Referee – Coach?

Ian, a youth coach, asks:

Can a Referee coach a team during the game?  If not, which rule does this breach?


One of the really great things about the Laws of the Game is that it has only a few (17) actual “rules” and is written in such general terms that these rules include a lot of flexibility.  This allows Referees to interpret them (within accepted guidelines) in pursuit of the long-accepted but never-included core objectives of the entire body of rules — safety (of the players), fairness (among the players and between the teams), and enjoyment (of the players and, to a lesser extent, of the spectators).  As soccer (or football, as it is otherwise widely known) grew to become the most popular sport in the world, the actual word count of these Laws has grown: they have gradually become relatively more detailed, more specific, and (while remaining organized in modern times into 17 sections), the Law writers have added definitions, interpretations, information about mechanics and procedures, and advice on such specific important concepts as advantage and offside.

Moreover, we believe the Laws of the Game has always been unique among all the major sports as regards its reliance on tradition.  Sometimes (particularly in the case of participants in the United States) this is frustrating precisely because not everything they need to know is actually in those Laws.  The sport assumes that you will know, understand, and appreciate this.  The question you are asking is one of these things.

There is nothing in the formal Laws — nor in any of the parallel rules governing such variations of the sport as envisioned by NFHS (high school) or NCAA (college) — which would prevent a coach or assistant coach from serving as the Referee or Assistant Referee in a match involving their team, but it just wouldn’t happen.   Oh, it might at a level involving very young players (many games at the U4 – U5 – U6 age level are “officiated” by a parent or coach), or involving such unofficial matches as scrimmages, or if the assigned official fails to arrive (though even here it is more likely that the coaches would identify, if possible, a parent who happened also to be a certified official and who would step in by temporary common agreement to  meet the emergency).

But this is expected to be rare exception to what lies at the heart of the officiating function; namely, that someone needs to be in charge of applying the rules and making decisions affecting what is happening on the field who does not care which team wins.  Everyone else cares — the players certainly, the coaches whose income might depend on the team’s record or who might have a son or daughter on the team, and the spectators who almost always either have a family connection with one or more players or who have paid money to see a favored team play.  The officiating team does not.  Its concern is how the game is played, not who wins, and “how the game is played” is defined by adherence to the Laws of the Game as understood and applied by them in accordance with their training and lack of favoritism.

So, could someone officiate a match involving a team of which they are a coach?  Yes, theoretically, but it would be an implicit violation of the core concept of “Referee neutrality” as to decision-making and outcome.  In fact, this is deemed such a fundamental restriction that it is almost always applied even where there is a degree of separation, as would be the case where the coach/Referee was officiating a game involving a team which that coach/Referee’s team might play some time in the future.

It is often not known or understood that soccer was played for a long time with no Referees at all.  The sport evolved at a time and in a culture where “sportsmanship” was deemed such an important, core, and assumed ingredient in the game that disputes about play were decided by the participants themselves.  Indeed, there were neither coaches nor Referees.  Gradually, this changed with persons being appointed to make decisions about the legality of some event on the field only if the issue could not be decided by the participants and only if the issue were “referred” to these persons (hence the title of that person as “Referee”).  Ultimately, the role of this person developed and solidified into the modern concept of the “Referee” as a neutral, professional, and trained person.  Yet, this development, while implicit in virtually every word in the Laws of the Game, was and remains unwritten.  The closest the sport has come to saying anything on this subject is to be found in the 2016/2017 version of the Laws, early in Law 5 (The Referee): “Decisions will be made to the best of the referee’s ability according to the Laws of the Game and the ‘spirit of the game’ and will be based on the opinion of the referee who has the discretion to take appropriate action within the framework of the Laws of the Game.”…


I am on the board of a recreational, youth soccer club in {deleted]. We would like to put sponsor’s names on our referees’ jerseys. It has been pointed out that the USSF Referee Handbook contains the following regarding uniforms.

“Logos, Emblems and Badges: Only manufacturer’s logos and U.S. Soccer approved badges and/or emblems may be visible on the referee uniform.”

Does this also forbid sponsor’s names, and does this apply to our local club or only official USSF events?

