I was the center ref for a U12 boys rec league game. The coach for one of the teams has a reputation for being loud and boisterous in general. However, in this game he went “over the top” not necessarily towards the referees (although he did voice his opinion about our calls quite frequently) – but mainly toward his players.
He berated them throughout the game with an extremely loud voice such that everyone on neighboring fields could hear him, and with a tone and a look that communicated disgust and near-hatred for whichever individual player he was yelling at.
I felt very badly for these 10- and 11-year-old kids who were near tears at times because of their coach. The amazing thing is, their team was winning the whole time anyway, and this was a rec league! My question is simply – do I as the ref have any authority during the game when it comes to how the coach is treating his players?
If the answer is no, I’m simply going to request not to ref any more games for this team – I can’t stand to listen to that guy again.
USSF answer (October 15, 2008):
An excellent question and one with which we have dealt several times in the past. Back in December of 2007 we stated [the information has been abridged]:
There is a national trend within the soccer community toward eliminating abuse of young people by any adults. You, as a referee, are certainly empowered to ensure responsible behavior by the team officials. The method chosen would be up to the individual referee.
We can add that, under the Law, any POSITIVE coaching is allowed from the technical area, as long as only one person speaks at a time and then returns to his seat on the bench. As a practical matter, particularly at the youth level, any POSITIVE coaching is allowed. In either case, whether at the level of the least experienced players (and coaches) or at the highest levels, any case in which the coach behaves irresponsibly will result in the coach being dismissed. (Two examples from among many: ranting at the referee, overt participation in deception of the opposing team.)
A coach has no “right” to anything in the game of soccer, other than the right to conduct him-/herself responsibly during the game — from within the technical or bench area — while offering advice to his/her team’s players. A referee who allows coaches or other team officials to parade around the field or shout abuse at players in the guise of instruction, in contravention of the requirements in Law 5 that coaches behave responsibly and that referees not permit anyone other than players to enter the field, should be ashamed.
Coaches are expected to behave responsibly. (See Law 5 and Law 3, IBD 2, the only places in the Laws that team officials are mentioned. [Note: This is from the Laws of 2007/2008.]) The referee’s first line of defense (unless the behavior is REALLY egregious) is to warn the coach who is behaving irresponsibly. This is the equivalent of a caution, but no card is shown. Then, when the behavior persists (as it usually does, because most coaches who behave this way fail to understand that they must change their errant ways), the coach is expelled from the field for failing to behave in a responsible manner. Please note that under the Laws of the Game, no card may be shown; however, showing the card may be a requirement of the rules of the competition.
In all events you should prepare a supplemental game report or letter to the league on the matter. You might also suggest in the report or letter that they send someone to monitor a couple of games. The letter could be written in such a way that says perhaps the coach was having a bad day, but it should suggest that it might be beneficial to the children involved if someone from the league dropped in for a game or two just to make sure.
[In the USSF publication “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game” we note [unchanged for 2008/2009]:
5.10 BEHAVIOR OF COACH AND BENCH PERSONNEL
Coaches or other team officials, one at a time, may provide tactical advice to their players, including positive remarks and encouragement. The referee should only take action against coaches or other team officials for irresponsible behavior or for actions that bring the game into disrepute. A coach or other team official may not be cautioned or sent off nor shown any card; however, at the discretion of the referee, such persons may be warned regarding their behavior or expelled from the field of play and its immediate area. When a coach or other team official is expelled, the referee must include detailed information about such incidents in the match report.
END OF QUOTE
You ask what constitutes responsible behavior. It means that the coach or other team official has not stuck to what their part of the game is, issuing tactical instructions or praise to their players. If they go beyond those bounds, then their behavior is irresponsible. Shouting abuse and heaping derision on players is irresponsible behavior and brings the game into disrepute.
As to what bringing the game into disrepute means in the normal course of the game, this answer of September 7, 2006, should give you all the information you need:
“‘Bringing the game into disrepute’ means doing something that is totally counter the spirit of the game, which is meant to be played fairly and in a sporting manner. Such acts show a lack of respect for the game, e. g., aggressive attitude, inflammatory behavior, deliberately kicking the ball into one’s own goal or taunting.” it also includes intimidation and arguing with the referee.
We might also add that unless the matter is particularly grave, the referee would usually wait until the next stoppage. However, if the situation is indeed grave — as any case of abuse would be — then stopping the game and drawing attention to the matter is an excellent tool in and of itself. It sends a clear message that the referee is serious about the matter. In such cases, the referee would stop play with the ball in the possession of the abusive coach’s team (if possible), advise the coach or other team official that this behavior is irresponsible and must stop if the coach or other team official wishes to remain in the vicinity of the field. If this warning is not effective, then another stoppage and the expulsion of the coach must follow. No cards, please, unless the rules of the competition require them. Also, do not engage in extended discussions when doing this in any circumstances: State the message and leave.
As long as the coach or other team official does not behave irresponsibly by shouting abusively at the players or attempting to influence the opposing players through shouting false information, there is little restriction on that person’s activities. However, in that regard, we cannot forget the importance of the competitive level of the players as a factor in deciding what is permissible. After all, although there is no formal definition of “tactical instructions,” we have commonly recognized that this would not include choreographing every move, particularly for any match above mid-level youth.