Should Refs Adjust Their Style to Fit the Players?

By Randy Vogt

Most youth soccer referees quit within the first couple of years of officiating with verbal abuse by kids' parents being the No. 1 reason for quitting. But if they can get through those critical first two or three years, refs will develop a reputation and style, both of which will evolve over the years. 

My style as a ref is to call fouls a bit more conservatively than many of my colleagues but to try to play the advantage clause as much as possible, in part so the game will have a nice flow to it. With most fouls, I am looking to see if the player can play through the foul. 

Yet it’s extremely important that I communicate that I’m playing the advantage to help prevent retaliation. The signal being both verbally by yelling “Play on!” and physically by extending the arms with an upswept gesture, starting with a position below the waist and brought up to shoulder level. I will often even briefly tell the fouled player afterward that I saw the foul and played the advantage plus sometimes speak to the player who did the fouling as well. 

During the recent college season, I noticed many teams who I officiated were adjusting their play to fit the amount of contact that the officials allowed. Certainly on the pro level, the players are aware what that ref will allow and will not. It will be nice when more and more youth teams adjust their play to fit the way the game is being officiated. 

So if teams are adjusting their play to the officials, should the officials adjust the way they are calling the game to the teams? My answer is certainly, especially if the ref can sense during the game that there is broad agreement between the teams within the Laws of the Game as to what is a foul and what is not. 

I still have the superb “Fair or Foul?” book, which helped me develop as a ref at the beginning of my career. Authors Larry and Paul Harris use nine cartoons on the different types of referees. The Facilitator is a happy man with a halo over his head and wearing a badge that says “Goody Two Shoes.” According to the cartoon, the Facilitator calls fouls commensurate with the level of play, covers every inch of grass on the field (if necessary), is flexible, prevents problems before they occur, is respected by the coaches plus compliments and complements his linesmen. 

Try as I might, it’s too bad that I was not the Facilitator during a recent high school game as I misread a bit what the players wanted. Two skilled teams were playing and there was not anything going on from a discipline standpoint so the officiating crew let the teams play. Any dissent, and it was a little at first, came from the perception that a foul should have been whistled. There was no dissent at all after fouls were given. There was little interest in playing through the foul except when the fouled player was right near the opponent’s penalty area. 

I should have whistled a few more fouls and played the advantage less as that’s what both teams wanted. In the second half, there were two cautions -- for dissent as well as for unsporting behavior when a player showed little interest in playing the ball. If I had read that game correctly, I believe that both cautions would not have been necessary. 

(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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