Preventive Officiating



The concept of “preventive officiating” in soccer was suggested in the 1970s as one way to try to address an ongoing, world-wide, issue of foul play.  It essentially proposed that referees use a more activist approach to forestall problems in a match, mostly by offering vocal admonitions in advance, before violations of the Laws of the Game took place.  This approach was not very effective at the senior levels.  Fortunately, since then, numerous rules changes and serious emphasis on penalizing foul play have mostly addressed the problem.  Modified approaches to preventive officiating did have a very positive result at youth levels.  The most important benefits of preventive officiating at the youth levels are:

  • Saving the referee from potential problems;
  • Teaching the Laws of the Game and their application; and,
  • Providing more playing time by reducing errors.

It is not just vocal statements that help advance preventive officiating.  It also includes other actions, especially the effective use of the whistle and proper hand and verbal signals.  The following treatment addresses both oral statements and actions.

Advance Preparation

Stay fit.

Keep your kit bag updated – see Referee’s Kit under Club Referee Program.

Regularly review the Laws of the Game.

Be aware of, and attend classes on, rules changes.

Engage in contingency planning, similar to coaches.

Day of the Game

Outfit yourself in clean, proper gear.

Confirm the field location.

Wear your uniform to the game – Don’t change at the field.

Leave home with more than enough time to get to the field.

Don’t drink excessive fluids or anything that could be a diuretic.

Use the bathroom.

Put on sunscreen.

Be enthusiastic.

Field Inspection

Goals – Ensure that the goals are stable and well anchored.  If goals can not be anchored properly, the game must be postponed.

Nets – Ensure that the nets do not have holes.  Repair any holes with duct tape.  Nets are not required to have a game.

Corner Flags – Ensure that rigid corner flag posts are thick with rounded tops.  Ensure that any supplemental posts marking midfield are placed one-yard away from the sideline.  If there are no flags, mark the corners with discs or cones.

Markings – Referees are not expected to line the fields; however, games should be played.   Place cones at exterior corners and discs at intersections.

Interior – For things like glass, rocks and tree branches, pick up what you can.  For sprinkler heads or other immovable objects above ground, or serious depressions, mark them with discs or cones.  Enlist the aid of coaches and parents.  You are not the field manager, but you are responsible for the safety of the players.

Overhanging tree branches – Award a drop ball to the team that hits the branch, where the ball comes down.

Possible weather issues?  Possible problem encountering darkness? – Speak with the coaches in advance.

Stretch and Warm up – Jogging around the field for field inspection helps.

Meeting with Team Linespersons

State that they are to call out-of-bounds only, not offside.

Remind them that the ball must go completely over the line, on the ground or in the air; and that a ball on the line is still in.

Remind them that a ball cannot curve back in.

Direct them that, when the ball goes out, they are to raise the flag and then point in the correct direction for the throwing team. Remind them that the call must be correct and if they should have any doubt, just raise flag.

Reach agreement on which sideline they will work and for which half of field.  Remind them that they do not change sides or ends at halftime.

Remind them to remember to return the flags to you at the end of the game.

(Often, parents will trade off at halftime.  You may wish to remind the first linespersons that, if this happens, they are to let you know.)

With Club Assistant Referees

Introduce yourselves.

It is reasonable and proper to assume that Club Assistant Referees have been properly trained.  Do not engage in teaching.

Ensure that you are always aware of the possibility of the flag being raised for offside possibility.  You must look to the appropriate Assistant Referee.

Ask that the Assistant Referee keep the flag up on offside until you make a visual connection (eyes meet).  Tell them that, if you are going to let play continue, you will silently mouth the word “No,” and quickly and discretely moving both hands at your waist.  The Assistant Referee is to then take flag down.

Ensure that the Assistant Referees will provide back-up recordkeeping and timekeeping.

Each Assistant Referee is to perform one team inspection.

Remember to enter the field together.

With Coaches

Get and Review Local Rules, particularly the number of players and substitution opportunities.

Ensure no jersey conflict between the two opposing teams.  A team may have to put on pinnies.

Determine the designated home team.

Tell the coaches to have their captains ready. For the visiting team, ask the coach to designate in advance the player who will call the toss. “Coach, Have your captains ready.  I’m going to call them out early so that we actually kick off on time.”

