Refereeing In Different Systems

The youngest youth soccer players start out by kicking a smaller ball into a smaller goal on a small-sided field. By the time they have graduated to U-13 and often sooner, they are playing 11 vs. 11 with a No. 5 ball on a regulation field with goals that are 8 feet high and 8 yards wide. 

Small-sided games, with fewer players, smaller fields and shorter matches, would seem to be the perfect way to develop new referees. Except that some adults -- coaches and spectators -- can be nuts when their kids start out playing soccer. I know many experienced refs who are unenthusiastic about refereeing small-sided games or ask not to be assigned them for this very reason. 

When I ref younger kids, I often find adults who have no understanding of the rules whatsoever. These parents who never opened a rulebook or watched a soccer game other than their child’s somehow believe, unlike a generation ago, that they are authorities on the sport. They particularly do not understand the advantage clause. 

Most refs quit in their first two years of officiating with verbal abuse by kids’ parents being the No. 1 reason for quitting. 

Some clubs assign two new refs, one on each touchline, to referee their youngest intramural players. Although I am not in any way an advocate of the two-ref system, it is perhaps OK for these games as it gives a new ref, just a few years older than the very young players, a partner and a friend to officiate with. And with a much smaller field and fewer players, the problems inherent to the two-ref system are minimized. Yet the best solution for a new ref would be for an adult to watch him or her and keep control of the parents if needed. 

I started out refereeing U-10 intramural games in 1978 at the age of 16. I was paid $6 if I refereed the game alone (with club linesmen) and $4 if I refereed with a partner (a friend on my soccer team). After two years, I needed a new challenge so I graduated to refereeing the travel team Long Island Junior Soccer League, then started receiving phone calls shortly thereafter to ref men’s and women’s games. I refereed those games by myself back then but assistant referees were used in championship games. 

Refs who go from using club linesmen to having assistant referees often forget they have assistants. So the flag goes up for offside and seemingly everybody sees it except the ref. My way around this was when I cross the halfway line on my diagonal, I make a mental note which AR I should be looking toward. 

Any ref can see when an attacker is five yards or more offside. Refs who have done lots of games by themselves can also see many of the closer offside situations. This even helps when officiating with ARs as it can tell the ref what the AR is seeing, signaling and why. 

When referees go from being a ref to becoming an assistant referee, they often forget that they are to assist the referee and not insist. But perhaps the bigger problem are ARs who somehow think that what they are doing does not matter. I have heard people say, “I’m just an assistant referee” way too many times. It’s easy to recognize that poor attitude of the AR on the field and as a referee, I become quite concerned as one poor decision by the AR could have a dramatic impact on the game. I believe that I have enough to do without having to motivate the ARs too. It’s so much easier to officiate with the majority of ARs who do not believe that being an assistant is beneath them or who might realize that doing well is a springboard to being assigned as a ref. 

The comments by Soccer America readers to my last article indicate that slowly but surely, high schools are thankfully moving away from the two-ref system to one ref and two ARs. For the ref who wants to develop, it’s important to take every match seriously and officiate as many games as possible in the diagonal system. 

(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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