How refs get through challenging games -- use 'Triple H'

The book I authored, "Preventive Officiating," is about how a youth soccer ref prevents problems before they begin. But what happens when a game suddenly goes south and you as the ref might not even understand why? This has certainly happened to me. What do you do then? I found that relying on Triple H –– hustle, humility and humor –– can get me through these games as best as possible.

It’s important for the ref to be close to the ball and for the AR’s to be aligned with the second-to-last defender, but being in the proper position becomes vitally important during challenging games. After all, the closer to the ball that the ref is, the less dissent he or she will receive after blowing, or not blowing, the whistle. There’s a price to be paid for long-distance calling and it applies to refereeing as well as phone bills.

This applies even if you’re pacing yourself for other games that day. Should you have another match on the same field, the challenging game could affect the other game. For example, if players hear all this yelling and arguing while they are warming up, they could have sympathy for you but more likely they will simply think that you’re not a good referee. Especially if the home coach tells the home coach of the next game, “This ref has no idea what he’s doing.”

That very unfortunate comment pretty much ensures that your decisions during the next game are going to be challenged as well.

We all make mistakes and all have something to learn every time we step on a soccer field. If a player wants to get input from the ref, “Excuse me, sir, what did you see?” or “Why did you think that was a handball?” is seeking an answer and works so much better than “How could you make that call?” -- which is seeking an argument.

Yet some refs, even when asked politely to explain a decision, get very defensive. They do not respond to the question, instead saying, “I refereed professional games in Argentina” or much worse, “You don’t even know 10% what I know about soccer.”

One coach said to me after receiving one of the responses above, “I wasn’t questioning his experience, I was simply asking him about his call, and in a nice way.”

A ref adopting the attitude that he or she does not know everything or get every decision correct can go a long way in winning friends, especially in challenging games.

In trying to show some humor, it’s never at the expense of another person, such as trying to put down a player or coach.

If I’m having to deal with a lot of dissent during a game, there is still somebody at the field who will say, “Good call!” after one of my decisions. So I respond, “You mean that I got a call right?” and this helps bring some needed levity to the game.

One of the more humorous comments that I heard on a soccer field occurred during an indoor tournament. There are very few indoor tourneys left in New York anymore. Several years ago, I was reffing boys U-11 at an indoor tourney and just started officiating the session. I blew my whistle a couple of times during the first few minutes and the coach of one of the teams yelled at me, “Listen, I can tell that you’re a new ref because of your new shoes but you got to be better than this!”

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

13 comments about "How refs get through challenging games -- use 'Triple H'".
  1. beautiful game, July 12, 2019 at 9:19 p.m.

    There is too much pseudo-counseling going on in the game. Just about every dead ball restart is a counseling's like these players don't know the LOTG. Matter of factly they know LOTG and exploit the referee at every opportunity that he gives them. I don't buy this 'modern' FIFA application of permitting 'selective' fouling for the first 75-minutes and cautions for something minor in the last 15-minutes. FIFA don-Infantino is doing his best to cripple the game.

  2. Bob Ashpole replied, July 13, 2019 at 12:16 a.m.

    Depends on what level you are talking about BG. This article is about youth soccer. Keep that in mind.

  3. Kent James, July 12, 2019 at 9:27 p.m.

    One technique I used to use when I was an AR on the coaches side, which meant the coaches often came at me for calls the center ref made, would be to say: "you know coach, I have the same view you have and I agree that I'm not sure what he called there, but he knows what he's doing and he must have seen something from his angle that we couldn't see".  It doesn't work in every situation, but there are certainly times I did agree with the coach's view, and this affirmed the coach's complaint while allowing that the complaint might be unfounded.  Of course if I disagreed with the coach, I would explain why I thought the ref's call was the right one.  But I do think it's important to address the concerns of players and coach's when they are expressed appropriately and with respect.  

    And with games that truly go south, well, that's why you have cards....

  4. Ginger Peeler replied, July 14, 2019 at 12:36 p.m.

    Kent, that’s a great diplomatic answer. 

  5. uffe gustafsson, July 12, 2019 at 9:58 p.m.

    Yes and with the new law that you can card the coach it will certainly stop the coach that constantly arguing every call against his team. Yes the tell first still apply but now refs have a better reinforcement to stop the bad coaches, and there are plenty of em out there.
    i wish that refs in the local leagues could see who the bad apples are on the web sites so no one would ref their home games, that would send a clear message.
    you only know after reffing certain teams that I would never be reffing your game again. Usually it’s a visiting  coach since the home coach know that refs talk to each other and can’t afford to have no refs coming.

  6. R2 Dad replied, July 13, 2019 at 12:14 a.m.

    Believe me, it's done exactly that way. There are certain clubs I avoid, and the only way to determine that is through experience. There are clubs in our area that I would not officiate for any amount of money. Sad thing is, I do see the same guys out there doing those "bad" matches and having to deal with unmanagable coaches--they need the money, or are scheduled for 4 matches in a row on the same fields and it's just a slog. I learned the hard way that the leagues are NOT on the side of the officials--they back the coaches and clubs, who pay their bills. Officials are overhead.

