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Making a Good First Impression

       Know the Laws: Success begins by being prepared

Read and know the Laws of the Game and work to learn the correct interpretations.

Know the generally accepted mechanics approved by the USSF and found in the Guide to Procedures for Referees, Assistant Referees and 4th Officials. You should have received this booklet in your entry level course.

Know the local Rules of Competition.

  • Length of halves for each age group. U-6: 20 min – split into two quarters, U-8: 20min, U-10: 25min, U-12: 30min, U-14: 35min, U-16: 40 min, U-19: 45 min.
  • LEARN the U-6 rules…they are different. 
  • Size of ball (3, 4, or 5)
  • Number of players (4×4, 7×7, 9v9, and 11v11)
  • Substitutions (anytime play is stopped or “possession”)
  • Penalty kicks or no penalty kicks
  • Direct free kicks allowed or only indirect free kicks (U-6 through U-10)
  • Offside, no offside (U-6 through U-10)
  • What you do with the game report
  • Uniform requirements (players and keepers)

As an inexperienced referee, you will not make all the right decisions. You will learn from experience and from working with more experienced referees. 

Dress and Act Professional

If you expect to command respect (one element of game control) on the field, then you must look and act like a professional.

Approach the game in a way that shows you are looking forward to being there and being a part of the game.

Dress for success – wear the proper USSF uniform with your referee jersey tucked in and your socks pulled up. Do not role the top of your referee shorts outward.

Do not wear your referee uniform outside the referee area. Never goof around, kick the soccer ball around or act inappropriate while wearing this uniform.

Take Charge

Taking charge does not mean yelling and acting like a dictator (which is abuse of power).

Greet each coach with a firm handshake, a smile and look each coach in the eyes.

Issue firm, but simple instructions to the players so they know you are capable of managing the game.

Check the teams in by calling each player’s name on the roster. U-11 and above have player’s passes. Each must be checked against the names on the roster.

Give each team a rehearsed “pre-game” talk explaining what you expect.

Call for Captains to do the ceremonial “coin toss”. The winner chooses which end they would like to attack. The coin-toss looser gets to kick-off beginning the match.

Start the game on time.

What You Need to Have

An approved USSF referee uniform. The yellow shirt is the primary jersey color for referees so it should be the one jersey you purchase right away. If you are only getting one jersey, then buy the short sleeved one. You can add the long sleeve jersey later. Once you have more game experience, you should add one of the alternate color jerseys, such as green. You do not need to buy all the different colored jerseys right away. However, if you advance as a referee, then you will need to add the alternate colors over the next few years.

Solid black referee shorts or black shorts with the USSF Referee logo on the leg.

Black socks with three white stripes at the top or the USSF referee logo on the top. Socks should always be pulled up to your knees and not bunched down around your ankles.

Your current year USSF badge on the left shirt pocket of your jersey.

You may need your 16 digit USSF identification number for tournaments. You will find this number on the ID card you receive in the mail after you have taken the course and registered. You will get a new card each year, but the number will always be the same. If you need your ID number before you receive your card, please contact your area referee administrator or your SRA.

A referee bag that should contain the following:

  • A watch with stopwatch functions – two watches are preferred, one for starting and stopping and one for keeping a running time in case you forget to start the first one.
  • Two Pens/pencils,
  • Notebook
  • Red and yellow cards
  • Tossing coin
  • Whistles – always have an extra in your bag
  • Flags for the Assistant Referees
  • Cold weather gear when the time of year makes it necessary
  • Street shoes and dry socks
  • A large plastic trash bag (to put your ref bag inside in case of rain)
  • Sunscreen (don’t forget to wear it)
  • Snacks (energy bars are great!) if you are going to be doing more than one game.
  • Water – don’t forget to bring water.

What You Need to Do

You should arrive at the referee building at least 30 minutes prior to your first game. Early is better.

If you don’t drive, make sure you have made arrangements for someone to pick you up to take you home.

Bring change for emergency telephone calls or a cell phone, as well as the telephone number of your assignor and club contact.

Pre-Game Responsibilities: Inspect the Field

Look for holes or depressions that could cause twisted or broken ankles and see if holes can be filled. All rocks, twigs, debris on the field should be removed.

Nets should be securely fastened to the goal posts and netting pulled back so as not to interfere with the goalkeeper.

Goal posts must be securely anchored to the ground. Sandbags on the frame towards the rear are acceptable. Posts don’t have to be in the ground, but they must be anchored.

Corner flags are in place and are not dangerous to players (at least 5 feet high).

Entire field is properly lined. (U-8 fields have a blue line. Find out why!)

If anything is needed, the home team is responsible for fixing field problems.

Any issues with the field should be noted on the game report.

