Ref Watch: Advice to coaches from a referee's perspective

With spring seasons getting underway, here are a few things I'd like to see from coaches.

1. Substitute sensibly — and wear a watch.
I would think keeping track of the game time is requisite for coaches, yet I'm amazed at how often I hear a coach's scream for substitution with a minute left in the half. Imagine it from the child's point of view: the disappointment of playing only a few seconds before the half ends, or not getting on the field as time runs out after the anticipation of thinking they're about to get some playing time. And even during the game, frequent subbing, as opposed to target substitutions, say at the 15-minute mark of a 30-minute half, creates constant stoppages, contributes to frantic play, and denies kids of a real soccer-playing experience. 

2. Respect kickoff times.
Not sure if this because the coach isn't wearing a watch or because they enjoy lecturing so much, but hardly a game goes by when I don't need to blow the whistle several times before the coach sends their players onto the field for the kickoff, especially for the second-half kickoff. This happens even at youngest ages when their attention spans could hardly be suited for lengthy speeches.

3. Don't scream for offside calls.
If coaches are watching the games from the area where they're permitted to stand or sit, they almost never have a decent view of the attackers and defenders' positioning when the ball is played. At worst, their screams rile up parents and players. And if the scream comes before the official does make the call, it can make it seem like they reacted to the scream, which encourages the opponent's coach to start yelling for calls.

4. Read the rulebook, please!
Coaches' dissent on some handball calls, screams that their player "got the ball" or that a throw-in is illegal because the ball spins are just some signs that the coaches probably haven't read the rulebook. Knowing the rules — a small ask of coaches — also enables them to educate their players on them.

5. Understand the refs' challenge
Professional referees at the highest level, even with the help of video review, make mistakes. Anyone who follows high-level soccer, from World Cups to the EPL and Champions League play, is aware of weekly debates about the officiating. That should be enough to demonstrate it highly unreasonable to expect perfection on the youth soccer fields of America. All it takes for a referee to miss a foul is to have their view blocked for a split second. We can't call what we don't see.

6. Beware of blaming the ref
To blame the referees gives their players an excuse for losses instead of focusing on improving their play. Done abusively, it contributes to the referee shortage and sadly, as we see too often in the news, it can ignite violent situations.

7. At least act like you're enjoying yourself.
Sadly, I am frequently tempted to ask coaches after a game whether they even like being involved soccer and whether they enjoy being around kids. That's because of the angry and frustrated body language coaches display on the sidelines and the serious and harsh tone of their voices. Surely, if I notice that, then so do the children, who deserve playtime without the intrusion of grumpy adults. And it should be pretty obvious that children are more likely to excel in the sport if they're allowed to explore it without fear of adult disapproval.

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Ref News USA

Frank Anderson, who recently retired from 18 years of officiating in MLS, is the new Manager of Senior Assistant Referees of PRO. Earlier this month, PRO promoted Mark Geiger to General Manager, succeeding Howard Webb. Alan Kelly has stepped into the Director of Senior Match Officials role Geiger had served since 2019.

At the FIFA World Club Cup in Morocco, American Kathryn Nesbitt ran the line for Wydad vs. Al Hilal and served as Offside VAR for both of Real Madrid's games, semifinal and final.

At the Concacaf U-17 Championship in Guatemala, American Joseph Dickerson, refereed Guatemala-Mexico, Panama-Cuba and Mexico-El Salvador. Victor Rivas whistled Guatemala-Panama and Costa Rica-Jamaica. AR Jose Da Silva rans the lines for Guatemala-Panama and Costa Rica-Jamaica.

The USA's 2023 FIFA Panel, nominated by the U.S. Soccer Referee Committee and accepted by FIFA, has been finalized and is comprised of 13 referees, 17 assistant referees, 10 VARs and a futsal referee — who are considered the USA's top officials: The 2023 FIFA Panel for the United States (bios).

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Refereeing in Soccer America and around the web

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

1USA's top ref Mark Geiger on leading PRO, the abuse problem, and the increasing demand for experienced officials By Mike Woitalla

2What is the 'spirit' of soccer? And where can I find it? By Ian Plenderleith

3Why FIFA match officials are using microphones at Club World Cup in 2023 By Kyle Bonn, Sporting News

4Italy’s referees punish more dark-skinned players than light — say it could be linked to crowd pressure By James Tapper, The Guardian

5Hundreds of amateur referees to wear body cams after spate of attacks By Benny Torre, Express UK

6Referee abuse: Hundreds tell of safety fears at grassroots level By Frank Keogh, BBC Sport 

Photos: Mike Woitalla &


11 comments about "Ref Watch: Advice to coaches from a referee's perspective".
  1. Mike Lynch, February 28, 2023 at 10:49 p.m.

