miss it. My knee went out in the middle of a high school game or I do not know when I would have retired. I had the same experiences as you are relating 25 years ago, even with only one color of jersey. If the assignor does not care, the center official does not care, the coaches and athletic directors don't care, players are injured and the game is dishonored.

    I was sent to a high school to do a JV (Center only) and varsity (dual). I checked the goals and one was not secured. It delayed the start of the JV game and the school' brand new athletic director was furious. He used his belt to secure the goal. At the end of the season, the schools were able to ask for their top 3 preferences to do their district centers. That AD picked me as his first choice. I never regretted my reputation as a "hard ass" and was always assigned to as many games as I could handle.

  4. Wooden Ships replied, June 6, 2017 at 9:32 p.m.

    Great stuff Mark. And, thanks Randy and countless others that do the toughest job in sport. Uffe you are correct, who in their right mind would want to listen to much of what you here from so called adults. Unfortunately, what our youth see from even the pro's has a modeling effect in their development. Way, way to much mouth in soccer/sport.

  5. Ron L, June 6, 2017 at 11:23 p.m.


    Your article was right out my own thoughts. I often send emails to Assignors and the playing league's director regarding these Referees. My only criticism is why are you fixing the nets? It's the home team's responsibility. If they are not able to fix it then I do my best since it's not needed by the LOTG. It included to my Assignor and the League as part of my post-match report.

  6. R2 Dad replied, June 7, 2017 at 1:20 a.m.

    Home Depot zip-ties! For those end-of-the-season swiss cheese nets:

  7. R2 Dad, June 7, 2017 at 1:53 a.m.

    In my mind, "refs who don’t care" fall into many categories since there are many ways to not care about properly officiating a match. Randy is limited by column-inches but could easily expound on this if he had the space. Here's my list: 1) 3 step refs (as mentioned above), who can't bother to follow play and rarely move more than 3 steps from the center circle, 2) unfit refs/ARs, who literally can't run, 3) refs who insist on officiating matches above their competency (I'm lookin' at you, old Grade 5/6/7) because they used to be able to handle it Back-In-The-Day, 4) Let-Them-Play refs, who swallow their whistle after kickoff and don't "own" the carnage that follows, 5)the Solo-in-a-3-man-crew ref--center refs who don't ever look at the ARs for anything and don't acknowledge AR presence/ignore flags, etc, 6) the Primadonna ref, who makes everything about themselves and enjoys hearing themselves talk too much, 7) the All-Talk-No-Cards Ref--allergic to cards in their pockets 8)the Frog-In-A-Pot ref, who can't feel the temperature of the match rising until the inevitable brawl ensues--you see these at high level matches, too. Finally, 9) the MLS Cup Final center ref, who really doesn't want to be there, and has been instructed to throw away Law 12 and then can't recalibrate his finely-tuned foulometer to "No Blood, No Foul" for the last 90 minutes of the season thus ruining his reputation he spent all season long establishing.

  8. Nick Daverese, June 7, 2017 at 11:32 a.m.

    I remember a lot of older officials doing the game from the center. Because they had two problems one was fitness and one was a mental problem. They think too much about being tired. Get their minds on there positioning they seem to get less tired because fatigue is partly a mental condition. Perhaps the socks are on on their ankles because they have a leg circulation problem. You can have that problem when you get older. We all hate being old especially when in your head your still 20.

  9. Dan Eckert, June 7, 2017 at 11:49 a.m.

    Did you speak with the crew after the game? Maybe they did 3 games prior and a crew didn't show. Maybe they didn't know any better. There's a lot of reasons. Why didn't you ask them and address? If people know they are being watched - they tend to do their job better. I'm not saying you need to be a dick - but a polite - "How are you feeling? I noticed you had some challenges getting out of the circle and didn't know if you may have injured yourself during the game. Is the field something I need to be concerned about?" Or "Hey - my socks fall down all the time - I found that when I"m doing a few games - I always have an extra pair. Mine fall down a lot and I get a strap to hold them up and then fold my sock over the top - works great!" This passive approach - is not in your face - but you get your point across without being a dick. I drive my kids nuts - but our crew is always in demand.