Check in the Players:

  • Home team players/coaches should be checked first but it’s not a requirement. You should start with the team that appears to be most ready for inspection.
  • Make sure that all jewelry, earrings, watches, etc. are removed. Medical ID must be taped to the player’s chest or taped to the wrist with the info showing. (Earrings must be removed. Covering them with tape or band aides does not make them legal.)
  • All players must wear shin guards and socks must be pulled over shin guards.
  • Player’s shirts are to be tucked in.
  • Check in players and coaches as per the requirements and the Rules of Competition for that league. U-11 and above have players passes that must be checked.

The Game: Assistant Referee

Pay close attention to the referee during the pre-game conference. If you don’t understand something the referee is saying, ask for clarification.

Make sure you understand what the referee wants you to do in managing substitutions, how long to hold the offside signal, etc.

Hold the flag in the proper hand. The flag should be held in the hand closest to the referee. Referees usually run a left diagonal, which means the flag will be in your left hand most of the time.

If you turn sideways to walk up or down the field, switch hands with the flag as necessary so the flag is field side and the referee can see the flag clearly. The flag should always be switched hand to hand in front of you, below your waist, and not above your head.

Make eye contact with the referee as often as possible throughout the game when you are not watching for offside or attending to other AR duties.

Stay even with the second-to-last defender (remember – the goalkeeper is usually the last defender, but not always); this positions you to make accurate offside decisions.

Follow the ball all the way to the goal line so you’ll be in position to see if the ball completely (even just barely) crosses the goal line. Following the ball to the goal line each time is an excellent habit to get into.

When you’re running a line, side-step so you stay square to the field as much as possible. This position allows you to continue to see the field and players. When you need to sprint to the goal line to follow play or the ball, then you will run in a normal sprint, while watching the field.

Run to the corner flag, or close to it, when signaling for a goal kick or corner kick. Raising your flag yards away from the corner flag or goal line not only calls attention to the fact that you not in the correct position to make that decision, but also carries with it the idea that you are either lazy, or you don’t care enough about the game to be in the proper position to make the call.

When signaling for a ball that is clearly off the field across the touchline, point your flag in the direction the throw-in will be taken (not straight up); this is very helpful for the referee in making a decision on which team last touched the ball and which team should be awarded the throw-in.

Assist the referee in making sure the throw-in is being taken from the correct spot by pointing with your free hand to where the player should be standing when taking the throw-in. Be proactive, don’t wait for the player to make a mistake, help them get it right.

The Game: Referees

        You will probably do more games as an AR at first, but when you are assigned as a referee, remember to             conduct a pre-game with your ARs. Tell them what you would like them to do in various situations, such               as throw-ins, free kicks, goal kicks, etc. and make sure they understand what you are asking from them.

Review offside and make sure the ARs have a clear understanding of the Rules of Competition for the league in which you are working.

Be aware of your position on the field. It’s tough enough to properly call a soccer match when you are on top of the play. It’s impossible to make correct decisions when you stay close to or within the center circle. Even when officiating at the small-sided game level, get in the habit of being in the proper position and working hard.

At first, you may have to remind yourself to lift the focus of your vision from the ball and the legs of the players so you learn to take in the whole area of active play. It is normal for new referees to have to make this conscious effort to lift their eyes. Once you are more experienced, it will be instinctive for you to see a large area of play if you condition yourself to do this from the beginning.

Always think about your positioning – you should know why you are where you are. What do you gain by being in this position?

Maintain good eye contact with your ARs throughout the game. A good habit to get into is to make eye contact with your ARs on every dead ball situation.

If you are working a game alone, remember to appoint club linesmen to help you out with balls in and out of bounds. Club linesmen cannot call offside or fouls, so this means you have to work extra hard in the middle and concentrate to make sure you are covering offside on both sides of the field. You will have to adjust your diagonal accordingly when working alone so you are where you need to be. You should ask for a club linesman from each of the teams, rather than two from the same team.

Make your hand signals clear; point the direction with a straight arm.

Blow clear and sharp whistles. Learn how to make your whistle “”talk”” for you.

Use the whistle to communicate control. Too many newly certified referees make a call with barely an audible “tweet” which tells everyone on the field that you are unsure of yourself. On your first call, give the whistle a firm blast and confidently point in the direction of the play. A firm whistle will eliminate 50 percent of the arguments. Vary the strength of your whistle depending on the infraction – for a serious foul, blow the whistle very loudly.

Be decisive in your calls; players and coaches may try to take advantage of the situation if you seem unsure.

Run the diagonal system of control when you have ARs assigned with you. The most accepted diagonal system is from the right corner to the left corner – referees refer to this as a “”left diagonal””.

If you do not have ARs assigned and you need to use spectators as linesmen, ask them to only indicate when the ball has completely crossed over the touchline or goal line, and not the direction the throw or whether it is a goal kick or corner kick. That is your decision. Remember that ball in and out of play is the only thing they can call as club linesmen.

At half time and after the game, review all the results (number of cards, scores for each team and any incident that occurred, as well as the information required to be reported by that particular league) so your game report is accurate.