Ask the coach to ensure that all shoe laces are properly tied. Mention that, if shoe laces come untied (or a shoe comes off altogether), you will send the player to the sideline. The game will continue. Once fixed, the player can come back in with notification. There does not have to be a stoppage.

Remind the coach that all players must have shinguards, covered by the socks.

Ask the coach to ensure that the goalie is ready and wearing a different-color shirt. Remind the coach that if the goalie is subbed, to have the different-colored shirt on and not to forget about providing notification.

Mention that you will start the game on time after inspection and to have the designated starters ready to go.

Tell the coach that, when there are to be substitutions, just call out, “Ref, sub please.”

If necessary, discuss any Issues found with field, possible weather problems, or if the end of the game may encounter darkness.

Get and check the game ball, usually to be provided by the designated home team.

Team Inspection

Remember to check the “Five S’s.” – shirt, shoes, shorts, socks, and shinguards.  For youth recreational games, only the shirts have to match.  The shoes don’t have to be cleats.

No jewelry.  Only medical alert bracelets or necklaces okay if they are well padded.  There is some leeway for stud earrings.  Eyeglass frames must be of the “flexible-sport” variety.  Unless permitted by the league, no secondary goggles are allowed over eyeglasses.

Casts and splints are allowed if fully padded.

Shinguards, must be covered by the socks. Shinguards must not be “cut-downs” (half of a guard), or made of cardboard.

Shoes are usually to be molded cleats for youth recreational leagues. There are to be no metal spikes, no metal showing, or anything that could cause puncture wounds. Line the players up facing field.  Have them alternately hold their feet up backward. Walk the line for one foot.  Call “Other foot.” Walk the line back.

“Make sure your laces are tied!”

“Remember, you can’t run onto the field as a sub until you are waved in by me.”

Do not give instructions to teams. Do not ask for questions. If someone asks a question, answer it correctly, quickly, in the briefest way possible, with a smile

Call for captains.

Coin Toss

If there is time (and no pandemic), let the captains introduce themselves, shake hands or do fist bumps.

“Lean in. This side of the coin is ‘heads’ and this side is ‘tails.’”

“You’re the designated visiting team, so you’ll call the advance.”  “Visiting team captain, which do you want, heads or tails?”

“Home team captain, you flip the coin in the air and we’ll let it hit the ground.”

Hand the home team captain the coin. “Okay, flip it now.” (With very young players, this may be problematic.  Just accept whatever happens.)

Announce the winner.  Ask the winner, “Which goal do you want to defend first or do you want to take the kickoff?”  If the kickoff is selected, ask the other team captain which end they want to defend first.

Demonstrate the proper directions for the teams by physically placing the players toward the correct goals and then, while facing the correct way, lift your leg to show who kicks.

Say, “Okay, now let’s have fun playing soccer!”

“Players take the field.” Some coaches now want to have big talks and team cheers.  Cheers are okay, but talks are not.  Say, “Coach, now’s the time to play.”

Make sure the players actually go to the correct ends!


Count the number of players on each team. Re-confirm different-colored goalie shirts.

Loudly say, “Gold goalie, ready?”  Grey goalie ready?”  (Use appropriate colors.) This lets everyone know the color names you will be using.

(If you have to position youngsters properly for the kickoff, do so!  Kickers at the ball, defenders outside the circle.)

“Defenders, remember it’s not my whistle.  You can’t come inside the circle until the ball actually moves.”

“Kicker, remember, you can’t kick the ball twice or just start dribbling.”

Blow the whistle.

Start your watch.  Set an outside dial, watch as stopwatch, actual stopwatch (count up or count-down), or other timer with an alarm, as appropriate. Set your backup, as well.

Keeping Time

Occasionally, check your watch during play.  At stoppages is best.

It can be a challenge to keep up with time and keep up with play.  Be away as halftime or end-of-game approaches and check your watch more frequently.

You may be asked by a player, “How much time is left?”  It is fine to answer, but make sure you do not lose sight of play to check your watch.  If you don’t have that exact moment to answer, say “Just a moment.”  When you can answer, use “About…” or “Less than…” x-minutes (seconds).


