Category Archives: Honoring the Game

When it’s OK to Yell at a Referee During a Youth Soccer Game


That should be the end of the post. It is that simple. But I know there are some out there that will say “Yeah, but what about…?” so I’ll do my best to explain why you don’t yell even when the What Abouts happen.

Before I go into some specific scenarios let’s try something.

What if…?

Imagine you are at a youth soccer game and the referee doesn’t show. One of the coaches approaches you and asks if you would be willing to ref the game. Says the other coach is OK with it and we’d just like to not have to cancel the game. We just want the kids to play. What would you say?

If you would say “No” there could be a variety of reasons. It could be that you are not confident in all the rules of the game. At the younger ages, there is only one ref so maybe you are unsure you would be able to keep your eye on every play. Or be able to make the right call from a potentially bad angle from a far distance. And what would be the reaction you’d expect from the coaches or the parents if you made the wrong call?

If you said “Yes” then that’s great! Not many will step up so you are the exception and a wonderful example. OK, so you are on the field, the game is going just fine, you see a foul and call it. You feel it’s a good call, but what if the coaches don’t agree with it, how should they treat you? The parents? What about if you call a foul and quickly realize it’s a bad call? How should they treat you then? Or let’s say that you aren’t perfect. What about the calls you aren’t making? How should the coaches and parents respond to your mistakes?

My guess is that if you let that scenario sink in a bit you will get why it is never OK to yell at, or openly criticize, the ref regardless of whether you are a coach, a player or a parent.

For those of you that are still saying “But what about…?” there are two scenarios where you are most likely to be dying to give the ref a piece of your mind.

The ref has it in for my team!

The first is where you feel the outcome of the game is being directly affected and not in your favor. Yes, that can be frustrating, but the fact is that the quality, background, experience and approach of referees at the youth level are highly variable. Some are good and some not so much.   Accept that fact and, regardless of quality, they all deserve your respect.

Remember you are setting the example for your players. They are kids and are learning what is acceptable, and what is not, by watching you. Instead yelling a few choice words at the ref with your best are-you-kidding-me? face, you need to switch your mindset in this situation because this is an excellent teachable moment on how to handle adversity.

  1. Do you really want to convey the message to your kids that it is OK to shout at someone when you disagree with them or you don’t get your way? Or worse – berate, antagonize, insult, ridicule or threaten?
  2. Take a page from the Positive Coaching Alliance and teach them to Honor the Game by using the ROOTS acronym. Respect the Rules, Opponents, Officials, Teammates and Self. Showing respect does not mean yelling at the ref from the sideline.
  3. Explain to the players that there are times in soccer, and life, were things just will not go your way. It is not fair, but it happens. Complaining about it does not change the outcome. You do not have control over other people’s actions, but you do have control on yours. Brush it off, dig down and give your best effort – that’s the only way things have a chance of turning around. Players show respect for Self by holding themselves to a higher standard. Players show respect for their Teammates by not embarrassing them by disrespecting the officials.
  4. Games are venues for learning. If you are focusing on developing your players as the priority, this is good way to teach some of the psychological skills they’ll need to compete at a higher level.

Concern over safety…

The second scenario is where you feel that the game is unsafe for your players.  Keep in mind that soccer is not ballet.  It is a contact sport.  There are times when your players are going to get knocked to the ground, get their foot stomped on, be shoved around, take a ball to the gut or head, be tripped and so on.

However there are games where, because the referee is systematically not calling blatant fouls, he or she is encouraging unsafe play to the degree where you feel it is just a matter of time before someone is injured.  Even still you need to Honor the Game.  There are better approaches.

Referees are going to call a game the way they call the game. Some are more lax.  Some are strict.  Some act like this is a World Cup Qualifier.  Some are “whatevs.”  Some will give your girls a pep talk and you’ll wonder if some have vocal cords at all.

However you can, and should, bring the awareness of safety as one of your top concerns. When speaking to the ref prior to the game, I always ask “Safety is one of my biggest concerns – what do you look for in the game to help make sure the kids are safe during the course of play?” I’m basically asking him how he’s going to keep my players safe on the pitch.  I purposely use the word “kids” or “children”, instead of “players”, because it helps put what I’m asking into stronger context.

If that doesn’t work and you find things are going from bad to worse in the first half, and you feel strongly that the calling is so severely sub par, with an extremely aggressive opponent, talk to the ref at half time.  Simply state that your concerned about the safety of the kids and it looks like there are a lot of late tackles, kids not pulling up when the keeper has the ball or whatever.  Then ask him what he’s seeing.  Don’t drive it into a debate.

When the second half is underway if the situation is still severe, or possibly getting worse, and the ref is completely incapable or unwilling to control dangerous play then calmly pull the team off the field and walk.  You are entrusted with the safety and well being of your players.  This is the way to keep that promise and send a message more powerful than yelling ever will.

The good news is that this the worst case scenario.  It should, hopefully, never come to this.

Let the parents know.

It is not enough that you and your players know what it means to respect the referee.  You need to tell the parents that you expect them to Honor the Game the same way, why it is important and explain how you will handle different situations.  This should be part of your parent’s meeting and reinforced if you feel it needs to be during the season.

Getting them on-board early will save you a lot of headaches.  Unfortunately many think that if a coach is silent during times like this it is a sign of weakness or ineptitude.  The truth is it’s easy to yell and blame the ref.  That takes no skill and it isn’t leadership.

Honoring the Game makes your job tougher, takes more guts and requires more hands-on coaching.  But it will teach your players powerful life lessons, make them stronger mentally, help them deal with adversity and teach them leadership skills that take them beyond the pitch.

1 Comment

Filed under Game Day Coaching, Honoring the Game