MHSOA Referee's Guide

Mid-Hudson Soccer Officials Association


Referee's Guide



Soccer is organized for players - for players to enjoy the game of soccer. It is not organized for referees. The referee is there to give service to the players and to resolve disputes. Although the players will generally decide how the game is going to be played, it is up to the referee to decide how the game is going to be controlled. There are aspects of being a good referee that go beyond knowing the Rules of the Game and game mechanics. Player management, control of coaches and the sidelines, administrative responsibilities before and after the match are just as important. The following sections will address some of the things referees should know to make you the best referee possible.

Every referee has potential to become a great referee, but not every one is achieving that potential because s/he is not thinking enough (reading the game) about the game. Given the fact that referees have the power to control a match, it is the exercise of that power during the game that separates the good from the excellent referees - use that power with compassion, understanding, courage and good humor. As in anything, it’s important to remember that being prepared will increase your likelihood of success and that it takes time to develop (apply all the things you have learned in a consistent manner) before you are a top-flight referee.

Know the Rules

Success begins by being prepared. You must know the Rules of the Game and be prepared to interpret them as necessary under match conditions. If you are an inexperienced referee, you will not make all the right decisions early on - that will come with experience. But you should not make mistakes about what the rule says, and that will reduce the chances of confrontation with coaches and spectators.

Dress Like a Professional

If you expect to command respect (one element of game control) on the field, then look and act like you deserve it. Never arrive late to the field looking like you really want to be somewhere else. Dress for success - wear the proper uniform.

Take Command

This does not mean to start yelling and acting like a dictator (abuse of power). It means greeting each coach with a firm handshake, a smile, and looking the coach in the eye. It means issuing firm and simple instructions to the players and making them believe you are in control. It means getting the game to start on time.

Once those things have been taken care of, a referee will have to do three things during a match - concentrate, show confidence, and show courage. The following sections are designed to provide assistance to all referees, but especially new referees.

Basic Areas of Competence:

  • Knowledge and application of the Rules of the Game;
  • Patrol patterns, positioning, and mechanics;
  • Player and off-field personnel management;
  • Administrative responsibilities.

Game Assignments

You may receive games from the Section 1, Section 9, and Private Schools assignors. Before assignments are made, the assigners need to know your availability. You will receive hardcopy in the mail and/or use the assignor’s website to record your availability. (When you pass the certification test, your name is given to the assignors; they, in turn, assign you a username and enroll you on their websites.)

It is extremely important to that you keep your availability up-to-date for all the assignors; some assignors will fine you if you do not accept a game that they have assigned to you on a day that you were available.

When you receive your assignments, you must accept them or turn them back. This is a contract that you make with the assignor, and you must honor it. After you have accepted a game from an assignor, don’t turn it back because you’ve been offered a “better” game. If you keep your availability up-to-date, you will keep multiple assignments on the same day to a minimum. It can happen, and when it does, you accept one game and turn back the other.

The MHSOA web site has a guide to “Managing Your Schedule” in its Document section.

Things to Do Before the Game Starts

Before leaving for the field, make sure you:

  • Are dressed in the approved referee uniform
    • Solid black shorts
    • Black socks with the proper color stripes and that are not bunched around your ankles
    • Shined, black shoes (some white is ok)
    • Referee shirt that is tucked into the shorts
    • Patch attached to your left shirt pocket
    • If the weather is cold and rainy, you mat wear warm clothing under your shirt. Even jackets, if worn, should be under your shirt.
  • Have watch(es), pens/pencils/paper, red and yellow cards, coins, whistles, sportsmanship card, and water.
  • Arrive at the field at least 15 minutes prior to the game.
  • Inspect the entire field to check for:
  • Holes, depressions,or debris on the field that could cause twisted or broken ankles
  • Nets securely fastened to the goal posts and netting pulled back so as not to interfere with the goalkeeper
  • Goal posts securely anchored to the ground. Sandbags on the frame towards the rear are acceptable. Posts don't have to be in the ground
  • Corner flags that are not dangerous to players
  • Entire field properly lined
  • Home team is responsible for addressing any field problems noted above.
  • Find out who is the school administrator at the field
  • Get team rosters from coaches 5 minutes before game time.
  • Get the game balls from the home team. Check ball for proper size and pressure.
  • Walk among the players to check for illegal or improper equipment. Bring any problems that you notice to the attention of the head coach. Jewelry must be removed; taping is not acceptable.
  • Jewelry of a religious or medical nature may be worn if it is not dangerous. Medical and religious necklaces should be taped to the player's chest to prevent the chain from being caught by an errant hand.
  • All players must wear NOCSAE-standard shinguards and socks must be pulled over shinguards.
  • Shirts are to be tucked in.
  • Be sure to check braces, casts, masks, etc. for safety. Don’t forget to ask for the doctor’s permission letter for casts and masks. Be assured that players are not wearing anything you consider dangerous to the player or to their teammates or opponents.
  • Orthopedic designed knee braces come in all sorts and sizes and are constructed using many types of materials. Designs that incorporate plastic instead of metal do not require a sleeve. Metal supports must have no sharp edges and remain covered by a manufacturer’s sleeve to prevent injury to another player. (Taping a brace is not acceptable!)
  • Check cleats for safety- no rough edges on screw-in cleats that could cut someone.

