December 15, 2014
Ref, Can we talk?

By Mike Woitalla (from Soccer America's Youth Soccer Insider)

Among the feedback we got from last week's column on referee abuse were those who pointed out that sometimes coaches do feel a legitimate need to communicate with the referee -- especially when the coaches believe their players' safety is at risk.

I have over the years asked experienced refs: What's a reasonable way
for coaches to express their grievances to refs?

"It's basically down to approach and attitude. All referees are happy
to talk about the game at any convenient moment. A friendly approach
and polite comment or question will draw a similar response."

That came from Stanley Lover, the renowned international referee,
instructor, and author of several officiating books, who died in 2013.

I had given Lover the following scenario: What to do if their No. 6 is
throwing elbows at your No. 10?

Lover suggested the coach say, "A nice match, referee, but that young
Blue No. 10 is near to tears because of the rough play of the Red No.
6, particularly her flying elbows." Enough said, the ref has got the

Lover stressed that coaches be aware of their body language: "An
aggressive movement; a menacing stance; a thrusting scowling face; a
sharp accusing question, will put the official on the defensive and
not invite an answer which satisfies either party."

Mark Butler of the National Intercollegiate Soccer Officials
Association told me:

"If there is a genuine concern, especially in the area of protecting a
player, it is acceptable to speak to the referee. It's all about the
approach. It's not screaming, or getting personal. ... The approach
should not be confrontational, boisterous, demonstrative -- and the
discussion should not be prolonged."

Brian Hall, former World Cup ref and four-time MLS Referee of the
Year, warned of a halftime talk when I queried him in a 2010 article:

"If a coach talks to the ref at halftime," Halls says, "what will the
other coach or the spectators think?"

Hall suggested a quiet word with the assistant referee on the near
side. A coach could say, in a positive manner, "Maybe you guys can
discuss that at halftime ..."

Also acceptable, said Hall, is if the referee comes near the coach
during the game -- perhaps at a throw-in or a free kick near the
sideline -- and the coach asks the referee to keep her eye out on
something, "in a professional, controlled, positive manner."

(Hall also strongly advocated coaches providing feedback on referees
to the league's assignors -- and not just when it's a complaint.)

Randy Vogt, the author of "Preventive Officiating" and Youth Soccer
Insider ref columnist, does believe halftime can be an appropriate
time for a coach to approach the referee at the youth level:

"The coach should then tell the opposing coach what was said so the
opposing coach does not believe his/her team is being accused of
anything. If both coaches believe the ref needs to call more fouls,
they can both approach the ref at halftime."

Everyone agrees coaches must not approach in anger.

"The coach needs to be calm throughout the conversation," says Vogt.
"Coach could say something like, 'I realize that you are trying your
best but there have been fouls that have not been whistled, the
challenges have become more robust because of this and I'm fearful
that somebody is about to get hurt. Could you please start calling
more fouls on both teams? I believe that would serve this game well.'

"The important thing is to ask for more fouls being whistled on both
teams. Otherwise, the ref could think that the coach is more
interested in winning the game than the safety of the players
especially if the coach says something like, 'Call more fouls on the
other team as they are a bunch of dirty players who are coached that
way!' That's definitely the wrong thing to say and only exacerbates
the situation."

If the situation occurs in the second half or early in the game, Vogt
suggests that in the older youth groups, the coach should ask the
captain to communicate the coach's concerns with the same civility he
recommends for the coaches.

If the kids are young and the coach cannot rely on a captain for
communication, Vogt aggrees with Hall that when play is near the bench
the coach can attempt to convey a message to the ref -- in a calm,
concise manner.

"The important thing is for the coach or captain to be pleasant and
the ref to receive the impression that he/she is more concerned about
the safety of all the players than simply winning the game," says