USSF answer (August 19, 2011):
The Legal Department of US Soccer replies: “We do not believe it is appropriate for referees to have any sponsor logos on their uniforms other than the manufacturer’s mark. If a referee is “sponsored”, it gives the wrong impression about their independence.”…


In a recent U12 boys game we played a great team and lost.

The kids had lots of Fun, However my question is: How much Coaching should the Referee do during the game? He started out just commenting on fouls and explaining why he made a call or non-call. He did a fine job as a referee, but the Ref’s Coaching got progressively more in-depth as the game went on. How can a coach respectfully tell this kind of Referee to NOT coach at all. It was annoying and I wasn’t always able to hear what he was saying to my players. I think I deserve to Know if he is giving a warning or coaching. In my league in eastern PA we do have some fine Referees, But If I see this Ref again how do communicate to him that I don’t appreciate any instruction he has to offer. Referees should be impartial, right? I am not saying I want to argue his calls, I really don’t have any desire for that, but does the Ref have the authority to coach and advise players on the field? and what would be considered reasonable?

USSF answer (November 16, 2010):
Other than in some youth competitions where the competition encourages it, the referee should avoid coaching altogether. The referee can give compliments, as long as he or she ensures that each team gets a fair share, and can do normal referee things, such as chiding or warning players who are behaving improperly.

Coaches don’t want the referee coaching and referees certainly don’t want the coaches refereeing. Both are troublesome.…


I play for a U19 girls soccer team, and we played a game today that many of our fans, coach, and players felt that it was an unfairly reffed game. The team we played for had a referee that additionally works at that teams club. I’m not positive because I was pretty sure that you can not ref a game for a club you work for…that would be an unfair bias. He additionally called about 11 obstruction calls on our team whenever we got within the 18 yrd box of the opposing team(the club he works for team) If I am mistaken again but I thought obstruction would be typically called on the defending team.

We also got called for an obstruction call on the goalie when a teammate of mine stood in front of the goalie on a corner(not even touching her) We got called for another on a girl who did not have the ball yet and then once on our own 8 yrd line our defending player got called for obstruction for playing typical defense on a corner….what exactly is this obstruction rule and why is it being used, I have never heard this rule in my life but once? Lastly I would like to know if there is a way to report a referee somehow, because I think he should not be allowed to ref for a club team for the club he works for.

USSF answer (October 17, 2010):
If you have problems with a referee, then the best thing to do is to submit a report to the competition authority (the league, cup, tournament, etc.) that is responsible for the game. You will also want to send a copy of that report to the state referee authorities in your state.

In general, refereeing a game in which you have a vested interest in a team (such as working for that team or club) is considered to be a conflict of interest. In such a case, you can also file a complaint with the state soccer association responsible for that particular competition. Look on the U. S.Soccer website for Federation Policies, in particular Policy 531-10 — Misconduct of Game Officials, Section 2, Procedures. You can find the Federation’s Bylaws and Policies (and Amendments to the Policies) at this URL: .

There is no such foul as “obstruction,” although there was such a foul until the major editing of the Laws in 1997. It would appear that the “referee” for your game has not read the Laws of the Game since 1996. Either that or he (a) paid no attention in training classes or (b) is not a referee at all.

“Obstruction” became “impeding the progress of an opponent” in 1997. impeding the progress of an opponent is defined in the Laws of the Game: “Impeding the progress of an opponent means moving into the path of the opponent to obstruct, block, slow down or force a change of direction by an opponent when the ball is not within playing distance of either player.” It is punished by an indirect free kick for the opposing team. In addition, “It is an offense to restrict the movement of the goalkeeper by unfairly impeding him, e. g. at the taking of a corner kick.” In either case, if contact is initiated by the impeding player, this is considered to be the direct free kick foul of holding.…


While attending a high-profile rivalry game on April 29th, I witnessed a situation that was VERY similar to the Question posted (below) on your site and answered on April 8, 2010:

