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Coaching Attitude

Victor Matheson USSF National Referee 6/27/2000

Earlier this season two U-16 girls coaches demonstrated to me in a dramatic fashion how much influence coaches have not only in developing the skills of their players but also in molding their players' (and their parents') attitude toward the game and toward the referee. The coach of the team in green could not have cared less about what the referee was doing. Constantly shouting encouragement to his players, one-hundred percent of his attention was devoted to the game. His players and his team's fans reflected his attitude by simply worrying about playing soccer and enjoying the sport.

One the other hand, the coach of the team in red had about twice as much to say to the referee as he did to his players. Nothing the referee did was satisfactory and the coach let him know it. Even when the referee made the best (and most difficult) call in the game of soccer by allowing an advantage that led to a goal, the coach was all over the referee about foul that wasn't called. (Apparently the coach would rather have had the call than the goal.) Unfortunately the coach not only embarrassed himself with his actions but his behavior rubbed off on all of the people around him. His girls were undisciplined and mouthy, and the parents on his sideline threatened the referee after the game, accused the opposing coach of cheating, and generally ruined the soccer experience for all involved.

According to Bobby Howe, Director of Coaching Education for the U.S.S.F., "Abusive language by the coach inevitably gives licence for parents to engage in the same abusive behavior and worse still gives the players themselves licence to have a go at the referees. Therefore coaches must be role models for the participants in games." Coaches have an influence in the game far beyond teaching kids about the technical aspects of soccer. They also shape the lives of their kids in a much broader sense by either showing them how to enjoy the game or showing them how to always blame someone else when you lose.

Now I know you folks are human, and I don't expect you to be angels at every moment, but here are a handful things you coaches can easily do to stay in the good graces of referees.

Be on time. The referee is required to be at the field early so that the game can start at the scheduled time. You should make sure you are early enough so that your pre-game duties (such as filling out line-up cards, handing out player passes, putting up nets and corner flags, etc.) can be handled with enough time to get the game started on schedule.

Bring the proper equipment. Referees should not have to be equipment managers on top of their normal job. Every coach should bring a decent game ball, a pump, and some tape to fix problems with the net to every game. In addition, you make sure that the referee has all the paperwork they need to properly fill out a game report.

Know the rules. There is nothing more frustrating to a referee than having a coach yell about calls when they are simply incorrect. Screaming out wrong information to referees merely makes the referee angry and you look stupid. If you are not sure about the correct ruling, discretion is probably the better part of valor.

Courtesy is contagious. What do you really expect the referee to do when you are shouting insults at them? Referees are generally quite responsive to genuine questions asked in a calm manner. (Mind you, insults have no place in you conversations with the referee even if you are cool and collected about it.) In addition, remember that since your behavior rubs off on those around you, you should consider having your discussions with the referee in private, away from your players. For example, there is plenty of time at half-time to ask questions of the referee apart from the people on the sideline.

What do you think? Do you know of someone who needs Attitude Coaching? Comments and suggestions regarding this article are appreciated please email

Victor Matheson is a USSF National Referee as well as a certified assessor and instructor. In his 15 years as a referee he has officiated over 1,600 games including A-League matches as referee and MLS matches as a 4th official and assistant referee. He has refereed in USSF amateur or youth regional competitions thirteen times and in national competitions five times. He currently serves as the State Director of Instruction for Illinois.

When he is not on the field, he is an assistant professor in the Department of Economics and Business at Lake Forest College in the northern Chicago suburbs. He has authored or co-authored numerous publications dealing with the economics of large sporting events, state lotteries, and tax policy.

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