  10. Referee Parent, June 7, 2017 at 1:12 p.m.

    My 13 year old already asked if he can work the snack bar next season (I was telling his sister she could do that as a job when she turns 14 -- she doesn't have the temperament to be a referee). It makes me sad because he's a good young referee. And he's already thinking about giving it up. He's taking the summer off and hopefully will be re-energized, but the coaches and parents are getting him down. He has been doing so well (was selected to referee US Youth Nationals for Futsal and paired with a FIFA referee for training). I really hope he'll stick with it because he tries very hard during the game, works on being in the right position, and tries to call a fair game. He does a good job during the game of focusing and not being distracted by the noise, but after the game he's started to make more comments about the coaches or parents. On the plus side, he did comment how refreshing it was when one of the coaches disciplined her own team's parents and eventually sent one dad off. :) I wish all the coaches had that mentality! I told him to always thank the coaches after in situations like that. They need positive reinforcement too. :)

  11. R2 Dad replied, June 7, 2017 at 9:58 p.m.

    Sorry your son is discouraged. Many youth referees find the pressure in the center is too great (due almost entirely to the bad behavior of adults). My son has found that being an AR is still good money but without all the heavy lifting of the center referee. He and his friends would rather AR older matches than center a younger match. I suggest your son contact an assignor who handles summer tournaments. Tournaments are a great way to 1) learn from other referees, 2) make good money over a weekend,3) referee without the bad adults ruining the fun. Typically tournaments have lots of other referees around, field marshals, club volunteers that are ready to step in--in general a safer atmosphere should coaches and parents get out of hand.

  12. Nick Daverese replied, June 8, 2017 at 6:52 a.m.

    That is because your saw older person parent as the authority figure coming down on him. He still respects the authority figure even though they might deserve that respect. No one would have let me work in something like a snack bar as a kid :) they actually let me work in an Italian feast selling soda as a kid. I skimmed at least 20 percent of the soda money for my self not to mention all the free soda I drank. I did not see anything wrong with it because I used to lose all the money I stole at the dice wheel there.

  13. Goal Goal, June 7, 2017 at 2:12 p.m.

    Officials have two prime responsibilities.

    Oversee the integrity of the game and insure the safety of the players.

    If you show up just to collect your money this isn't going to happen. If you are not into it get out of it. Quit ruining players and the game. Local organizations need to get rid of these bums. I know the argument is that it is too hard to get and keep officials. In my mind you are better to do without than to have someone there jeopardizing the game and the players.

  14. Nick Daverese, June 7, 2017 at 3:25 p.m.

    I had a friend who owned a barber shop he assigned officials for both the cosmopolitan league and the Cosmopolitan Junior soccer league.

    Well he must have given too many hair cuts on weak. Officials kept coming to our field to do our game. We had 12 officials at our field that day. They all stayed to watch our game. After the game they played against the coaches for both teams and a few of our players. We beat them 12-1. It was not even that close.

  15. FC Bayern15, June 7, 2017 at 6:11 p.m.

    Regardless of the profession or whether the job is paid or volunteer, anyone who doesn't care should not be given the opportunity. This includes players, parents, coaches, club officials and referees.

    I see these types of people in all of those roles around the fields.

    Those who care have the responsibility of acknowledging good efforts, providing positive feedback, demonstrating and encouraging the right behaviors and doing what we can to further that cause.

    Thanks to all of you who care. Know that while you might not always receive the feedback that your efforts are noticed and you are making a difference.

  16. Goal Goal replied, June 7, 2017 at 9:24 p.m.


  17. Nick Daverese, June 8, 2017 at 7:06 a.m.

    When we coach kids and they stop moving on the field because they are tired. We would say stop moving your telling us your tired and you want us to substitute for you. So think about your positioning and not how tired you are keep moving. Tired then walk don't just stop. You can still support from 20 yards out. You can not support from 40 or 50 yards out. Same thing talking about when to start your runs. You don't start a run to you see the dribblers head come up. He can't pass to anyone until his head comes up. Also make sure your not too many yards in front of your team mates. So we can keep the passing shorter. Players seem to make better officials then non players because they can tell when a player is more likely to lose a ball so they can start moving in the other direction sooner then a non player. They are caught out of position less so they are running less.

  18. R2 Dad, June 10, 2017 at 11:44 a.m.

    Wow--MLS Cup referees looking positively golden compared to their NBA counterparts. They had Larry, Curly and Moe out there last night. Looks like NBA management wants to manufacture a final as badly as Garber does.

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