Commentary

The Road to 10,000 Games

By Randy Vogt

It has been said that a referee never has a home game. But this is negative thinking and I have officiated thousands of soccer games so, on fields that I have officiated a good deal, I could be more familiar with them and the surroundings than the home team. Plus, I often see a friendly face on the field or on the touchline so, for me, more and more games seem like home games. Only four times in 2016 did I officiate at a field I had never been to and only four times so far this year.


Randy when he started refereeing at the age of 16.

When I started refereeing as a teen in 1978, I did two things that eventually became significant. First, I wrote a short note about each game so I know that my first game was exactly 39 years ago on July 6, 1978 -- and that July 6 was also on a Thursday, just like today. The games really added up and I officiated my 1,000th game while a senior in college at Parsons School of Design.

Second, when I checked the team passes, partly since I would know the players’ names, I introduced myself as Randy so they would know my name too. Even though Randy is a name for both males and females (generally spelled Randi or Randee for girls), it’s an uncommon name so it’s memorable as, chances are, I’m one of the few Randy’s that the players, coaches and my referee colleagues knew. And it’s so much easier than Vogt as people do not know how to pronounce it (like “Vote”) or how to spell it as the “gt” combination is unusual in English without an “h” following it or in-between the “g” and “t.”

So the extensive game count gave validity decades later to my authoring “Preventive Officiating” and writing these articles on youth soccer refereeing plus many people made a personal connection to me simply by knowing my name.

I advanced through the ranks in the 1980s when there were not nearly as many soccer games being played or as many refs.

Eventually, I made it to the pros but if you blinked while you were watching pro games, you probably missed me. Teams and leagues went out of business and I was owed hundreds of dollars, which would be worth much more today, at a time when I was in my 20s and working to become financially independent of my parents. So I instead officiated youth, adult and college games, and eventually high school too, while concentrating on my Manhattan ad agency position at the time and never had to worry about getting compensated during my ad career. Going to work every day and doing well became my own personal World Cup and it still is in many ways.

In 1989, I saw that wonderful movie, “Field of Dreams,” and thought of some parallels between one of the characters, Archie “Moonlight” Graham, and myself. He played at the end of a June 29, 1905 game for the New York Giants baseball team but never came to bat and never had the ball hit in his direction in right field. He was sent down to the minor leagues, never made it back to the majors and eventually found his calling as the beloved pediatrician for the Chisholm schools in Minnesota. Working with colleagues at the Mayo Clinic, he published a study that changed the world’s understanding of pediatric blood pressure. While my contribution has not been as significant, I too found my calling, but it was officiating the other levels of play.

Although my crazy dream of one day officiating in the World Cup or Olympics would never be fulfilled, I was pretty much OK with that but heard of an essay contest nominating people to become Olympic torchbearers for the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta. I really wanted to do it and marketed myself by working with a friend, who completed and signed the essay, about my experience helping Russians, and in my own small way, working toward the Olympic ideal of world peace. I was thrilled when the U.S. Olympic Committee selected me and my 15 minutes of flame carrying the Olympic torch down Main Street in New Rochelle, New York became one of the highlights of my life.


Randy carrying the Olympic torch.

Two decades later, my game count is now more than 9,950 and if I continue my current pace, I would break 10,000 games in the next couple of months. But even having officiated all these games, I occasionally see something on soccer fields that I have never seen before.

Also, very occasionally, I encounter somebody at a soccer field who accuses me of not knowing the rules, even when I try and nicely explain what the rule is. Most problematic are that any defensive restart inside the penalty area has to leave the area to be in play, not all fouls on breakaways are a send-off for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity and if a defender deliberately plays the ball (except for a deliberate save), offside cannot be called. Who knew?

Looking forward, my milestone 10,000th game will be simply what I am randomly assigned. However, I do have one special plan for it as I will raise money for a non-profit and I’ll write about what I’m doing in my next article.


Randy refereeing the Exceptional Senior Games in Coram, New York in November 2015. The assistant referees are Zvi Aizenstain (left) and David Altadonna.

(Randy Vogt has officiated more than 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 www.preventiveofficiating.com.)

15 comments about "The Road to 10,000 Games ".
  1. Richard T. Lynch, July 6, 2017 at 10:59 a.m.

    Congratulations on a wonderful long career. Never met you but have enjoyed your articles. I think it was Malcolm Gladwell (could be wrong) who said it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something. I think you have logged that many so I guess you really are an expert!! :-) Hopes and wishes for many more!

  2. Wooden Ships, July 6, 2017 at 11:01 a.m.

    Excellent article and thanks a million times over for your love of the game. Your sphere of positive influence and contribution has to be gigantic. I hope most paid attention. Congratulations Randy.

  3. R2 Dad, July 6, 2017 at 3:48 p.m.

    Simply amazing. I don't know how you do it, given the vast quantities of obnoxious coaches that infest the game at every level. I'm curious which matches you prefer to do to mitigate the stress. Mostly U14 and below girls? Women's Adult Leagues? There are specific clubs and tournaments I avoid, because life is too short. Speaking of tournaments, have you ever done the Dana and Gothia Cups? BTW, time to update the book--looks like you've done 3,000 games the past 8 years so you're not slowing down!