    Thanks for sharing Mike. Good advice for coaches but for also to create a better sporting environment that may help retain more refs as we are facing a looming critical shortage ... no refs, no games.

  2. Ben Myers, February 28, 2023 at 10:51 p.m.

    Well said, Mike. Coaches do not need to memorize the LOTG, but some familiarity ought to be mandatory.  With all the other hoops a coach needs to jump through to become a credentialed coach, LOTG gets short shrift.

    Way back when I was president of a grassroots league, we had a gym full of coaches who watched two youth players demonstrate the various physical fouls.  The kids had fun, the coaches laughed and learned something.

    The abysmal behavior of parents and coaches contributes to the staggering loss of young referees after one season, sometimes even after a single game of abusive treatment. Soccer leagues and soccer clubs need more initiatives with some teeth to tone down the poor treatment of referees. Field marshalls properly empowered at multi-field sites would help, and yes, they need to be paid for their work. 

    This is an age-old problem, but it seems that leagues and clubs do not have enough guts to deal with it well.

  3. Kent James, March 1, 2023 at 1:12 a.m.

    Coaches should also remember that if they're focused on the referees, their players will follow their lead, and focus on refs instead of on playing. Teams play better when they are not focused on the performance of the referee.

  4. Dan Woog, March 1, 2023 at 5:39 a.m.

    I'm a coach, not a referee, but I'm often appalled at the actions of my colleagues.

    I always wished an official could turn around after being berated and said, "Coach, I may have missed that one, but it's nowhere as bad as that substitution you just made. What were you thinking?!"

  5. Bob Ashpole replied, March 2, 2023 at 3:55 a.m.

    Every coach is a referee. Do you call an assigner for your training sessions or handle them yourself? How can a coach train players if they don't know the LOTG?

  6. Randy Vogt, March 1, 2023 at 11:24 a.m.

    Mike, these are all very good points! What I find is every once in awhile, I'm assigned the World Cup final which is posing as a youth soccer game. Because from the opening whistle, the coaches and parents have taken this game way too seriously. Maybe it's for first place, maybe it's a rivalry and maybe it is a coach's ego. And when the so-called "adults" are acting like that, the kids stop acting like kids and start committing deliberate fouls and trying to yell at the ref. And this hurts everybody at the match as the best-played youth games are the ones where the players are feeling little if any pressure and are not being yelled at.

  7. R2 Dad replied, March 1, 2023 at 5:34 p.m.

    Precisely, Randy. I stopped reffing tournaments because the Sunday 2nd/3rd game turned competitive team coaches into flaming a-holes. I remember my own kid's coach getting ejected from a state cup match. He was the only registered club representative (there could only be one in the technical area because his ego was so big) so the team forfeit the match, leaving all the kids in tears. Well done, grownups.

  8. Bob Ashpole replied, March 2, 2023 at 4:09 a.m.

    My favorite story--in the 1980s I was assigned a house 6-year-old game. We took breaks at the quarters so coaches could make subs without pressure. Right before the break a coach's son took a penalty kick but touch the ball twice. I stopped play and awarded a goal kick. When the break ended the son wanted to retake the penalty kick. Apparently the coach confused goal kicks and penalty kicks and spent the entire break giving the kids instructions for a "do-over". The coach came on the field without permission, yelled at me for not allowing his son a "goal kick" do-over, and then called his team over and marched to the parking lot with them because I was biased against him.

    The irony was that this was my son's team. The coach was clueless in more ways than one. 

  9. Thom Meredith, March 2, 2023 at 8:13 a.m.

    Not sure this is still the case since l've been out of the game for a while but the USA's A coaching license used to have a unit in its syllabus for the LOTG but it was eliminated since someone felt that more important things to cover. Not surprising eh?? Great piece. Let's cc: spectators too. 

  10. Bob Ashpole replied, March 2, 2023 at 5:33 p.m.

    Actually candidates for an A license are expected to already know the LOTG. At one time candidates were required to obtain a referee certification which entailed actual experince as an official.

    For that matter every coach should know the LOTG even if they have no coaching license. Otherwise, it would be like someone who doesn't drive training student drivers.

    How do you teach charging, shielding and marking without understanding what is fair play? How do you teach proper throw-ins? Not to mention restarts. In an adult match I was upset because I made a great run that would have put me through 1v1 with the keeper, but my team mate didn't throw me the ball. I asked him why he didn't and he told me because I was in an off-side postion. Duh! Turned out half my team agreed with him. That is 50% of the experienced adult players didn't understand what an offside position was.

  11. stewart hayes, March 2, 2023 at 4:19 p.m.

    Good advice Mike.  It's sad, however, that many youth coaches still have so little understanding of what it takes to get the most out of their teams.  The last thing the athletes need is a coach who is out of control, trying to talk the team to victory when it is clear for all to see that the problems are much too great for that to have any affect.

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