I have been asked by the TYSL Board to discuss the subject of refereeing (not referees). I have included my soccer backgrounds and involvements at the end, in case you wonder about my soccer credential. All of my comments below are either factual or collective wisdoms of soccer experts at the state/regional/national levels. This communication is intended to be informative, and in the interests of saving time, I will be straightforward and direct.
While TYSL deeply appreciates the coaches for their volunteerism and their desire to have better quality of refereeing, yet increasingly we are convinced that many of the coaches and a vast majority of parents do not understand the Laws (rules) associated with the game. As a matter of fact, the overall situation has gotten so distorted that chances are those referees whom some think are good are probably not so good, and those whom some think are bad may very well be doing their jobs.
First and foremost, the best way to interact with the referees is “no interactions whatsoever.” At a game different “groups” have different tasks, and there needs not to be any interactions or interferences among the groups - players focus on playing, coaches coaching, referees officiating, and parents watching. Besides, some young referees are nervous enough already before getting on the field, possibly from being yelled at in previous games. So why add any distractions or stresses? I have personally been involved first-hand in playing, coaching, or refereeing no less than 5000 games in my soccer career, and there was probably only 1 game that I think the refereeing COULD have changed the outcome of game. Do referees miss calls? All the times, and even at the highest levels. But do players and coaches miss plays during a game too? So everyone – just stay cool – it is only a game.
Second, please be mindful that just like playing and coaching, refereeing takes time to develop and improve. Being community oriented, TYSL views games as a developmental environment for not just players, but also coaches and referees. Referees have their own sanction body, which is totally independent and separated from whom TYSL affiliates through (to maintain integrity and fairness to the game). All referees have required annual retraining and recertification. While any untrained people are entitled to their opinions, yet they should not automatically assume those opinions have merits or even legit (all the reasons why one should keep them to oneself).
Third, the referees not only are not obligated to explain the Laws of the Game to players or coaches or parents, but actually they are taught not to, for 2 reasons. One, it slows the game down and waste precious playing time (games are for players to play in – not for coaching or training). Two, teaching players about the rules is a part of coaching, so referees “helping” with the understanding of rules will cause disadvantage to those better coached teams. Note that being fair is the number-one focus in refereeing.
Fourth, there are specific Laws that referees must follow, but may appear “odd” to others (because they don’t know them). Some referees chose to arbitrarily relax certain rules, but it is mistaken to do so and it creates problems for the referee community. One example is players wearing jewelry – it is absolutely not allowed. Another example is no substitution without referee’s approval, regardless of situation (so even there is an unintentional shortage on the field the team is not allowed to just send in a player – they can do so at the next stoppage of game when referee agrees to allow it).
Fifth, soccer is actually a contact sport (as an opposite to tennis). Not only there will be many situations for which “contacts” (such as shielding the ball) are perfectly legal, but also the game specifically allows for shoulder-to-shoulder charges while attempting to play the ball, no matter how physical it may appear. Please do not confuse “pushing” (forcefully extending the arm and hand to propel) with shoulder-to-shoulder charge, or with legal contacts.
Sixth, there is no “hand ball” in soccer – there is only “handling” – meaning intentionally using the hand or arm on the ball to gain an unfair advantage. A ball hitting a player’s hand or arm in many incidences is perfectly legal within the Law of the Game.
Seventh, all Laws start with the clause “in the opinion of referee,” and no referee judgment calls are reviewable at any levels. So please accept the game referee’s opinion, keep your opinion to yourself, and be prepared that among referees there could be different opinions/calls on any given plays (“no-calls” are also a call).
Lastly, a few more specific points:
1) Do not ask or shout out questions (e.g., “how much time left?”) or dissents at the referees, during or after the game – the referees are not required or advised to respond to them (don’t want to be distracted from the plays).
2) Do not say or do anything that could make referee feel threatened, physically or mentally. “Referee Assault” is an extremely serious matter in US Youth Soccer.
3) If you are interested in becoming knowledgeable about the Laws of the Game, there are plenty of online resources (http://www.ussoccer.com/Referees/Laws-of-the-Game.aspx, http://www.fifa.com/worldfootball/lawsofthegame/index.html).
4) If you want to have a feel for refereeing, then become one and do a few games yourself. Until then, do not assume you understand what refereeing is all about.
5) If you think our referee pool is too thin, then join it yourself.
As for my own soccer backgrounds and involvements, I played the game growing up and also as an adult until 6 year ago. I have been involved with TYSL for 30 years, in coaching rec and travel, refereeing rec and travel, and administering (served on 5 different board positions and was President for 10-plus years). Plus having served at the state/regional/national level in various capacities for 20 years, and I have traveled domestically and internationally to Cups and Tournaments with a couple current US Men's Nat'l Team players when they were playing youth Nat’l/regional teams.