What leagues want from their refs

There are many ways to communicate with one another nowadays and the preferred method for refs often is through e-mail. Every few months, I receive an e-mail from a youth league, college conference or an assignor about what the refs need to concentrate on. These e-mails are the same no matter the year, and fit into one of the following categories:

Call the Game Tighter. I’ve never received an e-mail where the refs were instructed that they are interrupting play too much and that they need to be more lenient in their enforcement of the rules. But I’ve received so many e-mails telling the refs to call the games tighter. If they do, the retaliatory foul would be avoided. After all, refs are paid to blow their whistle and keep control of the game for the safety of the players.

Ref Female Games as Seriously as You Ref Male Games. The e-mails state many issues that assignors and leagues have noticed from refs officiating different genders. When refs do not take female games as seriously as male games, they do not stay as close to the play or even give pre-game instructions to the AR’s. If they do not take a game seriously, do not be surprised if there’s a game control issue that most likely could have been prevented if they had been working hard all game.

There is a perception among some refs that females do not commit violent fouls against one another. So what would be a red card when males are playing is often just a foul with no card (not even a yellow) for the same foul when females are playing. Yet girls and women deliberately foul opponents, sometimes even violently.

Look and Act Professional at All Times. This is the easiest of the three issues to solve as you need not have any actual referee ability to look and act appropriately. Refs should be at the field 30 minutes before the game and look the part. Clean uniform with the appropriate patch and shined shoes. This might seem crazy to have to mention, but the officials should all be wearing the same color shirt, as I’ve seen more than my share of youth soccer games where the refs and AR’s were wearing different colors.

Years ago, I was assigned to ref a youth soccer game with a Little League game to be played at the same sports complex. When I arrived, I saw an umpire who was an older gentleman looking toward the entrance of the parking lot with a worried expression on his face. The two Little League teams were warming up. It was 45 minutes before my game, which I was reffing solo, so I decided to wait and see if the other umpire showed up. A few minutes later, a younger ump in his early 20s pulls up, gets out of his car to shake the hand of the older gentleman. I could tell that they did not know one another. The older ump waits as the younger ump proceeded to put on his uniform in the parking lot. It gets worse as it looked like the younger ump had been out all night. As they walked to the field, I yelled to the younger ump, “Excuse me, you left your car door wide open.”

I don’t know much about baseball but could be confident in stating that I did not think the young ump was going to have a good game.

Acting professional includes treating everybody the same at the field. If the ref spends a couple of minutes talking with a coach before the game whom he or she knows well, the ref should spend the same amount of time with the other coach. After all, it does not look good to the coach who drove 300 miles if the ref hardly says a word before checking the passes, then jokes around with the home coach for the next five minutes before checking that team’s passes.

(Randy Vogt, the author of "Preventive Officiating," has officiated more than 10,000 games.)

7 comments about "What leagues want from their refs".
  1. R2 Dad, April 23, 2019 at 12:18 a.m.

    So glad you posted this, Randy. "Call the Game Tighter" makes sense to the average parent and player up until U15. Beyond that is kind of the great unknown, because other referees who previously protected players with the whistle all-of-a-sudden think more contact is OK, and we often see where that goes. You get referees calling U16+ like adult games, and this applies to highschool as well. In my neck of the woods freshmen play on varsity teams--there is only one team per public highschool. Referees call these matches like men's league games. The highschool coaches won't pick smaller players because they know they'll get injured during play because of the higher bar established for a foul. I have offered to do highschool matches, but only if I can call a tighter match-- I have yet to do one, as the assignors don't concur. My assessment is that many kids drop out at U16 due to the lack of real development opportunites, combined with the whistle-swallowing that occurs from officials. This black hole of development, between U14 and U18, prevents many players from acheiving their potential.

  2. beautiful game replied, April 23, 2019 at 9:12 p.m.

    Whistle swallowing trickles down from the top, starting with FIFA and every sub-level of its domain. By 16 yoa, every player has the ability to test the referee's "red-line". And every time the referee gives a pass on a cautionable offense, the players become more brazen. LOTG are to promote a level playing field, and any time tinkering with it,such as calling "selective fouls," is an open invitation for players to become more aggressive than they normally are.  

  3. Mike Lynch, April 23, 2019 at 11:36 a.m.

    1) Start game on time (ie, not the time to check field when kick off should be happening), 2) Be consistent (whatever leeway you believe the LOTG says, just call it that way consistently. Players need to learn to understand what set of rules are going to be applied in the first 10 minutes, then they play that way rest of game ... IF ref is consistent). 3) Keep the chatting to a minimum ... short, authoritative whistle blow, show direction, and move on, don't coach 'em up, don't have long conversations, etc. 4) Let coach/players know your dissent policy - none or allow. It's the in between that creates chaos

  4. Gio Gonzalez, April 23, 2019 at 12:46 p.m.

    Many refs even at the DA level, call fouls on bigger players who simply because they are bigger/stronger can shoulder and win 50/50 ground balls better.  They see a smaller player falling over on a 50/50 ball and immediately blow the whistle.

    They also often don't see the fouls smaller players commit on bigger players with 50/50 high balls where the bigger player wins the ball in the air and  the smaller player (knowing he/she has no chance) bumps the bigger player causing the bigger player to table or even flip over. I've seen some nasty injuries including concussions form such behaviors and often never a call.

  5. Mark Landefeld, April 23, 2019 at 6 p.m.

    I think this topic of a tighter game control is due to the 2009 US Soccer Game Management model which suggested that the model be used at ALL levels.  Promoting flow and the younger age groups suggests the level of understanding by young players of what a trifling foul feels like.  Too many young players do not have this maturity to understand this and tend to retaliate -- and thus the game/player management problem where the obvious response from leagues is "call it tighter".

    I used to watch a National referee working Junior College games where he obviously followed this model and later had to rein-in the game.   That happened like clockwork and this was in matches of 17-22 year old players. That meant cautions and a lot of player warnings that could have been avoided with tighter initial game control -- inverse or reverse of that game management model (set-up a safe environment for play and later in the game players will accept the trifling).

    The Game Management model should have been directed at older, more experienced players.  instead it promoted a false narrative among youth soccer referees to "let them play"

    You reap what you sow!

  6. James Madison, April 23, 2019 at 6:57 p.m.

    There's every reason to pay as much or mote attention to what goes on in a game between competitive female teams as in a game between competitive male teams.  Females nurse grudges.  A player who feels offended by a rival may not react immediately, as a male would, but may wait until she thinks attention is focused elsewhere before she retaliates.  The only time I have ever seen an all-out fight between two women (college) broke out in the second half behind the back of a CR and in front of a totally surprised trailing AR based on an incident that had occurred in the first half in front of me as the other AR.  I had not taken sufficient notice of the first incident---just flagged for a foul, nor talked about it at halftime with my teammates.  Lesson learned the hard way.

  7. uffe gustafsson, April 23, 2019 at 10:07 p.m.

    R2 dad u are right on.
    my daughter club and HS team played boys team a lot and really no difference in skills so you need to ref both equally, yes boys might be faster and slightly bigger but you got to have ball skills as well positioning skills. And they beat the boys and lost at times but always close games.
    And for the gentleman that wrote about size difference I assume you referring to boys, they have very different growth spurts, but still the law have excessive force on the books and you can’t barrel over a player just because you are bigger and that’s for the ref to decide if it is.

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