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You Don’t Coach the Referees

by Rodney Kenney
After both coaching and refereeing for the last 30 years I think I am qualified to speak to the issue of the referees’ impact on the game of soccer.

In 99% of all the soccer matches I have seen or been involved in, the referee actually had no effect on the outcome of the match. The bottom line is the team who scored the most goals won the match. Even if the only goal was on a penalty kick given by the referee. The question there is, how did the other team, who couldn’t even score one goal, expect to win the match anyway?

Coaches give the referees too much credit for the outcome of the game, and accept little, if any, responsibility for their own lack of preparation, and player discipline. Contrary to popular belief, it is not the referees’ job to discipline the players that’s the coaches’ job.

I take offence at coaches that say they are so much better trained then the referees. I spent many more hours on soccer specific training to be a referee in all levels then I ever did to coach those same levels. I don’t believe I am the exception.

As I see the problem, good coaching and good refereeing are both an art form and not a science. That is why everyone has an opinion of who’s a good coach or referee, because they are such abstract skills. It may surprise coaches to learn that referees often ask the same questions about them as coaches ask about referees, such as; “How did he/she ever get to coach at this level.” “Why do they let him/her continue to coach?”

A very serious mistake that many coaches make is to tell the players after a loss that: “If it wasn’t for the referee we would have won that game”. A coach, who blames his/her losses on the referee, and concentrates on the referees’ actions during the game and not their teams, is missing things that could help his/her team improve in the next game. In your next practice, you will not get a chance to work on correcting the mistakes the referee made in your last game. You will however, be able to work on the problems your team had in the last game. When you dwell on the referee as a scapegoat it gives your players the impression that they don’t need to improve since it was the referee’s fault they lost the game.

I have seen teams go for years looking for that elusive winning referee.

Referees make mistakes, but I contend that if each player only made the amount of mistakes the referee made in a game, you would never lose another game. You don’t coach the referee, so it’s time to forget the referee as part of your training requirements, and get on with the hard work of practicing the skills and tactics necessary to become a better team.

And at the end of all of this you still think you could do a better job then the referee, come join them, there is a shortage of referees at all levels.

Rodney Kenney

Rodney’s soccer coaching experience began in 1978 coaching a youth team his son played on. From 1978 until 1990 he coached many boys’ teams from age 8 to 19. In 1991 he became the head coach of the KAOS women’s amateur team and the Orange Park High School women’s team in Florida. Rodney led the Orange Park High School women to 7 district championships, 10 regional appearances, two regional championships, and two final four appearances. His record in eleven years at Orange Park is 245 wins and 48 losses. As the head coach of the amateur women’s team KAOS form 1990 to 1998 he had a record of 112 wins and 26 loses, including a Sunshine Games championship, four Low country tournament championships, three time State Cup finalist, and numerous 7 aside championships. In 1997 he was named the interim head coach of the University of North Florida women’s soccer team, and under his direction the second year team won 12 and lost 7. Contact Rodney Kenney at