Areas of Improvement for U5-U8 Referees
Letter from the Chief Referee
The job of the referee is not an easy one, even for U5-U8 matches. For anyone who has done it, you know that there's a lot to think about and a great many things to watch for. As a referee, many of these things you've already got a handle on, but there are also those things that you may be doing wrong, and some things for which you're not even aware that what you're doing is a mistake. The following is a list of those things.
This list isn't meant to be an indictment of any individual; instead it's intended for all U5/U8 referees with the purpose of helping them improve their knowledge so they can do their job better. In that regard, it's meant to be a guide of what should and should not be done as a referee while officiating games at these age groups. It's in response to a collection of definitive things that I consider to be the more common referee errors, at least from my observations as a spectator and coach. These observations have come from many U5/U8 games that I've watched over the years, and things done by many different referees. In addition to the things I've seen, some of the issues have been retold to me from credible sources within our region.
I hope you find this useful and informative.
- Dave Lauben, Former Chief Referee, Region 104
Top 10 Areas of Improvement for U5-U8 Referees
1. Don't whistle after the ball goes out of play over the touch line or goal line
This is not an instance when the whistle is needed. Oh sure, if the gaggle of kids continues to chase the ball after it's well past the touch/goal line, then whistle to stop play, but otherwise it isn't needed and really shouldn't be done.
Whistling has three basic purposes in soccer: 1) to stop play, 2) to signal that play can be restarted, and 3) to get the attention of the players. None of these apply on routine ball-out-of-play situations. Instead of whistling when the ball goes out, verbally explain what the restart is and point your arm to show the proper signal (see item #2 below).
Believe it or not this even applies to goals scored! You should not blow your whistle after a goal is scored. Yes, I know it seems like the right thing to do, but it's not. If you really feel the need to do something the next time you see the ball go into the net, point to the center circle (see item #2 below), after all, that's where play will be restarted next (i.e. the kick off).
2. Use arm signals for throw-ins, goal kicks, corner kicks and goals scored
The Laws of the Game actually require this, and it really is something that referees should be doing, even in U5-U8 matches. The arms signals are simple. For throw-ins point the direction of attack for the team that has gets the throw in. For goal kicks in U7 & U8, point to the goal area. For goal kicks in U5 & U6, point to the spot on the goal line that's midway between the pop-up goal and the corner on the side of the field where the ball went out of play. For corner kicks, point to the appropriate corner. For a goal scored, the proper way for you to signal a valid goal is to point your arm toward the center circle. That signifies that the restart is a kick-off.
At these ages, it's important to reinforce the arm signals with verbal cues: e.g. "It's a goal kick for the Blue Badgers" or "It's a throw-in for the Bumblebees". Now, as a U5-U8 referee, you likely do something of this sort already - if you didn't the players would just look at you confused and the game would not move along very swiftly. But it's equally important to show the arm signals and do it on a consistent basis. Arm signals have many benefits: they help coaches know what to tell their team, they help train players to know what's going on and what to do during the restart, they let spectators know what's going on, and they give the referee credibility.
If you are a U5/U8 referee (or any referee for that matter) and you haven't been showing the arm signals, your next game is a good time to start.
3. Enforce the 5 or 6 yard prescribed distance on restart kicks
On goal kicks, corner kicks and free kicks, the non-kicking team must be the prescribed distance away from the ball. You should be actively ensuring that the players on the non-kicking team are moved back the 5 or 6 yard distance each time one of these kicks occurs. At these ages the players don't know what that distance really is, so it comes down to you as the referee to actively enforce this distance. And this is something that must be done repeatedly and consistently throughout the game.
Many referees do remember to tell the players to move back, and the players comply, but typically they won't move much more than 3 yards away from the ball. This is not far enough, even for a U5 match. In U5/U6, the prescribed distance is 5 yards, for U7/U8 it's 6 yards. If you ever get confused or need to be reminded how far that distance really is, glance at the center circle. The radius of that circle is the distance that should be enforced on all goal kicks, corner kicks and free kicks.
4. Refrain from telling players where they should or should not stand on the field
It isn't the referee's job to tell players where to stand on the field - that's for the coach to do. For instance, during a kick-off the referee shouldn't tell the players of the non-kicking team to stand in specific locations on the center circle line or anywhere else. Likewise, on corner kick, the referee shouldn't tell the kicking team or the non-kicking to stand in specific locations. This constitutes tactical advice, and only coaches are responsible for providing this to their players.
Likewise, referees should avoid telling players that they cannot stand in certain places (except for the non-kicking team on restart kicks, of course). This too is the coach's job, not the referee's. This includes situations where one or more players are standing in front of their goal (even if they aren't the goalkeeper). You as a referee should not be telling players to move away from the goal or to not stand on the goal line. In soccer, players have a basic right to stand anywhere on the field of play, and the referee shouldn't limit that right except in situations where the Laws of the Game require it (see item #3 above). So it is legitimate for a player to stand in front of their goal. This is especially true when the other team is attacking and the ball is on that side of the field.
