Ref Watch: Model behavior and the coaches who disgrace themselves and their clubs

The following is an excerpt from Ian Plenderleith's latest book, "Reffing Hell: Stuck in the middle of a game gone wrong." Illustrated by Tim Bradford (Halcyon Publishing)

The first half of this boys’ U-15 game is one of the most peaceful I’ve refereed all season. There are only two fouls, and a mild query from the away team about a possible offside on the home team’s first goal. As is often the case, the defenders have turned around to see that a player with the ball has outsmarted them. I tell them that he wasn’t offside when the ball was played, and we get ready for the restart without any further discussion. Their coach is much more vociferous. I ignore him.

At halftime, with his team 3-0 down, he walks over to me and starts complaining about the offside decision, and not in a civilized way.

“It’s because I’m a shit ref,” I reply mildly. He hesitates for a second, then starts to moan about something else, but I interrupt him and say, “I told you already. It’s because I’m just a shit ref. What can you do about it?”

Then I walk away to my changing room (broken into during the first half, but nothing taken because I hide my phone well and never take my wallet with me when I ref).

In the second half, the angry coach’s previously polite and well-behaved team decides to follow the adult’s example and, the more goals they concede, the more disrespectful and insolent they become, especially the captain. He goes in the book, and later — after a clear and deliberate handball from a teammate — gets a five-minute time penalty for sarcastic applause, an offense I’m always particularly happy to punish. There’s also a yellow for another teammate, for angrily belting the ball away after he’s called up for a foul.

Meanwhile, the coach starts up again. After coming on to treat a player for an injury — during which he chunters on at me about something or other — the gentleman remains on the same side of the field as the two home coaches, and they get into a verbal fight before squaring up to each other.

I go over, separate them, warn them officially for irresponsible behavior, and order the away coach back to his side of the field. He keeps on at me about a phantom yellow card I should have given to the home team at some already-forgotten point in time. I give him a second and final warning, to which he responds, “I could already tell before the game what kind of a referee you were.” For his extra-sensory mental powers, he’s dismissed for good.

All this in a one-sided game without a single controversial decision. At the end of the game (8-0), the away team’s goalkeeper comes running up to me, incensed, and squeaks that he’s going to report me to the state FA. I’m tempted to tell him that his time would be better spent watching a video called ‘The Absolute Basics of Goalkeeping.’ Instead, I revert to one of my old favorites. “Are you a referee?” I ask him. He looks confused. “No. Why?” he responds. “Because we always need top experts like yourself to become match officials. You should join our next training course.” Although I’m also looking forward to his doubtless enlightening dossier to the state FA on my shameful performance.

In the disciplinary report I write: “This was a classic example of a coach serving as a poor role model by having a pernicious effect on the young men he should be influencing in a positive manner. He disgraced himself and his club either because he was unable or unwilling to accept the heavy defeat, or because he is incapable of supervising, in a responsible and sporting manner, a group of adolescent boys.” And next season he’ll be back there standing on the touchline, waving his arms around and shooting his ignorant gob off.

Ian Plenderleith’s new book reflects the recruitment crisis in refereeing across all sports, around the world. 'Reffing Hell: Stuck in the Middle of a Game Gone Wrong’ is available in the USA on Amazon Kindle from August 8. The book is also available in print directly from the Halcyon Publishing in the UK.

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Refereeing in Soccer America

Among our recent ref, rules and officiating coverage and commentary:

1. Can soccer back up the claim that its rules contribute to the safety and welfare of players? By Paul Gardner 

2. Bodycams for referees: Is there no better solution? By Ian Plenderleith 

3. Reardon recruits -- and retains -- teen refs in San Francisco with intriguing twist By Dan Woog

9 comments about "Ref Watch: Model behavior and the coaches who disgrace themselves and their clubs".
  1. R2 Dad, October 21, 2022 at 5:39 p.m.

    Ian, this kind of behavior keeps recurring because the leagues refuse to punish coaches adequately. I can't speak to club culture in Europe but in the US we have new leagues popping up every couple of years in youth soccer, each one lowering the bar of the minimal standards of the ones they displace. It was AYSO, then CCSL, then NorCal, then ECNL, now MLS Next. There is no way to keep track of the bad coaches--they can just migrate over to another league and poof, new ID and clean record. This is by design, because coaches run leagues. You are just a casualty. USSF, show me the list of blackballed coaches in this country and then maybe I will listen to you. Until then, you are enabling this train wreck and you don't deserve respect.

