How to Retain Referees (Part 2): Start by getting coaches and refs in same room

In my last article, I shared some ideas on how referee associations and leagues can retain refs, a huge challenge across the United States. I conclude my thoughts with these initiatives:

Hold Preseason Meetings
Have meetings before each season, hopefully getting refs and coaches in the same room, to go over procedures so the upcoming season runs smoothly. The ref would need to attend one of the meetings to be assigned and the coaches would receive their team’s schedule at the meeting. One goal would be to get everybody on the same page but even if that doesn’t occur, refs could vent about touchline behavior and coaches could vent about refs who take up their residence inside the kickoff circle, and maybe they will all understand the big picture better. And league officials should make it abundantly clear that the youth soccer experience will not be a positive one if refs only think about officiating when they put on their uniform or coaches believe they can “work the refs.”

Read Part 1 of Randy Vogt's "How to Retain Referees" HERE.

Start a Marketing Campaign to Parents
The idea would be that “There is a referee shortage across the U.S. as most new youth soccer refs quit in their first two years with verbal abuse by kids' parents being the No. 1 reason for quitting. So the ref at your child’s game might actually be on his/her fourth or fifth game that day. By yelling at the ref, you could be contributing to this ref shortage. If the ref numbers do not increase, we might not be able to have a ref at many games in the future. So we’re expecting you to be gracious to all refs and to be a good role model for your own children and the other kids at the field too.”

The league has mailing and e-mail addresses of each family. It would be very effective if they spent some real money for a direct mail campaign but, if not, occasional e-mails to parents on this subject and posts to social media could be effective too.

Formally Thank the Refs
Leagues need to demonstrate that they appreciate their refs so a signed thank-you letter (not an e-mail but an actual letter that goes to each referee’s home) from the league Board of Directors stating how the league appreciates the ref giving up most of their weekends to officiate their players can go a long way. A new stopwatch and another thank-you letter would be nice when a ref reaches a game milestone, such as 100 games officiated in that league. And if the league has a formal awards ceremony at the conclusion of the season, the top refs need to be honored in addition to the top players and coaches. Too many leagues do not even think about the refs in this positive way.

Suspend Those Sent-Off and Those Who Receive Cautions in Multiple Games
I cannot tell you how disheartening it can be to see a sent-off player or dismissed coach not be suspended or for leagues to not track and suspend players and coaches who receive multiple yellow cards during a season. With so many rival leagues today looking to increase membership, I’ve heard one league organizer state that they want the teams to “enjoy the experience.” Meaning they are hesitant to suspend a coach who was dismissed by the ref for trying to give a running commentary of the officiating during the match. Well, guess what? My colleagues and I have choices too and we are hesitant to ref leagues like that and I’ll put my energy elsewhere to officiate leagues that support refs by suspensions.

People learn a valuable lesson when they cannot participate in the following match or matches because of their actions and they are often very apologetic after returning from their suspension. A firm Arbitration Program works wonders in controlling behavior plus retaining refs too.

For those who believe it’s too much work for leagues to track cautions and suspend those who receive something like three yellow cards in one season, a cautionary tale. During my long and winding ref career, I’ve sent off a couple of players of both genders who were quite unpopular with opposing teams. So much so that coaches of opposing teams in the same division approached me to say thank-you for sending off a player who “deliberately fouled my players in a friendly game for charity” or “caused nothing but problems whenever we played.” One girl had seriously injured an opponent and the league looked it up and found out that she had been cautioned five times that season without a suspension.

Soccer Americans might have noticed that my seven ideas do not include increasing referee game fees. Yes, throwing lots of money at this problem would end the ref shortage and it would be great if the money I receive from reffing youth soccer significantly increased. Yet I would not want refs to contribute to the huge expense of youth soccer for many parents.

I’ve refereed in Eastern New York for the past four decades and we receive an inflationary raise every few years, which is fine. The ideas above and in my previous article will cost very little to implement in comparison.

Summarizing, we will not have any more problems retaining refs if we can get youth soccer to be where the players play, the coaches coach, the referees ref and the fans cheer.

(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.)

8 comments about "How to Retain Referees (Part 2): Start by getting coaches and refs in same room".
  1. Tyler Dennis, April 9, 2018 at 3:33 p.m.

    Referees need to understand they are a big part of the development of our youth players. It is a partnership. Too many referees allow way too much phyiscal play, so physical play is reinforced over technical play - phyiscial players are then chosen over technical and the cycle continues.

    I have found when I ask referees to blow the whistle more before games and talk to them how important they are to the game development, they usually apprecaite it and do a better job. However, about 50% of the time, I get very negative responses/immediate arguments from the referees. 

    When a soccer game devlolves into a Rugby match, nobody wins.

  2. Barry Tuck, April 9, 2018 at 4:17 p.m.

    Always enjoy your comments and observations, Randy.  Such a wealth of experience, thank you for sharing. When I first started reffing many years ago in the Atlanta area, they helped to develop young refs by employing a 3-person system on even the youngest games, so 12-16 year olds could get plenty of games on the line with a more seasoned center mentoring them.  Especially those 12 year olds would otherwise have very few options to earn.  The money is an important, rewarding aspect for those youngsters.  

    I agree on suspending coaches and players for excesses, and would want to expand that to cover spectators.  That might require the field monitor concept, but I've seen and heard some pretty brutal and unfair comments hurled at 14-60 year old refs that tend to incite the rest of the crowd and the field players as well.  I really like the concept I heard deployed in Ohio several years ago of "Silent Saturdays" where no comments, not even positive, could be yelled.  Let the kids play, that's the best teacher of the game. 

