Refs: In the right spot, at the right time

By Randy Vogt

I have seen many soccer games when the referee made an important call — sometimes correctly, sometimes incorrectly — and loud dissent followed since the ref was 40 yards away from the play. Just as with phones, long-distance calling can be very expensive. The preventive officiating technique is to be fit enough and to hustle each game so that you are close to the play. Should the ref blow the whistle far from the foul, the ref needs to continue running toward the foul so it could look like he or she is closer to the foul than when the whistle was blown.

Teams are much more likely to dissent from referee decisions when the ref is far away than with the same decision when the ref is 5-10 yards from the ball. After all, presence lends conviction. 

Take a recent older girls youth soccer game that I was refereeing. Blue dominated play for most of the game but yellow scored two goals late in the second half to lead 2-1. A blue attacker, the left forward and the team’s best player that day, then dribbled up the touchline and when she was five yards inside the penalty area, there was some contact between her and the defender. But I was just five yards away and determined that a trip had not occurred. It would have been denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity if a foul had been whistled as well as a penalty kick for the penal foul. But because I was five yards away and the team was sporting, nobody argued the non-call and a player and the coach remarked after the game, a 2-1 loss, that they thought the game had been officiated very well. 

The referee’s diagonal that he or she runs goes from corner flag to corner flag. In nearly every game played in the United States, the diagonal is from the left forward’s position on one team to the left forward’s position on the opposing team. But I like to think that the referee’s positioning isn’t a diagonal as much as it is a modified version of a half-open scissor — corner flag to corner flag and penalty arc to penalty arc. The referee is not a slave to this positioning, but it is a rough guide to follow, especially for the newer referee. 

A rigid and inexperienced ref could run from corner flag to corner flag and miss a number of fouls by adhering exactly to this positioning. Worse, a lazy, unfit or fatigued referee will run from penalty arc to penalty arc and miss even more fouls as well as some of the assistant referee’s signals. 

In the games I have officiated plus observed recently at all levels, I’ve noticed that the referee has done a good or at least an adequate job when he or she can get to the left of the left forward on occasion and the ref did not officiate the game well when he or she was always to the right of the left forward. How interesting that a little extra amount of running can make the difference whether the game was refereed well or not. 

Getting to the left is important as fouls by the left touchline (near the corner flag and penalty area) should not be missed plus experienced players will know that the ref is there and watching them. Also, the ref will be facing toward the assistant referee and could see the AR’s signals clearly. Many of the AR’s signals for offside are missed when the ref is standing in the middle of the field, the ball is played to the left forward and the ref does not turn to look at the AR. When the ref is to the left of or even behind the left forward, this is not a problem. Plus I also believe that teams dissent less when they see that the ref is hustling.
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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

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Using Psychology In Soccer Officiating

Psychology – “The science that deals with mental processes and behavior.”

By Don Dennison, NISOA National Clinician, Maryland

Using Psychology In Soccer Officiating

I am sure that there was a time in the distant past when all that a referee needed was a solid knowledge of the rule book, a strong whistle and a good pair of legs.  Today’s collegiate referee needs something more; he needs to know what goes on in the players’ minds, he needs to have a knowledge of the tactics of the modern game, he must develop good technique in “people management” and he must know how to deal with what is called gamesmanship.  By having a basic knowledge of psychology as it pertains to the sport, the referee will be better able to deal with the players and coaches and to avoid unnecessary conflicts and confrontations.

Psychology in relation to soccer could easily be the subject of several volumes; this article will deal only with referee relationships with coaches and players and will give you some hints to assist you in people management.
RELATIONSHIP WITH COACHES: At the collegiate level, the salary and the tenure of the coach is often dependent on his/her winning record, so you can be assured that they will do all in their power to influence you if you allow them to do so.

Pregame: Be courteous and pleasant, but don’t overdue the pleasantries.  Never have too long of a discussion with one coach to the exclusion of the other one.  This doesn’t look right and creates an impression of favoritism.  When a coach tells you how glad he/she is to see you, because “most of the other referees during the season didn’t have any knowledge of the offside trap, which we use a lot”, the real intention is to gain your favor.  You might retort “What’s an offside trap?” in jest.
When you meet and greet the coaches, exude confidence and warmth.  First impressions are vital; be friendly but always business-like.