  2. Douglas Mael, October 22, 2022 at 12:59 p.m.

    Ian,  Thank you for writing this! I was a coach!manager for youth baseball teams (mostly ages 13-15), and later became a lead umpire and umpiring crew chief for both high school and college baseball and fast pitch softball (I also played three years of semi-pro and professional baseball).

    When I was managing my youth teams, my first rule for the adolescent players was "if you show disrespect or curse at the umpires, coaches, or opponents, you are immediately out of the game". Repeat offenses could get the player up to a three game suspension, which I only had to employ once. I didn't care how big a star the player was or who their parents were (one player that I had to bench for confronting the umpires and using foul language was the son of my boss on my day job; this made for a tense work environment in our office for a couple of days).

    The example set by the coach/manager definitely gets reflected in the way one's players perform and react on the field of play. A manager who disgraces himself not only disgraces his team, but also the sport as a whole!

  3. Ian Plenderleith replied, October 26, 2022 at 6:13 a.m.

    Douglas, your story with benching your boss's son reminds me of one of my favourite refereeing stories. I was reffing a soccer tournament on a stinking wet day at the Soccerplex in Maryland. With a minute to play, and with his team 1-0 down, a player slammed the ball into the grass in protest about a throw-in call. I not only yellow-carded him, I told him he'd now wasted the last minute of the game and nullified his team's chance of getting an equaliser while I was taking his name. After the game, the field marshal came with the form to sign off on the result. He was covered head to toe in protective rainwear so at first I didn't recognise him. Then I realised: "Bill?" Yes, he said, then he recognised me too - it was my wife's boss, and it was his son I'd just yellow-carded and lectured. We fell about laughing and he told me that he was in absolute agreement with the yellow card. Even better, a couple of years later his son joined the refereeing ranks!

  4. uffe gustafsson, October 22, 2022 at 8:47 p.m.

    R2 yes u correct but also the leagues as in nor cal don't punish or to my knowledge tell the coaches even though I left perfect notes on bad behavior. Only thing that one can do is never sign up for games that you know it's a bad coach and then they get no refs. But that also punish the other team.
    this exactly why refs leave and it's always a shortage of refs.
    until the league crack down and make these coaches the course of sideline behavior course every time they get called out. Besides many of these coaches have winning seasons and they attract players and parents to their teams.
    so they think that's part of the game.
    leagues need to listen to the ref reports and act on them.

  5. stewart hayes, October 23, 2022 at 11:01 a.m.

    I second those who believe it has to come down to the coaches to control their teams.  The truism 'you can't legislate an immoral society' applies here.  The refs can't do it if the coach has not established a culture of respect for the game and officials.  

    One way for coaches to do that is to ref scrimmages where for one half every whistle goes against one team no matter how absurd the call.  The second half the other team get the same treatment.

    Another way to innoculate players to poor decisions is to make them randomly during scrimmages.  The aim of course is for them to focus on what they can control immediately rather than whine about the poor calls.  Teams actually have a lot of fun when we do this.  

  6. R2 Dad replied, October 24, 2022 at 6:55 p.m.

    This is actually a brilliant idea--nonsensical calls force the players to observe refs/ball/players then react immediately to the new situation. Would be odd at first but then the players would get used to the process rather than the people.

  7. Ian Plenderleith replied, October 26, 2022 at 6:07 a.m.

    Stewart, I have done this too in training games - played the role of the ref who calls everything wrong. It's an excellent exercise in teaching restraint and, like you say, a lot of fun too.

  8. Ben Myers replied, November 17, 2022 at 8:37 p.m.

    Let's add that the leaders of soccer clubs, schools and leagues have an important role to play in coach behavior toward referees and the game writ large.  After all, they are the leaders responsible for slecting the coaches and trainers and for setting the behavioral tone of the organzation.

  9. schultz rockne, October 26, 2022 at 4:50 p.m.

    Following this very familiar thread through to 'adults' playing our sport at the highest level...a wonderful example of a coach who consistently exhibits the idiom 'sore loser' and often inspires his players to be as insolent (heavily seen in his Real Madrid-managing days)...just this past weekend--watch Mourinho as one of his players is confronting the referee after the final whistle--when he could/should be setting the tone and pulling his player away from the situation. The last of Ian's paragraphs could indeed assume a similar detail in the Italian ref's report.

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