Dealing with Problem Coaches

        Set the ground rules – be proactive

  • Show them where the team and the coaches will be seated. Make sure they understand that they must stay in that area.
  • If there is more than one coach, ask which coach will be giving instruction to the players and who will be asking for subs.

Don’t let the coaches intimidate you.

Be confident in your knowledge of the Laws of the Game and Rules of Competition.

Remain calm. If someone is hollering at you, don’t yell back at them. Speak respectfully and quietly, so the coach must quiet down to hear you.

Do not take someone yelling at you personally. It happens to all referees, even the most experienced.

However, once the coach steps over the boundaries of the game and begins to make his comments personal or abusive, you must deal with it. Slowly and calmly walk over to the coach. In a polite and respectful way, inform the coach that this type of conduct is unsporting and continuing with this type conduct will result in his or her removal from the game. If the behavior continues – respectfully and professionally ask the coach to leave. If the coach refuses to leave, give the coach a warning that if he or she does not leave, you will end the game. If the coach does not leave in a reasonable amount of time (approximately 30 – 60 seconds), end the game. Be sure to file a very detailed report with the league so there is a good understanding of why the game was ended early.

Dealing with Problem Players

Make your presence known from the moment you walk on the field – that way players know you are in charge. Stand tall, look  people in the eye and smile confidently. Have your pre-game questions down – introduce yourself even if you have worked games with the same coaches before, solicit copies of the rosters, get the game ball from the home team and check it out, check in players. (Do not tell players how you are going to call the game and what you are going to call and not call. This can cause you major problems in the game.) Doing these game management things confidently will carry over into the game.

Remember to blow the whistle with confidence, even if you are not feeling so confident and use decisive signals with straight arms.

If you have a difficult player dissenting or doing something else to disrupt the game, at a stoppage of play, issue a caution to them and let the player know that kind of behavior is unacceptable. If the player still insists on being difficult, use a well delivered warning to let them know that you have just about reached the limit of what you are going to take. It is often helpful to let the coach know this particular player is wearing out their welcome and the team may soon be playing short. Give the coach a short period of time (approximately 30–60 seconds) to correct the situation. If the bad behavior continues, issue a second caution and then a send-off (red card). Remember that the proper procedure for this is to display the second yellow card and then the red.

Remain calm when talking to players, but be firm in your voice and your decisions. Do not yell at players and never use foul or abusive language no matter what they are saying to you. Speak softly so the players must quiet down to hear you.

Listen to what players are saying. Allow them to vent for a few seconds before calling it dissent. You might find out about fouls you are missing, or there may be something else going on that can be easily corrected. This tactic also lets the players know you are willing to listen up to a certain point. This type of exchange should not go on often in a game and should not last for more than a few seconds. If it goes on longer, you must deal with it. The more experience you have as a referee, the easier it is to set boundaries and to know when and where to set them.

Dealing with Problem Parents

Remain calm.

Do not get into discussions or arguments with the sidelines.

Report any misbehavior on the part of the spectators in a misconduct report to the league so that this type of behavior can be disciplined and stopped. Most leagues and state associations have methods for dealing with bad behavior, but doing so often requires a written report from the referee.

Enlist the support of the coach. Ask him to speak with the offending spectators, and let him know that if the behavior continues, the game will not. This will usually be enough to quiet most parents, but not all.

If you have asked the coach to deal with problem parents and the situation continues, ask the coach to have the spectator leave the area. If the spectator refuses, tell the coach that if the spectator is not removed, the game will end. Give the coach a reasonable amount of time (approximately 30–60 seconds) to deal with the situation. If the parent does not leave, you should feel free to end the game. Be sure you file a complete written report with the league so that there is a clear understanding of why the game was terminated. The league must have a written report in order to take any follow-up disciplinary action.

How Do Referees Improve?

        To be a good referee, you must continue to learn and improve with every game.

Experience is the best teacher and confidence builder.

The more games you do the more comfortable and confident you’ll be.

If something occurs in a game and you aren’t sure if you made the correct decision, go back to the Laws of the Game, Q & A and Advice to Referees after the game and double check.

Talk to more experienced referees about the decision you made and whether or not you should have done something differently, or email an experienced referee with the question.

Watch experienced referees and notice how they deal with specific situations that cause you trouble in a game.

Have experienced referees watch and critique you and then remember to try the suggestions they give you.

Seek out experienced referees to work with. By running lines for experienced referees, you gain a better appreciation as to what the protocols of the game are as well as learning about ways in which you can improve your game. This is an excellent tool. Once you have done this for several games, ask to have experienced referees as your assistant referees when you work the center.

Go slow in advancing to more difficult matches – don’t rush it, but also challenge yourself to keep growing as a referee by taking more challenging assignments once you have reached a comfort level where you are currently being assigned.

Attend seminars, workshops and clinics.

Watch games of every level whenever possible. This helps you to not only watch skilled referees work; it also helps you to learn more about the game.