Do not be too concerned about staying on the diagonal.

Keep up with play.

Listen to what players are saying around you.

Out of bounds on the sideline.  Be near.  Trust your linesperson and reinforce their direction by saying, “Gold throw.”

Out of bounds on the endline, Be near.  Decisively announce, “Corner” or “Goal Kick.”

Talking to players.  An occasional “Don’t.” “Don’t touch.” “Good.” or “Right.” can go a long way.

Games on adjacent fields – “Keep playing until you are certain it’s my whistle.”

Keep your neck and eyes moving.  Get as much of a view of the whole field as possible at all times.  In other words, don’t get “tunnel vision” and focus only on the ball.  If the ball goes way up into the air, don’t watch the ball, watch the action on the ground.

Use back-pedalling and side-stepping in order to not turn your back on play.

Calling Fouls or Infractions

Blow the whistle with conviction.

Orally announce the foul or infraction, the team being penalized, the team team taking the kick and direct or indirect,

Visually show the correct signal(s).  See:  Referee Signals


Stop play immediately, call to the correct sideline, “Coach, please!” and motion them in.

(See Dropped Balls.)

If the goalkeeper has possession – “Punt it out now.”

Blood – “Blood rule.  Player must go off and can’t come back until there is no blood on anything.”

Goalkeeper in Possession

“He’s (She’s) got it!”

Six-Second Rule

Goalkeeper holding on to the ball for too long: “Get rid of the ball.”  “Punt it out now.”  “You’ve used up your six seconds.”  (Again, for youngsters, give a lot of leeway.)

Backpass to the Goalkeeper Rule

Deliberate: “You really can’t pass the ball directly to your goalie. Please try not to do that.”

Deflection off a defender to the goalie: “It’s okay. That’s not a deliberate passback.”

Dropped Balls

Often, coaches have not prepared their players for dropped balls. If no one steps forward, just point to the closest appropriate player and say, “Okay, that’s you.”

When dropping the ball, look the player directly in the eye and say, “Remember, it has to hit the ground first.” while you are dropping the ball.

If a player kicks a dropped ball before it hits the ground, when re-administering the dropped ball, put your other hand on top of the ball, say, “Let it hit the ground first.” and give the ball an extra little push toward the ground with the top hand.

If you have to administer the dropped ball a third time, select a different player.


Generally, call the foul.

If advantage was applied, attempt to tell the fouled player specifically, “I saw the foul but your team had the advantage.”

If you blew the whistle for a weak foul and then advantage materialized say, “I didn’t expect the advantage to happen, but the whistle stops play. Please take the kick.”

Dangerous Play

“Don’t try to head below your waist.”

“Don’t try to kick too high.”

“Forget the ball. Get up, get up, get up.”


Field players:  Give some latitude. Handling by really young players is often instinctive and rarely deliberate: “Remember you can’t use your hands.”  If a player actually catches the ball, you have to call it but say the same thing.

Goalkeeper outside the area:  Probably has no idea where they are.  You have to call it.  Don’t card.  “Remember, beyond this line, you have to use your feet.”


Players running in and out with no control: “Coach, remember they have to be taught to wait for my permission.”

Count the number of players coming on; count the number of players going off; If necessary, count the whole team on the field again.  “Coach, too many.”  Coach, I’ve got one short.”

Goalie sub without notification: “Coach, are you changing the goalie?”


“Move, you can’t block the ball.”

“Stop, you can’t force yourself into the wall.”

“You’ve asked for ten yards.  You must wait for my signal.”


Wait a split second to be sure.  (See Introduction to Offside for the 2-question test.)  If there is any doubt, let play continue.


Be decisive.  Call the very first foul and the next few closely.

Be consistent.

Tactical fouls are very rare at youth levels.  Usually. they are just unfortunate.  Call the foul, but avoid the card.  If it happens again, it may be coached. Use the card.  Tell the player, “You can’t do this.”  (You may quietly ask the player, “Are you being told to do this?”)

Fatigue and frustration often lead to fouls. Be aware of the signs.  “Remember, keep playing the ball, not the man. Thank you.”

Free Kicks

Blow the whistle. Verbally call and signal the decision. Say “Direct” or “Indirect” and give the proper signal if indirect.  If a player still asks if the kick is direct or indirect, smile and repeat. Near the goal, ensure that the goalkeeper has heard you.