    Finally, on blowing the whistle more, per Tyler's comment. That's frankly a tough one because coaches always think their player is being fouled when they go down, when from the ref's more objective perspective, two players are battling evenly for the same ball and one is maybe stronger or positions better, but it's all fair, shoulder to shoulder.  Or the smaller player actually commits the foul but goes flying because they attempted to take on a much bigger player.  Frankly I find U-12 to U-14 and Middle School games some of the more challenging because you often have such a disparity in the size and skills of the players.  In contrast, a high level U-17 match would have all the players closer in size and skills, so easier to discern a true foul vs an unskilled, oversize kid stumbling into another player. And then there's games at those higher levels where the parents are screaming to call the fouls, and the coaches are screaming to give advantage so as not to interrupt the flow of the game . . . what to do?

  3. Bob Ashpole, April 9, 2018 at 4:35 p.m.

    Good article and topic. I am not sure at what point youth referees, youth league officials and youth coaches lost sight of the fact that they are all responsible for the quality of youth matches, each with their own roles. 

    In a very real sense, referees have less influence than the other two groups because referees are reactive and enforce the laws. They are not style police. The other two groups develop the players and have much more contact and influence. League officials and coaches may be proactive, set higher standards than the Laws require, and teach the beautiful game as well as important life lessons (like how to compete within rules).  

    Too often these days league officials and coaches abdicate their responsibilites to the players and then blame the referees for the poor quality of the youth matches.  

  4. Richard Crow, April 11, 2018 at 10:54 a.m.

    As in the first article, I question the idea of pushing teens and preteen players into officiating at such an early age. And I also question why in the world referees at any age are needed at lower-level games. Our U6, U8 and even U10 players need skills coaches, not referees. Clubs can pay coaches in a recreational environment to work together to develop all players in their cohort and officiate the games together. I have used this approach of developing players and coaches for years and I have never heard one complaint at a game. The parents know that the coaches are working with each other and not against each other.


  5. Bob Ashpole replied, April 12, 2018 at 4:10 p.m.

    The way I view it is that matches are a competition which have referees by definition. Scrimmages  are training and have coaches who also function as referees enforcing the Laws (especially Law 12), but that is true about all training exercises, not just "scrimmages."

    In my view leagues and teams are unnecessary for development until about age 12 or so when the training focus should switch from fundamentals to team tactics.

    I also am against separating "elite" players from the others before age 11. To avoid selecting "elite" players based on temporary advantages there should be a period of common training for those who develop faster than others to stand out. In a scientific sense, talent is learning faster. 

    I have a question. If we don't use referees for "low level" matches (which means essentially there is no need for grade 9 referees) that means new Grade 8's first match will be a competitive youth match. Do you think that is a good idea?    

  6. Richard Crow, April 11, 2018 at 11:02 a.m.

    Soccer organizations in the United States seem to be more concerned about developing referees than players and coaches. I hypothesize that if we recruit more teens to work as coaches that also referee low-level games, we'll find out who really wants to officiate and over time we may produce better referees for the older age groups where competitoin takes precedence over teaching. Again, we need to ask the question: Why spend millions of dollars each year to officiate lower-level games when referees don’t teach skills?


  7. R2 Dad replied, April 12, 2018 at 5:18 p.m.

    Richard, there are reasons we can't retain referees but have a surplus of coaches. Any....person can become a coach, get an F license and begin foisting their partial soccer knowledge on U8s. But referees have to be fully trained, perform regularly to remain competent, work their way up to older/competitive matches--it takes work, the pay is low, and coaches are allowed to berate referees with little consequence. It would be like a coach not being able to coach unless they first got an A license.

    Believe me, I would love to tell coaches how crap they are right in front of their parents and players, ask why they only play kickball when their players are capable of playing the ball on the ground, why his players are so busy hacking the opposition--it would be just desserts for all the abuse I've received. But Noooo, I have to be the grownup, listen to coaches whine about fouls, line calls, etc etc etc. Referees have this process called an assessment, where state official review a match performance and essentially grade you. Coaches, in my mind, desperately need that type of qualification to become better. And maybe that would help improve the performance (and reputation) of coaches--especially middle school and highschool coaches *snort*.

    As far as your comment about referees not teaching skills, part of being a referee is allowing skilfull play. So no, they don't teach skills per se but rather allow players to use them in a match. You may not realize this is important until you get a ref that swallows their whistle and allows the carnage to unfold unabated.

    But I have a question for you: What do you mean by "skills"? Skills (flicks and tricks) are not what coaches should teach players--kids learn that on their own, with their friends, before and after practice. "Skills" they need to learn (but coaches don't know how to demonstrate because they've never played at a high level) are more techniques and the thinking that goes into it--how to strike a ball 5 different ways, in these different situations, to advance the ball/create a chance/score a goal. This is second nature to anyone who has played at a professional level, but beyond the scope of your standard club coach. Which is why we need ex-professionals in the youth coaching ranks to make our kids better. So, my apolgies to coaches who are ex-pros, but the balance of coaching for which parents pay top dollar is not good enough. Pouring more money into it won't change a thing until the structure and process of coaching/licensing is reveiwed and upgraded.

    BTW, I would also like to see ex-pros referee for the exact same reasons, but I'm sure you already know why few do so!

  8. US Referee Connection, April 26, 2018 at 11:07 a.m.

    Check the “RESPECT CAMPAIGN” at

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