Physical Persona: Good eye contact is important; head up and look the coach in the eye; body posture should include shoulders back and head up, not slouched.  The tone and power of your voice convey a lot about you.  Not all of us are endowed with a radio announcer’s voice, but if possible try to lower your voice pitch and speak slowly, naturally and with authority.  The confidence of your walk creates a good impression if you keep your hands out of your pocket and don’t shuffle.  Of course when you meet the coach, don’t address him by his first name (address him as  “Coach”) and use a firm, but not overpowering handshake.

Always treat the coaches with respect and respond to reasonable inquiries when time permits.  Don’t get yourself involved in lengthy discussions, only answer reasonable questions.  Let your ARs handle coach dissent and any remarks that may be made about the officials if possible.  If they can’t handle this and need you to intercede, get your yellow (or red) card ready and use them.

RELATIONSHIP WITH PLAYERS: Every referee has his own personality.  Some can comfortably chat with players during the match, others should keep their mouths closed.  It is not improper to complement a player who makes a great shot or a goal keeper who  makes a spectacular save.  Everyone, including referees, enjoys a great play.

Control: “CONTROL” is the key word in player management. Don’t be hard-nosed, but let the players know exactly how much you are going to allow in the match.  Set the base line early on and then take appropriate action if the line is passed.
Players should never be threatened (“the next time that you do that, I’m going to show you a Yellow Card”).  Instead, tell the player as you run past him that you saw when he just did and to “knock it off”.  Those are some of the most effective words that you can use.  If the action is repeated, THEN use your cards.  Allow the players to make the decision to behave and stay in the match.
In the event that you have obviously missed a call and are reminded by a player that he was fouled, admit that you may have been looking elsewhere on the field but that you will keep an eye open for a recurrence.  Be HUMAN if you do make a mistake,  admit it and get on with the match.

Stay Calm: When everything else around you is in turmoil, make every effort to speak in a normal, not excited, tone of voice, do not get upset, maintain your composure and stay calm.  You have to be the calming influence on the field.

Showing Red and Yellow Cards: Try to move the offending player away from the crowd.  Have the player take a few steps with you and shoo the rest of the players away.  Don’t ever chase a player around the field, but meet him/her halfway.  Always be firm and do not allow other players to intercede.  Talk personally to the offender and make eye contact.  Tell her in a normal tone of voice what she has done wrong and that any further misconduct will lead to ejection.
Avoid intrusion into the player’s personal space (about 3 feet) and show the card above your own head, not her’s and then record it.  On awarding Red cards, no discussion is needed, just show the card, eject the player and record.  Get the match restarted quickly.  Once action begins, few players will stay around to argue about the call.  This is especially true on penalty kicks.  Note, however, that the Officials must first insure that the ejected player or coach must leave the field and here your Ars or Alternate Official can assist to speed up the process.

KEY STEPS TO PEOPLE MANAGEMENT: Basically, the official’s task is to control people.  To carry out this task efficiently, it is necessary to have some idea of the make-up and psychology of other people, to recognize types and to know what motivates them.  In any confrontation or discussion with either players or coaches:
-Establish eye contact,
-Identify the mood of the individual,
-Establish rapport,
-Convey your message calmly and plainly, and
-Declare completion (get the game going).
You are the one who sets the limits – stay calm – respect players and coaches – be human and above all, maintain control.
Practice the 5 C’s: Care, Compassion, Consideration, Control and Confidence.
The referee needs to be aware of the varied personalities of the participants with which he will be faced during play.  He must recognize symptoms of psychological instability and he must put himself in position where he can exercise a calming or, if needed, a disciplinary influence. Self-confidence in your own abilities is the single most important attribute in applying psychological techniques to soccer officiating.

