Advice for young referees -- and a plea to the adults who scream at them

I was asked to give some words of encouragement to young refs who would be refereeing their club’s intramural games. The refs were from 10 to 14 years old and they ref players age 6 to 12. Two refs to a game, one on each touchline, on small-sided fields, the largest which is 65 x 35 yards.

And I was stunned by many of their questions. Although they had questions on the rules, half of their questions centered on controlling adults, whether it is the coaches or the player’s parents on the spectator side. One 11-year-old girl raised her hand and started to talk about how her coach, in a game she was playing in two years before, got into a big argument with the opposing coach.

My advice was for the ref to tell the coach, if he or she yelled at the ref, to simply say, “Coach, we are trying our best as refs just as you are doing as a coach. The game will go smoother if you concentrate on coaching your team rather than commenting on the officiating.”

And if the coach continues to say derogatory things about the officiating, for the ref to stop the game and get the field coordinator, an adult, involved. The field coordinator should also become involved when a parent on the spectator side starts yelling at the refs. One boy then raised his hand and criticized the club for having one field coordinator per complex rather than one per field.

So my question for these young refs was, if everybody who returned as a ref had been yelled at the season before and they remembered that quite clearly, why did they return?

The answer was for the money of $10 per game, which takes an hour to play. But a question that could not be answered that night was how many kids, upset that they were yelled at, decided to not return as refs no matter what they were being paid.

A good solution for a coach, concerned if the refs were missing fouls, would be to have a pleasant discussion with the refs and field coordinator that more fouls needed to be whistled on both teams. This conversation could occur in-between periods (many of these small-sided games are now played in quarters).

I told these young refs that when I started as an intramural ref when I was 16 years old and a travel team ref when I was 18, there were a couple of coaches in whose eyes I could do nothing right. And I thought it ironic that I had to be the mature one particularly when dealing with a man more than double my age.

The travel team coach, with a girls U-11 squad, was upset that I gave a PK to a local rival team with his team losing 2-0 in the last minute of the game and had the kicker retake the missed kick when the goalkeeper moved three steps off the line before the ball was kicked. This coach yelled at me when he arrived at the field for a game months later. So I cautioned him and he had to keep quiet the rest of the match. This was the only time in my four-decade ref career that I ever sanctioned a coach before the game.

I learned to concentrate on the many good things that were happening to me as a ref and not on the jerks and this positive attitude has been a key factor in the longevity of my referee career. But these very young refs, younger than I was when I started, were obviously having issues processing being yelled at in the same way.

I make mistakes, you make mistakes, everybody makes mistakes but we are trying our best. It’s an extremely sad commentary when young refs in elementary and middle school are being yelled at by overly exuberant parents more than double their age.

So, let’s make it our New Year’s resolution to all be better behaved at soccer fields in 2018, for the sake of our youth players as well as the refs who do their games.

(Randy Vogt, the author of "Preventive Officiating," has officiated more than 10,000 games. Go HERE for the archive of Vogt's referee Soccer America referee articles.

7 comments about "Advice for young referees -- and a plea to the adults who scream at them".
  1. Bob Ashpole, December 15, 2017 at 10:04 p.m.

    Probably the solution lies in the people running the competitions giving more support to the referees on game day. Or if controlling the parents is too difficult, ban them from the vicinity of the matches. 

    Adult referees should not have to put up with abuse either. This is so wrong on so many levels. 

  2. Nick Daverese, December 15, 2017 at 11:21 p.m.

    I think I guy like Randy should give that talk to the coaches more then the kids. No matter what the kids say to the coaches they will look at it as a sign of a kid disrespecting an adult. Although you get respect when you give respect.

    i also think young officials should know the right hand signals for a direct and indirect free kick. So the coaches and his players are less confused when a foul is called. Again randy teaching the coaches the signal for direct and an indirect kick is a good move.

    plus better for the coach just teach his players not to react to what they think is a bad call by the official. Because the chances are the player is going to be wrong.

    i hate the thought of an adult trying to gorilla a kid when he is a player or an official. It always make the adult look like an amature.

  3. Michael Canny, December 16, 2017 at 10:06 p.m.

    You know it is getting bad when a player  apologizes for his parent (yes, I've had this happen) and a referee recertification question is: what is the proper course of action when a referee is pushed by a spectator? (Correct Answer : Abandon the match and call the police.)

    No wonder the kids don't come back.

  4. Nick Daverese, December 17, 2017 at 6:05 a.m.

    That is like when a young player constantly hears their father yelling out instructions to the player. Then you see the player putting his hand over his ears so he doesn’t have to hear daddy yelling out to him.

  5. R2 Dad, December 17, 2017 at 4:53 p.m.

    St. Randy, don't know how you have the patience after all those matches. I've only done a fraction of the games you have but ran out of patience long ago. I'd say I'm most frustrated with the leagues, which poo-poo real punishment for habitual abusers of young referees. What do we see in most instances, a 1 or 2 match ban? Get back to me when a coach gets a year ban, or a lifetime ban. I look forward to the day leagues work together to blackball these hacks who call themselves coaches. Men--and they are always men--who bully kids in front of other adults. In this day and age? There is an enornous class action lawsuit-waiting-to-happen once an ambulance-chasing law firm in California starts gathering evidence during discovery. Oh, the heads that will roll, the millions that will change hands. The insurance will drive up pay-to-play costs even higher.

  6. Randy Vogt replied, December 18, 2017 at 3:54 p.m.

    R2 Dad, I definitely don't think that I'm ready for sainthood. At least on Long Island, where I have done most of my games and there's a vibrant sportsmanship program, coaches who are problems are very rare. The man that I wrote about coached his daughter and was an asst. coach for his son. He was not always a problem for other refs but always did not like me and knew that he could not openly dissent to me. After his kids aged-out, he was done. The good news is the positive coaches who are concerned about playing fairly, no matter who wins, often come back to coach other teams after their own kids have graduated from youth soccer. And positive coaches are definitely the majority of the coaching community. I never came across a negative coach years later but I often see positive coaches back for more. And I agree with you that habitual abusers of refs need to be dealt with much more firmly by leagues, and I might add as well as by the refs they are trying to intimidate. Not easy if you're a new ref so that's why it's up to experienced refs like myself to set the tone on what is allowed if they start dissenting.

  7. mario ochoa, December 21, 2017 at 1:22 a.m.

    we the adults we need a lot of patients for the young referees because they dont have that much expirience and thats y us the adults and as coaches knowing all the plays calls we should tell the young referees what calls to make.

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