If an assistant referee witnesses a foul but does not call it because “he is not closer to the foul than the center ref” and the center ref does not call it, should the assistant notify the center as to what he saw or let the play continue?
Answer (April 8, 2010):
“Closer to the offense” is much less important than angle of view. If the referee cannot see the offense because his or her view is blocked, and the assistant referee can see the event clearly, then the AR must flag if the there is a definite foul or misconduct.
In this year’s copy of the Laws you will find this excerpt in the Interpretation of the Laws of the Game, under Law 6:
Before signalling for an offense, the assistant referee must determine that:
* the offense occurred closer to the assistant referee than to the referee (this applies, in certain circumstances, to offenses committed in the penalty area)
* the offense was out of the view of the referee or the referee’s view was obstructed
* the referee would not have applied advantage if he had seen the offense

The foul (off sides) that was not called by the AR in the April 29th game resulted in the first goal of the match and clearly set the tone, momentum and results of the final outcome.
The AR hesitated in making the call… looked to the Referee for confirmation on the call… Referee shrugged… AR, in position, closest to the action, chose not to make the call.

What is troubling, and I have yet to discover any laws or interpretations of available laws/rules/guidelines, involves that fact that the AR had a clear conflict-of-interest in the outcome of the match played. In no particular order… he was the Host Club’s Area Referee… He is a Club Board Vice President…. He was the Team Manager of the Club Team that received the benefit of the No Call goal. He did not disclose any of these conflicts prior to the game to team officials. (His daughter used to play on the team earlier in the year, but had left the club 2 months prior.)

As the Manager of the team, the individual had a clear understanding that the winner of this particular game, now in protest, will go on to win the Spring League and the Association’s bid to complete in the State’s valuable 2010-2011 Premier League.

I am familiar with conflict-of-interest guidelines involving assignments to games involving family member… but are there rules/regulations protecting the integrity of the game from a situation such as the one described above?

While many long standing elders in our sport agree that the situation should have been avoided right from the start…, at the very least by the Coach who was lined up on the same sideline as its Team Manager in the assignment as AR…., no one is familiar with a similar situation, anywhere, to draw conclusions, support or suggestion on how to proceed.

Was there a law/rule broken in this instance?

Your insight and direction on this matter would be GREATLY appreciated.

USSF answer (May 24, 2010):
We cannot make an official decision on the matter, but a Federation policy would certainly seem to have been broken. A full official decision can be made only by your state association. The Federation Policy is 531-10, cited in full below:

Policy 531-10–Misconduct of Game Officials
Section 1. Terms and References
(A) “Game Officials” includes the following:
(1) all currently registered USSF referees, assistant referees, 4th officials or others appointed to assist in officiating in a match.
(2) any non-licensed, non-registered person serving in an emergency capacity as a referee (under Rule 3040).
(3) any club assistant referee.
(4) any referee development program person performing any official function at a match.
(B) “Referee Development Program Person” includes any referee, referee administrator, referee assessor, referee instructor, referee assignor, or other person serving in such capacity in a line or supervisory position, including members of any referee committee appointed by the Federation, its Divisions, Affiliates or Associates, a State Association, or a competition, tournament or other appropriate authority.
(C) “Hearing” means a meeting of at least five members, one of which is designated or elected to serve as Chairman. The Chairman of a hearing shall not vote except to break a tie vote. Such members, including the Chairman, shall not be the State Referee Administrator, the State Director of Referee Instruction, the State Director of Referee Assessment, a Federation National or FIFA Referee, or any other member of the State Referee Administration.
43(D) “State Association” shall be that State Association through which the game official is registered or referee development is appointed. Where a state has both Amateur and Youth National State Associations, the reference shall mean that State Association which has legal authority within its state to administer the registration of the referee or the appointment of the referee development program person charged.