Source:  Don Dennison, NISOA National Clinician, Maryland

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The art of refereeing solo

By Randy Vogt

The referee’s position is called a “diagonal,” which he or she runs goes from corner flag to corner flag.

Actually, a referee who strictly adheres to this diagonal will miss seeing a number of fouls. I like to think that the referee’s positioning isn’t a diagonal as much as it is a modified version of a half-open scissor — corner flag to corner flag and penalty arc to penalty arc. The referee is not a slave to this positioning, but it is a rough guide to follow, especially for the newer referee.

I remember refereeing a good youth tournament played at the Stadio Olimpico in Torino. On a rest day for me, I was able to watch the games from high in the almost empty stadium and saw a young ref, with potential, make the mistake of literally running from corner flag to corner flag, even if the ball was 50 yards away. He missed some fouls that would have been obvious to whistle if only he was closer to the play. You need not understand Italian to know that the coaches were unhappy with him.

Whether you are refereeing a game by yourself or with the use of assistant referees (ARs), use the half-open scissor as a rough guide for positioning.

Many youth referees start out officiating good games without the assistance of ARs. The great majority of my first 1,000 games were matches in which I was the only official assigned.

A coach once said to me, “Referees seem much more confident when they have assistant referees.” Well, of course! Just as the players on his team would be much more confident if they had a full team rather than a depleted squad.

When you are the only official, should many offside decisions need to be made (such as when one or two teams are playing an offside trap), you should stay a bit closer to the touchline than usual, thinking about how the ARs, standing just outside the touchline, signal for offside. The side of the field is the best position for calling offside. Yet if you stay too close to the touchline, you will be in a poor position to call fouls.

Club linesmen, usually the relative or friend of a player, will help you determine when the ball goes over the touchline. Tell them before the game, “Raise the flag only when the entire ball goes over the entire line. Do not give me the direction of the throw as I will determine it.”

They are not to signal direction as this can create a perception that they are cheating for the team they want to win. Make sure that you thank them both before and after the game as they are volunteering their time to help you.

No matter if the club linesmen say that they want to help you even more, even if a club linesman says that he or she is an international referee, the only responsibility of the club linesmen is to signal when the ball went over the touchline — not to raise the flag for fouls or for offside or when the ball went over the goal line.

Recently, I gave instructions to a club linesman to simply signal when the entire ball was over the entire line and he told me that he knew the rules as “I grew up in Cheshire, England, near Manchester.” And, contrary to what I had instructed, he raised the flag for what he thought was offside — when the opposing team had attackers in an offside position when the ball was passed but who were not actively involved in the play. I nicely told him to lower the flag, that I would not be using him for offside decisions. I’m glad that he knew the rules so well!

(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 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

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Why So Few Women Referees

By Randy Vogt

In her Youth Soccer Insider column on Aug. 15, Sarah Weld laments the lack of women coaches and refs in youth soccer. It’s an oddity that I’ve noticed and am concerned about as well. The book I authored, “Preventive Officiating,” is the only soccer referee book that I know of that uses the pronoun “she” as much as “he” to describe referees and has the same number of female soccer ref models as male ref models.

I cannot write with any great insight as to why there’s a lack of female coaches but would like to offer some reasons and remedies to have more women become and continue as referees.

The hierarchy of FIFA, the USSF and NCAA are all looking to promote good female referees to the highest levels. If the United States did not play in the Women’s World Cup final, chances are that American Kari Seitz would have been given the assignment. She and two American assistant referees, Marlene Duffy andVeronica Perez, wound up officiating the third-place game instead.

One of the referee organizations that I belong to, the Long Island Soccer Referees Association (LISRA), now has a female President,Cathy Caldwell. LISRA is way ahead of the United States in this regard as we had an African-American President, Barrington Lawson, a decade before Barack Obama was inaugurated.

Here are some ideas why females make up nearly 50 percent of soccer players in the United States but are very much still a novelty as referees:

Intimidation. As Sarah wrote, the great majority of youth soccer coaches are men and some of them will try to intimidate a female ref much more than a male ref.