5. Check for watches and earrings (or any other jewelry) on players at pre-game
Jewelry and watches are not allowed on players in AYSO matches. This is a safety issue and the primary responsibility of the referee. Earrings in particular, which are most relevant with the girls, are not allowed on players in games (or practices for that matter). And, by the way, the taping over of earrings is never a solution either.
In ideal situations the coaches might help by inspecting his or her players for jewelry, but this is not typically the case. With all the things that they have on their minds prior to the game, they're not likely to remember to check this. It's up to you, the referee, to check and double check all players for jewelry, especially earrings on the girls, at the pre-game safety check.
6. Let the players move the ball to spot of their choosing for restart kicks
As a referee you should really avoid the temptation of picking up the ball and placing it at the spot of the restart. Let the players handle the ball and place it where they choose for the various restart kicks. It's their game, and you really shouldn't be touching the ball unless you absolutely have to -- the two exceptions that that come to mind are during a dropped ball and at the start of the match when you're checking the ball's air pressure. But besides that, you should let the players move the ball around for themselves, with your guidance when necessary (and for the younger players this is most all the time). This point is especially critical for goal kicks in U7 or U8 games. The referee should not be the one to place the ball in the spot for the goal kick. It gives the players the misguided impression that this is spot from where they must take the kick.
Instead of carrying the ball to the spot of the next restart, you should be telling the players what the restart is, where it should be taken from, and what team needs to take the kick. For example after a goal and before the kick-off, you might say something like: "It's the Red Lightning's kick off. Come on Red Lightning, somebody go get the ball and bring it here to the center circle" (while pointing to the center circle mark). This gives the players a sense of control and keeps them involved in the game. It also gets them thinking about what should be happening next. Ultimately, your job is to get them to think for themselves and do for themselves.
7. Whistle to end the half, at the substitution break and to restart after substitution break
Now this is a requirement in the Laws of the Game. A referee should be signaling the end of the half by whistling, typically three times in a row, to tell everyone that the half/game has ended. At the substitution break the referee should whistle to stop play and announce to both coaches something to the effect of "Substitutions". Not whistling just makes everyone watching the game, players included, wonder what's going on, and mystery isn't what you're wanting as a referee.
Also, since we're on the subject of whistling and substitution breaks, it is proper for the referee to whistle to signal the game's restart after the break. In other words, at the start of the 2nd or 4th quarter, when doing a throw-in or goal kick, for instance, it's bad form to restart the game without a whistle.
8. Stop play after double-touches on restart kicks or throw-ins
It's an infraction if, on a kick off, goal kick, corner kick, free kick or throw-in, the player that initially kicks or throws the ball into play is the first one to touch it again. If you see this happen you should whistle to stop play and award a free kick to the other team at the point of the second touch. Exceptions can be made regarding how you penalize the infraction for players at the younger ages (U5 or U6, primarily). For instance, you can allow a re-throw or re-kick in some circumstance, mainly for games early in the season, but letting it go is not good game management. So, for instance, when a player dribbles off of a corner or goal kick, it's really in your best interest to stop play. Ignoring acts such as this will likely diminish your credibility from the perspective of coaches and "knowing" spectators.
9. Don't choose players to take throw-ins, corner kicks, goal kicks or kick offs
In U5 through U8 games, it's common for the players to make the request of the referee to take a restart kick or throw-in. Picking a player to take the restart kick or throw isn't the referee's job. It's either up to the coach or the players. For instance, during a throw-in, a player might ask you something like "Ooooh, Ooooh, pick me" (with their hand raised straight up in the air). When this happens a good answer to this request might be "That's not my decision, you should ask your coach." Picking an individual player to take restart kicks or throw-ins is a bad practice for referees. It may conflict with a coach's tactics, or it may be viewed by the other team's side, especially the coach or spectators, as being an unfair advantage provided by the home referee. Leave this decision to the coaches and direct the player's request to the coach.
Also, don't tell players where the ball should be thrown or kicked. This too is not the referee's job. Advice of this sort should only come from the coaches of the team taking the kick or throw-in.
10. Recruit and use lines-people (U7 & U8 Only)
OK, so this is really isn't a mistake, per se. But if you're a U7 or U8 referee and you're not recruiting and using club lines-people (also known as "assistant referees"), you're making your job much harder. Even the most experienced referee needs a second opinion, and that's the purpose of a club line.
Before the game, the wise referee will recruit two people, typically parents, from each team and explain what they should do to help. The explanation should briefly pertain to what ball-out-of-play really is (the entire ball has gone outside of the touch line or goal line) and what you'd like to see as far as their arm signals for throw-ins, goal kicks or corner kicks. Note that in U7 and U8, the lines-people aren't typically provided AR flags, so arm signals are used as a substitute for flag signals.
Doing a game without lines-people typically results in several missed ball-out-of-play calls. And asking players and coaches who gets the throw or kick is a practice that should be avoided if possible.