  7. uffe gustafsson, July 12, 2019 at 10:06 p.m.

    What I meant is wanting to know that visiting coach have a bad reputation and like to know about and not signing up.

  8. R2 Dad replied, July 13, 2019 at 12:36 p.m.

    I think it's possible, but would take some work to determine. The assigning software I use usually lists the home side, and I'll know the reputation of that coach. The software shows the league, so I will have to find the table they're in and their opponents. Knowing the opponent, I can search the away team web site for that coach. The hard part is then finding someone who knows of the away coach's reputation. This process is impossible for tournaments, where naughty coaches are at their worst.

  9. Bob Ashpole, July 13, 2019 at 12:31 a.m.

    I used to think agrumentative coaches were so because they had never been an official. Then I ran into some argumentative coaches who were licensed referees. Then I realized that some people are just jerks.

    As a coach, I was never shy about (politely) asking for an explanation of a puzzling call. I did have one policy though, I never questioned a call that was ensuring the safety of the players. In my mind, safety was more important than perfect calls and I didn't want to do anything to discourage the officials from keeping the game safe.

    I also made it a point to complement and thank the referee for keeping the game safe after each half. If someone had dissented on a call against our team (and it was correct), I tell my team that I would have made the same call. After the half I will tell the referee that too. Because I am sincere, that comment is welcomed. 

    I always tried to make the matches enjoyable for the officials too, and we didn't have any trouble attracting good referees for our matches.

  10. uffe gustafsson, July 13, 2019 at 8:28 p.m.

    R2 dad 
    why is it some clubs have such reputation of having bad coaches as in argumentative at all times.
    I don’t get it, it’s like systemic in the club, though not every coach but enough that you won’t sign up.
    I have started to ref soccer without border games, boys U16-U19 you would think that would be difficult games to ref, they are all immigrant kids that played street soccer and it’s first time they play club. They play hard but with smiles on their faces. Never any issues and part I think they teach team work and team respect for both team mates as well opposing team.
    after each game they huddle up and give fair play scores as that is part of final score.
    what a revelation you actually score the opposing team fair play score.

  11. R2 Dad replied, July 13, 2019 at 10:57 p.m.

    Uffe, part of the problem is that in this country youth teams and clubs are blowing up all the time. So coaches are moving around, often starting their own clubs and needing coaches who will work for pennies for this new club. Because many coaches are just starting out, they're new to this country, moved from out of state, etc, there are lots of coaches floating around (licensed and unlicensed/underlicensed). So the bar for new coaches is low. (This is not to say that licensing is the be-all and end-all). Because leagues are basically all run by coaches, there are low barriers to entry, slaps on the wrist for bad behavior, and little real punishment. You'll get a dad who knows a bunch of kids, he "builds" a team that's pretty good at a young age--now he has a platform. It's hard to determine who the "new" coaches are ie those who have little experience, if they're adults. Some "bad" coaches win and some lose. Some of it is skill, some of it is luck, fortuitous timing. The trouble starts when a "bad" coach starts winning. Now they're poaching players, they're causing trouble in the league office, they're screaming at their players, but they're winning. Parents hear about the winning coach but at these young ages the parents don't know what they don't know because they either didn't play the game or their kid knows the coaches kid, he's a family friend, etc. So the "bad" coach, who is usually too macho to have an assistant or team manager on their sideline, carries on like a child at early bedtime. They abuse youth referees, try to steamroll who they can, get indignant when called out (old ask/tell/dismiss) . They may finally, after several years, get in trouble with the league because they've been ejected/suspended a match a couple/three times. At that point the "bad" coach changes leagues, or changes clubs, or changes ages within a club, to continue on undetected for a little while longer. The leagues want to sound tough, but it's always just a slap on the wrist if anything. So, after years of abusing referees, screaming at players, destroying the joy of the sport just because they don't know how to stop screaming, these coaches are still around, poisoning the next generation of players and referees.
    I am conflating screaming coaches with bad coaches because in my opinion they are one in the same. Due to some bad and illogical reasoning, screaming youth coaches think they're good, they're motivating, they're helping. But this is a lie they tell themselves over and over to rationalize their behavior. In reality, they're denying our players the opportunity to think for themselves on the field. They scream at referees, and then the parents and players start acting disrespectfully towared referees and opponents. It's a vicious cycle the clubs won't stop, and the leagues don't know how to stop.

  12. Bob Ashpole replied, July 14, 2019 at 12:35 a.m.

    R2 Dad, thanks for that very articulate explanation.

  13. uffe gustafsson, July 14, 2019 at 5:03 p.m.

    Thx R2 dad
    just what I have observed in all the years I been part of our soccer world.
    think u hit it on the nail.

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