Referees have to apply the laws of the game to a fast moving game, and they have to do so consistently and avoid errors, especially those that impact the safety of the players and the outcome of the game.
It is probably fair to say that, despite best effort, we referees make a handful of wrong/suboptimal decisions every game. This happens across all levels of the game, including the professional leagues and big tournaments like the World Cup.
The referees I know care about doing their best for the good of the game and for the enjoyment of players and spectators.
We attend training sessions, seminars, and digest rules clarifications from Fifa and U.S. Soccer. We read websites and books focusing on refereeing. This preparatory background work is all volunteer time and we don’t get reimbursed for any cost incurred.
Understanding and then applying the Laws of the Game to live, fast-moving game situations isn’t easy. I thought I knew what ‘offside’ or ‘handball’ is based on my life-long playing and watching of the game in Europe and here. I thought I knew how to move as a referee on the field – just stay close to the ball, right?
Well, I was wrong. And I had to eat a lot of humble pie when I first started refereeing.
So please trust me when I say that parents and coaches are rarely correct about the interpretation of the laws of the game and how those apply to specific game situations, especially during the more controversial situations.
Parents and coaches are also typically too emotionally vested in the outcome of decisions to make them impartial and consistent decision makers. Passion is good, of course, but not when it comes to correctly interpreting specific circumstances.
Let me give you a couple of specific examples:
The only person to be able to accurately judge whether a player is in an offside position is the Assistant Referee (AR) standing parallel to the second to last defender. Even just a slight misaligned positioning of the AR or slightly different positioning of the players can lead to an inaccurate decision as the image on the right shows.
Even the Center Referee (CR) cannot accurately determine offside positioning unless it’s blatantly obvious. This is also why the CR will (practically) never overrule an AR when it comes to deciding if the player is in an offside position.
Now how likely is it that untrained parents and coaches sitting along the sidelines at various angles and distances to the action can accurately call offsides? Take a look at the screenshot on the right – would a coach or parent sitting 50 yards away along the sideline really be able to make an accurate call whether or not the white/blue player is offside or not?
And keep in mind that just because a player is in an offside position doesn’t mean that it’s an offside infraction.
Much more on ‘offside’ in a separate blog post soon.
Players, parents, and often also coaches who see the ball touch someone’s hand or arm scream, “Handball!”. They think the call is obvious, but about 75% of the time when the hand or arm touches a ball it is not a handling foul.
Take a look at he image on the right. Is this a handling foul? Yes, the ball touches the arm, but you need much more information than this to determine if an infringement occurred.
Please click HERE for my recent detailed discussion on ‘handball’.
So if we accept the premise that making the right decisions is often difficult and that parents and coaches simply don’t know enough about the laws of the game (nor are they typically close enough to the event to see clearly what happened), then is it worth the disruption caused by screaming parents and/or coaches?
It just distracts the boys and girls, creates a negative atmosphere, and makes game management more difficult for the referee.
I often see players lose focus after their coach’s and/or parents’ outburst and that clearly doesn’t help the team.
They feel ‘wronged’ and are now focusing on moments past. In some cases players lose their heads and make bad decisions that can cost games.
They tend to act more aggressively toward other players and show more dissent toward the referee. Both types of behaviors increase the risk of conceding fouls and being cautioned or even evicted from the game.
Again, referees make mistakes (and sometimes game changing ones) which can be frustrating for all involved. But the odds are very low that your view of an event is correct according to the laws of the game. So, please, for the good of the game and the boys and girls on the field, try not to interfere with the officiating.
P.S.: The one case when parents might be in the best position to determine the correct decision is on throw-ins within yards of the sideline where they are sitting. The AR might be, say, 20 yards away at the halfway line (they are not ‘allowed’ to cross the halfway line) and the CR might be 15 yards away. Parents sitting right there could well be in the best position to see a little deflection or toe poke or similar. In those cases there’s a 50/50 chance the referees get it wrong, but the referees can’t go with what the parents think happened. They have to act based on what they saw. What makes throw-in mistakes less of an issue is that throw-ins very rarely have a game-changing impact.