During a referee meeting we had a lengthy discussion about the right of a coach to address, discuss with and question the head referee during a game.

In the opinion of the referee/coach (one party) the coach should be addressed and “catered” to by the head referee when he has an objection. In his logic the reasoning for this is, that FIFA has “invented” the fourth referee and USSF gives the advice (at the higher levels) that the fourth referee is there to be addressed by the coaches if they have any problems. This serves also avoiding any additional aggravation of the coach, if his objections are not taken serious. If there is no fourth referee than the coach has the right to address the referee, discuss and make his objections known. The referee can – if he does not want to discuss- tell the coach to be silent.

In the opinion of the referee / instructor (the other party) the rules and the administrative handbook is very clear about the fact that the coach does not have the right to address, discuss and question with the head referee (or the AR) his concerns, especially during the game. The danger of intimidation and gamesmanship from the side of the coach is big (and with this the “not re-registering” of a lot of young referees). Therefore the only course of action from a referee toward a coach that is questioning, commenting or trying to discuss can be –if the request is friendly- to answer friendly that his calls are not open for discussion. If it gets to or starts at a harder point of discussion, the points warning, caution and send off are in order towards the coach. No discussion at any time during the game.

The factor starting the discussion was a game on the same day where the referee/coach had a player that in his opinion was fouled by the goalkeeper. The referee saw this different and did not call a foul. The player got injured or injured himself. When the coach attended on the field to the injured player and the referee was standing by, he asked him “How can this not be a foul”.

The referee/instructor sees in this a clear violation of the rules by the coach; the referee/coach sees this as his right, especially as the “referee was one with experience and he can defend himself”.

Can you please comment? Thank you very much.

USSF answer (June 23, 2009):
Ah, coaches. Some of them are a pleasure to deal with (the ones who read our Q&As), while others are less aware of what their rights are. The answer? The coach has only two rights once the game begins: (1) to stand in his/her technical area (or team area) and offer advice to his/her team and (2) to set an example of sporting behavior for the players of both teams. And the right to do even those things must be exercised responsibly or the coach will be expelled from the area of the field. The coach has no right to speak to the referee, the assistant referees, or, if there is one, the fourth official, unless invited to do so by the individual concerned.

Referees do not have to defend their decisions to coaches. If the coach has complaints he or she should put them into a report and submit it to the league (or whatever authority governs the competition in which the game is played).

If you want further information on what the fourth official can do, please review to US Soccer’s 2009 directive on managing the technical area. It covers many issues regarding the handling of coaches including “ask, tell, remove.” You will find all the 2009 directives at

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