Becoming a Better Ref During This Down Time

With health authorities isolating us to combat the coronavirus, the economy is tanking, people have lost their jobs, kids are missing school, nursing home residents are no longer being visited and soccer games are not being played. Yet thousands of people are still dying even with all these changes. Half the positive cases in the United States are in my home state of New York and I’ve very sadly already lost a couple of friends, including Nick Apostolides, who had been assigning me youth games for over the past three decades.

One of my favorite songs is the Byrds’ hit from 1965, “Turn, Turn, Turn,” as there is a time and a season for everything. This is the time for no soccer but let’s hope that life can return to normal soon.

During this down time, here are some steps to become a better ref so that you’ll be ready whenever games are resumed:

Read the rulebook
It will take you just a few hours to read the entire rulebook. Pay special attention to the recent rule changes, most of which I wrote about in a recent article. Even me with a lot of experience, when I read the rulebook, I uncover a couple of items that I did not know before.

Mike Woitalla has advocated in his articles that U.S. Soccer give refs the rulebook again when they recertify and I received my copy when I recertified a couple of weeks before Christmas. Other recertifying refs did not receive the rulebook, though. It’s the least that US Soccer could do for its refs. And it’s so much easier to thumb through the rulebook at halftime or in-between games then to try and find the rule in question on your phone or tablet. Please put in the comments below whether you received the rulebook when you recently recertified.

Get fit
The weather is becoming warmer and running is a great way to become a better ref, with what should be little risk of receiving any communicable disease. Yet be sure to follow any current local rules regarding outdoor exercise. (Do not leave your home to exercise without confirming public health orders and public health recommendations.) Running is also a source of positive energy, which the world could surely use right now.

The fartlek training method works best for me, as it mimics a soccer game. Rather than just jogging, you jog, sprint, jog, with an all-out sprint at the end. If you are currently out of shape, start slowly and gradually work up to a mile. As officials need to run backward and sidestep during the course of a match, try to incorporate both of these moves in your training.

Many of the FIFA11+ Referee exercises don't require much space and can be done indoors.

Ref games that you watch on TV
Watching taped games is weird at first there is no social distancing and I see people shaking hands. After I got past that, I “refereed” the game in my mind plus watched the positioning and signals of the officials. Sometimes, the instant replay confirms that I was correct and sometimes not so much. I listen to what the commentators say about the officiating but realize that they are not experts as many never officiated a game in their lives or even opened up a rulebook.

Adjust your attitude
It’s been said that you don’t realize how much you miss something until it is gone.

Could be although I immediately knew that I’d miss refereeing when all my upcoming games were canceled and I really do. The two dreams that I remembered during the past few weeks have both been about officiating. So now that refereeing has been taken away from me, and all other refs, I miss seeing my friends on soccer fields, running up and down the field and interacting with everybody as I control the game.

So when play does resume, I’m going to have a couple of games where I’m not enjoying myself and would like them to end. One thing that I will remember when this does occur (and it eventually will!) is how much I missed refereeing when I could not do it and fight through any negative reactions about the games in question to calmly control what’s going on the field, as well as dissent from the bench.

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

11 comments about "Becoming a Better Ref During This Down Time".
  1. Dukesa Owen, April 12, 2020 at 11:09 a.m.

    did not receive a book, but bought one.   would think sending one with the new badge or even on registration would be a very logical thing to do.  agree on the hardcopy vs phone at the field.

  2. James Madison, April 12, 2020 at 12:54 p.m.

    Funny Randy should thinkof a song.  I did also, last night in bed.  Only, being older, it was "There'l Be Blue Birds Over the White Cliffs of Dover" from WW2.

  3. Randy Vogt replied, April 12, 2020 at 1:30 p.m.

    James, I never heard of that song before so I looked it up and heard the D-Day Darlings sing it on YouTube. Nice song. How about the Police's "Don't Stand So Close to Me" ? Hopefully, just for a few more weeks. 

  4. Ginger Peeler, April 12, 2020 at 1:51 p.m.

    I go with another WW2 song  ...  Now Is the Hour.... I believe the last words are, "When you return, you'll find me waiting here."

  5. Randy Vogt replied, April 12, 2020 at 6:03 p.m.

    Ginger, yes, you are correct, those words are the last lyrics. I was not familiar with this WW2 era song either so I heard Bing Crosby sing it on YouTube today. "Now is the Hour" reminds me just a bit of Tony Orlando and Dawn's "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree." 

  6. Alan Lee, April 12, 2020 at 2:43 p.m.

    I did not receive a hardcopy law book from USSF (via my state association) when I recertified. Even if the books were sent out through recertification, the timing would be problematic, seeing that each year's laws are effective June 1, and we'd want the book in hand at latest for the fall season, but recertifications don't happen until sometime in the latter half of year. From my observation, the exact time of recertification depends on when each referee initiates the recertification process, and then there's always a subsequent period of weeks or even months before badges are mailed. One way to avoid the timing issue is for USSF to send law books to all currently registered referees mid-summer. That way we'd all have them (hopefully) by the start of the fall season.  >>>  Hardcopy vs electronic:  try the excellent  IFAB app, info here: It's nicely done.

  7. Alan Lee, April 12, 2020 at 2:49 p.m.

    On the topic of reading, changes for 2020-21 were published a few days ago. Available here:

  8. R2 Dad, April 13, 2020 at 12:23 a.m.

    Look at you Randy, training hard even through this pandemic--you are great example for every referee out there. Keep up the good work!

  9. Beau Dure, April 13, 2020 at 10:15 a.m.

    I love taking the quizzes on the Dutch Referee blog. I'd be interested in doing more quizzes like that. Nice interactive way of going through the Laws.

  10. Grace Schwanda, May 11, 2020 at noon

    Hi Everyone,
    Yes stay in shape by doing squats, burpees and push ups.  Add those to the bridges pictured in Randy's article and we'll feel strong and look the part of a referee.  Speed pickups are good for our running prowess also.
    I DID NOT GET A LAW BOOK at my recert  and would want a 2020-21 book at this time of year since the changes are available and I have the IFAB 2019-20 Laws.
    Looking forward to being on the pitch in a few months.

  11. Drake Delzell, May 18, 2020 at 4:49 p.m.

    Did not get a rule book. I definately beleive that we should get one at least every two years.

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