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Officials Coaching During Games

Referees are all too familiar with coaches helping to officiate a game.  It is something that refs endure each season.

What happens when the roles are reversed and officials coach players and coaches during the game?

Some instructions like “Number 4, keep your hands off her!” and “ Coach, number 15 is about to get a card if you do not get him to settle down.”  “If you do not let go of his shirt, I will call it.”  “Captain, you better tell number 8 to watch his mouth!”

Is that type of instruction appropriate?  At certain levels of play, the answer is yes.  At other times, it is just as inappropriate as coaches helping the referees with officiating.

The practice of officials’ “coaching” during a game comes from two areas.  One is the desire to teach or help players, coaches, and parents learn the game.  The second is preventive officiating mechanics in which well-timed words can prevent an escalation of penalties and hostilities.

Teaching usually occurs when participants are generally new to the sport and vaguely familiar with the rules.  Some coaching goes a long way in helping newcomers learn and keeping the game under control in those games.  Parents, in particular, respond well to these calls as they help their children learn the game.  Instead of just calling a trip or push, a referee can explain that the push or trip, although unintentional, is still called a foul in this instance.

Problems arise when coaching by officials occurs during competitive matches such as high school, club, or college games where skilled players are involved.  Here, the less said, the better to avoid, or give the perception of, providing an advantage to one team or another.  Statements like; “I don’t want to see you grab her shirt again!”, “Get away from the goalkeeper!” or “Next time I’ll call the foul!” often will prompt players and coaches to ask:” Why are you instructing the other team?”  “Why don’t you just call the infraction?”

Even worse and simply unfair is when an official only warns the player from one team but, without a word of warning, cautions the player from the other team when they commit the same kind of infraction.

Four points to keep in mind when working games at the higher levels:

  1. The less said, the better. You can’t get in trouble for what you did not say.
  1. If you feel you must say something to prevent trouble later on, make it a private conversation as you pass by the player.
  1. If you need to go public, ensure that your comments address and apply to both teams.  “Gentlemen, the ball must be thrown in from the general location where it left the field.” “Questioning the calls made by the ARs will not be tolerated!”
  2. None of the above applies to a fight. You have three tools at that time: Your voice, Your presence, and Your whistle.
Pat Ferre

US YOUTH SOCCER (2021 Volunteer of the Year) USSF Referee Grade 15 Emeritus USSF Referee Instructor USSF Referee Assessor USSF Referee Assignor District-7 Youth Referee Administrator (DYRA)