Beware of referee fatigue

By Randy Vogt

Much has been written in the media about player fatigue, whether it’s professional teams playing three games in eight days or youth squads playing four or five games in a weekend tournament. And rightly so!

But while player fatigue is an obvious issue, what has been overlooked is referee fatigue. Exacerbated by the fact that there’s a referee shortage and we need every game to be covered by an official. So the four to five games that a youth team might play in a weekend tourney often results in an official doing 10 games in that very same tournament.

And the last time I checked, refs are older than youth players (sometimes much older, like me!) and they are not substituted during the game, unlike the players. Before the season begins, refs must train to be in game condition.

What I have learned over the years is to listen to my body to be able to adequately cover every game that I’m assigned. I cannot adequately serve as ref for more than three games per day so I limit my availability to ref two to three youth games, and if I’m feeling good that week, I contact the referee association to be an AR for one or two more games to help every match get covered.

It was the day before Easter so only make-up games were scheduled. I was assigned as an AR and all three officials had only one game that day. The man in the middle said that he serves as ref all day Saturday and all day Sunday, reffing eight to 10 games per weekend, and that it’s going well.

But what I saw that game told me a different story as he was too far from play much of the game. For example, when there was a throw-in by the 18 on his diagonal, he was just outside the kickoff circle, 35 yards from the throw-in.

This long-distance calling affected his decisions as the only player cautioned that game was the biggest player on the field. While I’ll admit that player was fouling, he also was getting fouled. Yet the ref often was too far from play so whenever there was contact, he assumed the biggest kid was doing all the fouling.

I spoke to the ref after the game. “Nobody can adequately be the ref for 8-10 games per weekend and if you should be assigned so many, then you’ll have to pace yourself and have similar positioning to what you did today. But it’s our only game of the day and you were too far from play. You need to be within 20 yards of the ball for nearly the entire game to do a good job. If that means accepting fewer games, you should do that.”

Recently, I was officiating the girls U-18 final of a college showcase tournament at Long Island’s Bethpage State Park, which you might have heard of as it hosted a couple of U.S. Open golf tournaments. Midway through the first half, two players on the ball by the touchline stopped playing. I looked to the AR to see if the ball went out of play. No signal from him so play continued. A few seconds later, he belatedly gave the signal for a throw-in so I stopped play.

I told him later, “I know that it’s your last game of the day but you have to battle through your fatigue by concentrating.”

When I notice that I’m starting to become tired, I particularly make a point to concentrate so that I can continue to adequately cover the game.

Traveling becomes an issue too. College soccer is the level that I do that requires the most travel. I receive much of my college schedule months in advance and prefer to have the most travel early in the season when I am fresher.

Because of referee injuries and refs quitting, it becomes more challenging to cover every game as the season wears on since the number of uncovered games needing refs seems to increase every week. All these games take a toll physically and it can be tempting for the ref to take short cuts, such as less stretching and relying on caffeine to be energized for games. And refs need to have days off to recover as well, as my 55-year-old body will most certainly tell you.

As referees, we also cannot emotionally allow the next game to simply become another game and not display the same enthusiasm as we did when the season was just kicking off.

(Randy Vogt, the author of "Preventive Officiating,", has officiated over 9,950 games with his milestone 10,000th game coming up. He has donated $10,000 -- a dollar for every game -- to the U.S. Soccer Foundation and he is asking Soccer Americans to consider making a tax-deductible contribution as well.)

9 comments about "Beware of referee fatigue".
  1. Charlie Klimkowski, July 25, 2017 at 10:24 a.m.

    Great article! Refs are very underappreciated and I hadn't ever really considered the impact of doing several games in a day. Might explain some of the "short fuse" situations we deal with as coaches. I'll try to be a little more understanding moving forward... especially at those long hot summer tournaments! Thanks again for enlightening me!!

  2. Michael Canny replied, August 8, 2017 at 8:50 p.m.

    Coach, thank you. As I mentioned in another comment, I'm not as young as I used to be and I try to pace myself, but when there's an injured or sick referee and an assignor is in scramble mode, I'll often go ahead and work the extra game, which makes me pretty tired by my last one.

  3. Ginger Peeler, July 25, 2017 at 10:39 a.m.

    Randy, thank you for your wonderful insight into refereeing. Both my kids were developing into excellent refs. My son was even given the center for a high school girl's game where he was younger than some of the players! Yet, he was always very professional and knowledgeable. Both my kids quit because of out-of-control adults (parents or fans). They both loved the game, but they no longer felt safe. I so admire and respect you for what you do. And whatever they pay you isn't enough! Thanks!

  4. Bob Ashpole, July 25, 2017 at 1:36 p.m.

    Good article. A coach at the bottom of the soccer pyramid has to accept that his matches are the assignor's lowest priority and accept the practical reality that your officials may have already done 3-4 matches before yours. Realizing that gives you a whole different perspective of the coaches relationship with the officials. A coach should take a cooperative approach rather than an adversarial approach with match officials. A little patience and civility goes a long way.

  5. Alan Starost, July 25, 2017 at 5:13 p.m.

    As always, great insight Randy. As one of the referees that does too many games each weekend, I usually try to pace myself. As you know, the schedule is not always kind since we are usually assigned the younger games on Saturdays and older teams on Sundays. I also wear a GPS watch and discovered that I can cover as much as 5 miles in a 2x45 match. And it is not unusually to cover 25 miles or more in a weekend.

  6. uffe gustafsson, July 25, 2017 at 5:14 p.m.

    I have seen and experience, when one team is really physical, grabbing arms and jerseys, going for the player instead of the ball.
    Then next thing is the coach telling his players they need to match that sort of behavior and now you got an ugly game on your hand.
    Coaches angry and parents screaming.
    Yes you can try to control the game early on but if that's how that team play it's really diffecult and add on the other team will start doing the same.
    To me it's a coaches job to keep his/her team in check to play good and fair soccer, but to many bad coaches out there to just win no matter what.
    I' don't understand why clubs keep coaches that teaches those things and parents that would keep their kid on teams that teaches those behaviors.

  7. Nick Daverese, July 25, 2017 at 7:10 p.m.

    Coach does that and the official is not calling it. You might tell your team to do the same to get the official to start calling it.

  8. Michael Canny replied, August 8, 2017 at 8:46 p.m.

    Nick, if the referee isn't calling it already, increasing the violations is not likely to help. It's more likely to cause a confrontation or an injury. I'm not saying all referees are perfect--I know I'm not--but making a bad situation worse is not the answer. Among other things, it sends the wrong message to the players.

  9. Michael Canny, August 8, 2017 at 8:41 p.m.

    Randy, I could not agree more. Fortunately, I am run for a hobby, and I like to hit the gym, so I'm in pretty good shape for my age. But that's the key--for my age. I'm almost 57, so I know I can't keep up with the 16 year old all day long.

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