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Top 3 Tips for Soccer Referees to Manage Spectators & Parents

Posted by Nick Elliott on May 15, 2017

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If you’re currently officiating junior football (or soccer), then you might find this handy. Parents and spectators at junior football can often cause a problem for you as the referee. They’re passionate about seeing their children do well but this passion can sometimes overspill into something that isn’t pleasant. I’ve refereed many junior games where parents haven’t held back on letting me know how they feel about a decision I’ve made. 

You’ll find that as players get older, the parents get quieter and the kids get louder when it comes to expressing their feelings towards your decisions. At the junior level, there is a level of management that you, as the referee, has to have in order to maintain full control of the game and ensure that parents and spectators know their place.

Let’s say that you’ve given a free kick against the attacking team for a clear push on the defender. One parent shouts at you from the other side of the field, “Ref! That’s never a foul! Are you blind or something?!”

What would you do, honestly? Most of us would probably ignore it the first time, but my experience tells me that if you nip it in the bud and deal with the first incident then it can prevent further problems during the game. 

Here are our top tips for dealing with parents and spectators:

1. Assert your authority

If a parent/spectator is being overly vocal with you and it’s not encouraging, then do something about it. You are the referee and you are in charge of the match. Remind the individual that their role is to support and encourage the players, not to be on your back for the entire game.

Junior football up to a certain age is non-competitive so if you’re having a problem with a parent/spectator at one of these games, then this can be a useful reminder that will help you out.

2. Communicate clearly

Coaches have praised referees who talk to the players throughout the game. At junior level, the players are still learning a lot and it is important that you help them learn as well. This means talking to players if they make a bad foul, even if they are young.

Communicate to parents and spectators, as well. It’s your game, don’t be too shy to talk to people on the sidelines if you think it will help prevent a problem.

3. Ensure the safety of players at all times

The most frequent moment I encounter problems with parents is during an injury. Player safety is your priority and I would suggest stopping the game whenever a player looks like they are hurt. There’s nothing worse than seeing your kid upset or hurt and if you fail to acknowledge an injury then parents can become very protective and turn their anger on you.

So, make sure your players are safe at all times and make sure you deal with injuries (even if it means mum comes on the pitch to give little Jonny a cuddle).

Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments!


Nick Elliott has over five years of experience as a referee with Berks & Bucks Football Association in the United Kingdom. He's currently studying Creative Advertising at the University of Lincoln in Lincolnshire.

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