Do not let defenders interfere with the re-start,  “Move away, please.”  Remind defenders not to encroach, “Ten yards, please.”  (Distance may be less on youth fields.)

Remind the kicker not to just start dribbling, “Remember, you can’t kick the ball twice.”


Players: “Please just concentrate on your play.  I’ll referee.  Thank you.” (You can appeal to the captain or the coach.)

Coach: “Please concentrate on coaching your players.  I’ll referee.  Thank you.”

Spectators: “Coach, please ask your fan to only cheer positively.  Thank you.”


Note that some youth recreational leagues offer “second chances” on throw-ins.  Some players repeatedly get to the ball who just don’t know how to perform a throw-in.  Some will do it like a basketball.  You may have to select someone else.  “Here, you try.”

“Remember, you have to keep both feet on the ground.”

“Remember, you have to use both hands and release the ball over your head.”

“Remember, you have to be behind the line.”  (Whereas this is not technically correct, it helps get the job done.)

“Remember, the ball must be released at the place it went out.”

“The ball never came in, re-take.”

“Defender, you have to back up far enough to let the thrower really be able to throw the ball in.”

“The ball came in, then went out, (other team) throw here.”

Goal Kicks

“Remember, you have to stay outside this line until the ball moves.”  (…or, “back here”…)

“Kicker, remember, you can’t kick it twice or just start dribbling.”

Corner Kicks

“Remember, you have to stay ten-yards away until the ball moves.”  (…or, “back here”…)

“Kicker, remember, you can’t kick it twice or just start dribbling.”

“Defenders, don’t foul or impede the goalkeeper.”

“Sorry, the corner flag has to stay where it is.”

“Remember, the ball has to be inside the circle.”  (Technically, any part of the ball may be marginally above the arc/touchline/goalline confluence, but this helps get the job done.)

Goal Scored

Usually the goalkeeper (who was just scored upon) will dig out the ball and toss it upfield to a teammate. If a player from the scoring team goes for the ball, promptly say, “My ball.  Leave it alone.” If the goalkeeper doesn’t then get it for you, it’s okay to retrieve it yourself.

Penalty Kick

“Goalie, remember you have to keep one foot on the line until the ball moves.”

“Kicker, remember you can’t take the kick until I tell you I’m ready.”

“Everyone, remember you have to stay outside the Area and the Arc until the ball moves.”

Water Breaks – Hydration Stoppages

The players engaged in active play are not to leave the field and substitutes are not allowed to enter the field.  Active players may be handed water bottles.  At the time the break is called, state, “Players must stay on the field.  Subs must stay on the sidelines.”


Call the players out so the kickoff will occur before the end of the interval.

“Make sure you switch ends.” “Gold now defending that goal.”  “Grey now defending that goal.”  “Gold now has the kick-off.”

Count the number of players on each team; re-confirm goalie shirts.

End of Game

If Assistant Referees are used, they should immediately meet the Referee at midfield when the final whistle is blown.  Compare notes.

Give the game ball back.

“Great game everybody.”

“Thank you, Coach”.  “Thank you, Coach.”  It’s better to wave at the coaches while saying this, as opposed to going over.

Get your flags back from Team Linespersons.

Retrieve any discs or cones if you had to use them.

The Referee and Assistant Referees should leave the field as a unit.

Don’t linger.  Don’t change clothes. Get in your car and leave.

Soccer Referee Tips:

  • Use this “preventive officiating” in conjunction with the Club Referee Program.
  • If player passes are used, remember to hold them during the match. If a player is red-carded, do not give the pass back to the coach!  It needs to go to the league.
  • If you do not know instantly which way a throw goes, or whether or not it’s a goal kick or corner kick, hesitate for a second. Players may show you quickly by who gets the ball or who backs off.  If it is still not clear, make a firm decision and implement it.
  • If you have to get a specific player’s attention, you have to go up to them instead of calling out a number. Most youth recreational players have no idea what number they are wearing or that you are trying to talk to them!
  • It’s a really rare occasion where you should have to pull a card on a player in a youth recreational game.

© Copyright, John C. Harves