To referee soccer confidently, frequently make eye contact with the other referees, team captains, key players on the field (or pitch for purists) and even coaches.
Eyes establish authority
Eye contact is an effective way to maintain communication with the other referees and establish authority with the soccer players and coaches. Just like a good public speaker has poise and can make eye contact with different parts of an audience, a soccer referee maintains poise and lets players know presence through looking in the eyes.
Start with the coin toss when the captains are introduced. Even if as many as five captains come to the center (three from one team, two from another), make eye contact with each one individually when you have them introduce themselves.
If speaking with the players prior to a match to check equipment, remain calm and make eye contact quickly along a row of players. Clear eye contact, along with a slight smile, shows you’re relaxed and in control.
This sends a signal right away that you are present, alert, and ready to officiate.
With other referees, eye contact allows the center ref to maintain perspective on the match and assists in placement. Make eye contact with the assistant referees as the ball changes direction on the field. During corner kicks or goal kicks, look back quickly at the trailing AR and catch their eyes. This helps them stay involved in the match as well.
Eyes maintain calm
During a hotly contested match, if a player commits a foul and receives a caution (yellow card) first approach them respectfully and look them in the eye calmly. Briefly state what happened and then show the yellow card. Regardless of the crowd reaction, maintain eye contact with the player and then remind them of the need for good sportsmanship.
Eyes calm coaches
Referees can quickly eye a coach who gets belligerent, acknowledge they’ve been heard, and then ask them to remain calm. Eye contact during a moment of conflict is an effective way to show authority. In many cases, the referee shouldn’t say anything. But with clear eye contact and a nod of the head the coach knows the referee has heard.
Coaches and fans may unconsciously expect a soccer ref to act like a football referee who has the luxury of turning on a mic and announcing a decision to an entire stadium and telecast.
Soccer refs should use their voice as sparingly as possible especially in age 14 play and older; but when words are used, the voice, like the eyes, should be clear and concise.
A referee should never yell out across the field at a coach or player. Brief, concise directives said in a firm tone or understanding tone allow a referee to maintain control.
Players work hard during a match and a referee can politely remark on “nice hustle – both teams” or “good work” or “have a good second half” to encourage rapport with the players.
That can diminish one team or one player saying “the ref doesn’t like us / me.”
The whistle should be used much more frequently than the voice. But like the voice, a whistle’s tone and inflection should differ depending on the circumstances.
A ball that goes out of touch and is fairly obvious may not need a whistle. Or else a light “tweet” is good.
A deliberate hand on the ball where the player rolls his or her eyes and realizes they made a mistake and laughs will also only need a light whistle.
A serious foul will require a louder, more firm whistle to express the referee’s tone that serious fouls will not be tolerated.
Combining the elements of eye contact, a calm, firm voice and the use of proper whistling techniques will help a match move smoothly and will allow the soccer referee to maintain control and have the respect of both teams.