“We lose female refs three times more frequently than male refs due to verbal abuse,” LISRA President Caldwell said. “When I first started, I refereed three games and could not take the abuse from the adults. I called up the assignor, Nanci Apostolides, and told her that I did not want to referee anymore but she convinced me to stick with it. More than a decade later, I’m still refereeing!”

“But just last weekend, I spoke to a women who had taken the referee course but chose not to referee due to the lack of respect and intimidation she witnessed by both coaches and parents,” she added.

I’m aware of some youth soccer coaches saying derogatory comments about a referee (they do not know) based solely on the gender or age of the ref to their players before the game. Do you think those players then will go onto the field and actually respect the ref?

“In addition, many male coaches are uncomfortable with a woman refereeing their games,” Caldwell added. “More than once, I have called a coach to get field directions and inform him that I am the referee for their game and there is a second or two of silence followed by an ‘Oh.’’’

Females tend to view soccer in more social terms than men. As a referee advances, he or she will officiate with other officials — one ref and two assistant refs. But generally the first games of a career are the boys U-7 intramural game or the girls U-10 travel team match that uses just one referee and two club linesmen (that the teams provide to help out). I’ve found that females are more excited to officiate with their friends than males. Years ago, as I was about to ref a girls U-15 game, I heard the girls talking with excitement about which of their teammates they would be officiating with in intramural games later that day. Unfortunately, that club was the exception as most intramural games are officiated by one ref. No matter your gender, refereeing by yourself can be very lonely.

“I ask the assignors to pair up the few women in the chapter with me as we have such a good time officiating together,” Caldwell commented. “When I work with other women I find an immediate bond.”

Lack of open bathrooms in youth soccer. Generally, the lack of bathrooms is not a problem for the female player who is playing one game a day or the female assistant referee who (at least on Long Island) is often officiating one game per day. But it’s a huge problem for the female ref who is refereeing 2-4 games per day. Take into account that the officials should be at the field 30 minutes before kickoff and a ref is often spending 5-6 hours at a soccer field.

So what do female refs do if there’s no bathroom? They’ve told me that they do not drink water at all, a very unhealthy choice, or take time between matches to drive to a building with a bathroom, delaying the next game.

The great majority of youth soccer games that I have officiated did not have a bathroom at the field. But the times, thankfully, are changing. Years ago, youth soccer was often played at schools (closed on weekends) and also sometimes at parks (with open bathrooms). Many youth soccer clubs now maintain their own soccer complexes with bathrooms. If they did not build a bathroom, they bring in a few port-a-potties, not a very good option for either gender, but particularly for women. I’ve never heard men talk about whether the port-a-potties are clean but it’s a frequent topic of conversation among women at soccer games.

Summarizing, if youth soccer clubs and leagues get rid of verbally abusive coaches and used their resources to have three officials for all games plus build and maintain bathrooms, the number of refs would increase but particularly on the female side.

(Randy Vogt has officiated over 8,000 games during the past three decades, from professional matches in front of thousands to six-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

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An Unusual Approach to the Ball for a Penalty Kick

This position paper was published by the U.S. Soccer Referee Education Resource Center on August 19, 2011

Recently, in an international friendly match between United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Lebanon (played on July 17, 2011), a penalty kick was called during which the kicker, upon hearing the referee’s signal for the kick to be taken, performed an unusual run to the ball. Just before reaching the ball, the kicker turned and then backheeled the ball into the net.

This event caused considerable debate within the officiating community regarding the propriety of such a move. Was it legal or did it violate Law 14? Did the kicker commit misconduct? If so, what was the status of the apparent goal scored and what should be the proper restart?

Following a vigorous debate, FIFA sources informed us that the kicker had not violated any requirement of Law 14 and therefore the goal scored was valid. In particular, the kicker had not performed a “feint” after completing the run to the ball and the action of the kicker in backheeling the ball was not contrary to the Law because there is no restriction in the taking of a penalty kick regarding which part of the foot can be used to perform the kick. It is presumed that the above decision and guideline would apply equally to a kick from the mark under the same circumstances.

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