Section 2. Procedures
(A) Misconduct at a Match
When any game official is accused of having committed misconduct toward another game official, participant, or spectator at a match, or of having a conflict of interest, the original jurisdiction to adjudicate the matter shall vest immediately in the State Association or Organization Member through which the accused game official is registered. In the situation where Amateur and Youth State Associations exist in a state, and the incident of alleged misconduct occurred at a match sanctioned by one State Association, jurisdiction shall vest with the State Association sanctioning the match in question.
(B) Misconduct Away From a Match
When any game official, referee, referee assistant or referee development program person is accused of unethical conduct, misuse or abuse of authority or conflict of interest in any matter in the pursuit of or may affect the individual’s official dealings within and as authorized by the Federation, its Divisions, Affiliates or Associates, a State Associations or Organization Member, or a competition, tournament or other appropriate authority, the matter shall vest immediately in the State Association through which the accused game official is registered or through which the referee development program person is appointed.
(C) Any allegation of misconduct or of conflict of interest by a game official as described by subsection (A) of this section, or of unethical conduct, misuse or abuse of authority or conflict of interest as described by subsection (B) of this section, shall be made in writing to the State Referee Administrator or to the State Association(s) or Organization Member that shall report all such allegations including any allegations against the State Referee Administrator, to the State Association(s) or Organization Members through which the accused game official is registered or through which the accused referee development program person is appointed.
(D) Upon receipt by the appropriate Organization Member of a verified written complaint, a hearing shall be conducted within 30 days from verification pursuant to guidelines established by the Organization Member having jurisdiction as provided by subsection (A) or (B) of this section. The guidelines may include referring the complaint to the State Referee Committee for the hearing. The hearings and appeal process shall provide for adequate due process for the accused person including proper notice of charges, the right to bring witnesses in defense, and the right to confront and to cross-examine the accusers.
(E) The Chairman of the hearing committee shall transmit the findings of the committee in writing to all parties concerned including the accused and the accusers and to the State Association(s) or Organization Member within seven days of the hearing.
(F) Any party subject to penalties shall receive, at the time of notification of the decision, a notice of the rights of appeal and a copy of the procedures and deadline dates required for such an appeal to be properly considered. Time for filing an appeal shall start with the date official receipt of the decision by the party making the appeal.

Section 3. Penalties
(A) The severity of the penalty imposed upon an individual shall be determined by the decision-making body having jurisdiction.
(B) Penalties may be among the following: (1) letter of reprimand;
(2) a fine;
(3) suspension from all active participation in the Federation for a fixed period of time;
(4) any combination of clauses (1), (2), or (3) of this subsection; and
(5) dismissal from the Federation.
(C) Any individual while under suspension may not take part in any activity sponsored by the Federation or its members.

Section 4. Appeals
(A) Any game official who is found guilty of misconduct as defined in this rule may appeal the decision of the hearing committee as follows:
(1) to a Referee Disciplinary Committee jointly appointed by the Amateur and Youth State Associations.
(2) to the Federation Appeals Committee as provided under Federation Bylaw 705.
(B) The party appealing the decision of a committee shall have ten (10) days to file the notice of appeal of a decision. Time for filing an appeal shall start with the date of official receipt of the decision by the party making the appeal.

The standards of conduct for Federation referees are explicated below in Policy 531-11, Part III.

Policy 531-11–National Referee Development Program
Part III–Standards of Conduct
Subpart A–Purpose
To define general guidelines to determine whether members of the National Referee Development Program act within acceptable limits so far as ethical conduct or conflict of interest are reflected in their conduct as soccer officials and members of the United States Soccer Federation.

Subpart B–Policy
Membership as a privilege offered and granted to individuals who perform capably as State Referee Administrators, referees, referee assignors, referee instructors and referee assessors during United States Soccer Federation sanctioned activities. It carries with it an obligation for each individual member to uphold and promote the stated goals and objectives of the Federation and do nothing to bring the Federation into disrepute or work against its goals and objectives. Any conduct which is considered unethical or as a conflict of interest shall be subject to possible disciplinary actions.

Subpart C–Code of Ethics for Referees
(1) I will always maintain the utmost respect for the game of soccer.
(2) I will conduct myself honorably at all times and maintain the dignity of my position.
(3) I will always honor an assignment or any other contractual obligation.
(4) I will attend training meetings and clinics so as to know the Laws of the Game, their proper interpretation and their application.
(5) I will always strive to achieve maximum teamwork with my fellow officials.
(6) I will be loyal to my fellow officials and never knowingly promote criticism of them.
(7) I will be in good physical condition.
(8) I will control the players effectively by being courteous and considerate without sacrificing fairness.
(9) I will do my utmost to assist my fellow officials to better themselves and their work.
(10) I will not make statements about any games except to clarify an interpretation of the Laws of the Game.
(11) I will not discriminate against nor take undue advantage of any individual group on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.
(12) I consider it a privilege to be a part of the United States Soccer Federation and my actions will reflect credit upon that organization and its affiliates.
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