Girls vs. Boys: Should they be refereed differently?

By Randy Vogt

A decade ago at the Long Island Junior Soccer League Convention, there were two panel discussions on whether there are any differences between girls and boys in youth sports. Successful youth soccer coaches spoke about the profound differences in coaching girls and boys, particularly that criticism of girls in particular need not go overboard as females tend to take criticism quite personally.

A few hours later, successful youth soccer referees had a separate panel discussion about whether there are any differences between officiating girls and boys. The overwhelming response was no. After all, whether girls or boys are playing soccer, the ball is round, the field is the same size and the rules are the same.

Which makes sense, although I disagree as there are real differences when refereeing the different genders. On the youth soccer level, I don’t believe there are any differences with the youngest players. The differences start to emerge at puberty.

Among females, there can be much more of an emotional connection to their teammates and to the social aspects of soccer. Females tend to consider a hard foul against a teammate as an attack against their entire team. And while males might retaliate quickly, females have long memories regarding rough fouls. A rough challenge with girls or women playing could come out of nowhere during what was a calm game but it could be retaliation for an incident even a couple of years before. I have seen this occur several times over the years.

I was even refereeing a futsal game and near the end of the game, one team was leading, 3-0. The losing team scored in the last minute and there was a great deal of celebration among teammates with a lot of players exchanging high fives. How odd since that team lost 3-1 when the final whistle blew a few seconds later.

When I asked the coach of the losing team why his team enthusiastically celebrated what appeared to be a meaningless goal (at least to the outcome of the game), he responded that they had played their opponent once before and his players thought the other team’s goalkeeper had acted like a jerk in that game. So they desperately did not want to be shut out by her.

This futsal league is very interesting as I referee the same squads on a weekly basis, unlike outdoor soccer, where I might see the same teams once or twice a year. So I get to know the tendencies of the futsal players. Among the boys, it will be that No. 10 blue is very sporting, No. 20 on green commits off-the-ball fouls and the red team’s GK gets frustrated when he gives up goals and tries to take it out on his teammates and the refs. Among the girls, I’ll need to be more aware of the interactions between players, such as the green and blue teams don’t like No. 9 red or that the yellow and purple teams really get along well with one another.

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.

We saw graphic evidence of that in that 2009 NCAA women’s playoff game between the University of New Mexico and Brigham Young. The first reaction to that video was “How could a young woman do that?” with the second reaction being “Why did the refs allow it?” If a man committed the same kinds of fouls, the video would not have been nearly as newsworthy and the main reaction would have simply been “Why did the refs allow it?”

Unfortunately, there are too many referees even today who do not take officiating females as seriously as when they officiate males. If you do not take any game seriously, do not be surprised if you wind up with a game control issue that most likely could have been prevented if you had been working hard.

(Randy Vogt has officiated over 8,000 games during the past three decades, from professional matches in front of thousands to 6-year-olds being cheered on by very enthusiastic parents. In his book, “Preventive Officiating” he shares his wisdom gleaned from thousands of games and hundreds of clinics to help referees not only survive but thrive on the soccer field. You can visit the book’s website at preventiveofficiating.com/.)

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Steven Mauricio is the State Referee Administrator
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