  4. Randy Vogt replied, July 6, 2017 at 4:03 p.m.

    Thanks, R2. Actually, in my mid-fifties, I'm slowing down a bit and try and do as much futsal (not as much running) and even beach soccer (running on sand is easier on the legs than grass or turf). I never officiated the Dana and Gothia Cups but refereed tournaments in Brazil, Italy and what was the USSR. I really do not have any favorite age group as all have their challenges, their idiosyncrasies and their joys. And should a game be really problematic, I look at the bright side that it will be over in a little while and tomorrow is another day. Randy

  5. Randy Vogt, July 6, 2017 at 8:56 p.m.

    Thanks very much, Richard!! Yes, I just looked this up and found out it was Malcolm Gladwell with that quote. His principle holds that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice are needed to become world-class in any field. Geez, I could have used you when I was thinking about the number 10,000 for my milestone game. Randy

  6. Craig Cummings, July 6, 2017 at 11:28 p.m.

    Great article Randy. I too am mid 50ish and have career path close to yours. I hope we can continue to Ref until we can no longer move good. I am just getting home from a tough HS summer league game. Both VAR coaches have over 20 years exp, But still lacking good control of players and parents. GO figure SUMMER LEAGUE. Is NY different from SO CAL?

  7. Randy Vogt, July 7, 2017 at 6:26 a.m.

    Craig, it sounds like from what you wrote above that the only difference between HS soccer in New York and Southern California is our HS season is in the fall while yours is in the winter. The behavior of the coaches has an incredible influence on their players and the fans, no matter the level. The difference perhaps for me, for the HS summer league I ref, is I've been blessed by working in a league in which discipline is very important and the coaches realize it's a time to see what they have for the fall and for their players to continue to get their touches in throughout the summer and not necessarily about winning a championship. Thank you, Randy

  8. Nick Daverese, July 7, 2017 at 7:53 a.m.

    Randy when you were a kid didn't you do a lot of games near where you lived? So you knew a lot of people in that particular club. Then when they had tournaments didn't they call you to officiate some of the tournament games? Didn't they consider you part of their home field advantage. In other words if you made too many calls against that club you did not think they might not use you again in their next tournament. Never happened to you never? :)

  9. R2 Dad replied, July 7, 2017 at 11:17 a.m.

    "Hometown refs" exist, but mostly because assignors in small communities have fewer refs to choose from. Upstanding refs, which are 95% of them, don't want to AR with (hometown/bad) officials like that. I've seen them in league play, mostly, since a tournament with weak officiating won't be around for long. Too many eyes at a tournament, easy to spot a "hometown ref", and assignors know who is who.

  10. R2 Dad replied, July 7, 2017 at 5:05 p.m.

    Sorry, not intending to speak for Randy on this issue. Perhaps a good topic for another column?

  11. Randy Vogt replied, July 7, 2017 at 7:48 p.m.

    No problem, R2. In his unique way, Nick makes an interesting point. Not sure if I have enough ammo for a column but I can offer my 2 cents. The perception of the possibility of "hometown refs" generally applies to tournaments, premier games and college matches where the two teams are from different states and the refs often come from the local area. It can be an advantage for the home team if they know the ref and know the type of game he/she will call and what would be accepted that day. An issue can be with visiting coaches who have their antennae raised about "hometown refs" and start dissenting when one or two close decisions go against their team. This does not end well if the dissent continues and the ref must put a stop to it, one way (ask, tell) or the other (dismiss). I try to be pro-active to avoid this perception so I ask the coach how their trip was when I introduce myself before the game, which I'm sure other refs do too. I might be a New Yorker through and through but I try and find a personal connection to the visiting team's area. So if I am reffing a team from Florida, I mention that I once lived in Orlando. MD: I had a race horse stabled in Port Deposit. CT: 1/3 of my family lives in Milford. TN: All my exes live in Texas, that's why I hang my hat in Tennessee. :) I believe this can help but no matter what I could briefly ask or say to the coach or team before the game, you cannot please everybody with your decisions. --Randy

  12. Craig Cummings, July 7, 2017 at 10:31 p.m.

    Unfortunately the summer league I ref has a champion and bragging rights are on the line. Also, the Orange County Register will write about the winner of this summer league many times during the high school season. I wish Randy it was more like your summer league, but it seems out here in So Cal its all about WINNING. Winning means more money for the coaches. Some of these coaches make BIG bucks during the summer.

  13. Randy Vogt replied, July 10, 2017 at 6:11 a.m.

    Craig, the HS summer league that I ref has 3 rounds of playoffs but throughout my career, I’ve been blessed to be around the right people. Nearly all the coaches in the league emphasize fun and fundamentals over winning. The other HS league I ref is Long Island Catholic HS in autumn. Here on Long Island, the public and private schools are split and only play one another non-conference. I was asked a dozen years ago to ref Catholic HS by the 2 assignors and loved it. Many teams pray before the games and everybody must be disciplined; otherwise they get in trouble. So I officiate maybe 10 Catholic games each fall since my schedule is pretty hectic. Along with the summer league, I have officiated around 10 finals, as ref, AR and 4th, and some of the finals went into OT, including 12 rounds of kicks from the mark last summer. I can only remember one yellow card and certainly no red cards being given out in these very competitive finals. But while I’ve been around the right people, we do have somewhat of a choice today with all the different leagues where we’re going to ref. --Randy

  14. Craig Cummings, July 10, 2017 at 11:34 p.m.

    We use mostly the duel system here in Orange County during HS summer league but one uses only 1 Ref to save money. I will not ref that HS summer league. Today for final 8 in one game we had 5 cautions. I just dont get it. SUMMER HS SOCCER. Thanks Randy.

  15. Craig Cummings, July 16, 2017 at 9:49 p.m.

    The semis I had was with only 2 yellows, slower paced and hot. 105 before game started. The other game hotter.

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