Kick Off Procedures

  • Blow the whistle and call team captains and head coaches to the pre-game meeting. Introduce yourselves and ask captains to introduce themselves to each other.
  • Ask the coaches if their teams are legally and properly equipped.
  • Read the sportsmanship card verbatim to the head coaches and captains. You can excuse the head coaches at this time.
  • The visiting captain gets to call the coin toss. The coin-toss winner has the option to pick which goal to attack or the ball. If ball is taken, the home team picks the goal they will attack.
  • Once that has been determined, note on the game card which team kicked off and which goal the other team will defend. Any mark/notation will do. This will help you remember who gets the kick in the second half and what end of the field they should defend.
  • After the captains have returned to their teams, allow for final instructions (30-60 seconds), blow the whistle to signify that the teams should take the field.
  • Check fixes to the field, if previously requested
  • Note the actual time of day (12:31 pm, etc) and write down that time somewhere on the game card in case your stopwatch doesn't start or you inadvertently stop (or don’t start) the timer during the game. Now you have a starting time to add the number of minutes one half would take.
  • You should have a game ball provided by the home team.
  • Look to see if both sidelines have a ball person and that each ball person has a ball. Don’t start the game without ball holders.
  • Take a position that allows you to see the kick-off and other players at half field.
  • Check to see if your partner is ready.
  • Do NOT ask the keepers if they are ready; use your eyes.
  • Start your timer - make sure it starts.
  • Blow your whistle to signal that the match should start.

The Game Starts - Now What?

  • Blow your whistle so the sidelines can hear it.
  • Do not blow your whistle every time the ball goes out of play.
  • Vary the sound of your whistle depending on the severity of the foul, to get someone’s attention, to restart, etc.
  • It is recommended that you:
    • Point in the direction of the throw and then signal the type of foul;
    • Move to the next landing area.
    • Give a clear hand signal for an indirect free kick.
    • Keep up with the play - either you or your partner should be no more than 20-25 yards from play 95% of the time.

Handling Substitutions

After you check the players, you may want to talk to each coach about player substitutions. Part of your administrative function is to assure the proper number of players on the field. Before you allow the restart of the game, quickly scan the field and count the number of players.

After each stoppage, make it a habit to check half field to see if there are substitutes waiting. Remember—a substitute must have reported before the stoppage to be eligible to enter the game.

The referee on the bench-side of the field normally handles substitutions. S/he whistles to alert all to the substitution. After the substitution, the whistle to restart is sounded by the referee who is closest to the restart.


If a game is tied after full time, overtime periods are played. In boys’ games, if a goal is scored anytime during the overtime periods, the game is over. In girls’ games, both periods are played in full. If the score is still tied after the two overtime periods, the game is a draw. The times for overtime periods in the games that we officiate are:



Junior Varsity







Boys & Girls

Sections 1 & 9

2 x 10 minutes
sudden victory

2 x 10

2 x 10 minutes sudden victory

2 x 10

2 x 4 minutes
(Section 1 only)

Private Schools

Ask the coaches

You will need to get the captains together as you did at the beginning of the game. You tell the captains the format of the overtime periods and again flip the coin, which the visiting captain calls. The winner selects end to defend or the ball.

The interval between the last period of full time and the first period of overtime is 5 minutes, and the interval between overtime periods is 2 minutes.

What to Do If?

Player is bleeding: The player must leave the field immediately to have the bleeding stopped and his/her skin and/or uniform cleaned as thoroughly as possible, Allow for a substitution frpm the bench for the bleeding player. The match is restarted according to the position of the ball when the whistle sounded. That player may not re-enter the field as a substitute until you have inspected the player at a stoppage of play. This is the same procedure for someone you have sent off the field to repair an equipment problem.

Field is unplayable or other safety issues: A referee may terminate a match for reasons of safety (bad weather or darkness), for any serious infringement of the rules (bench clearing brawl of gigantic proportions), a team doesn't show up or leaves before the completion of the match, or because of interference by spectators. Before the game begins, the home team is responsible to judge the safety of the field and to allow play to begin. After the game has begun, it is your responsibility.

Unruly Fan(s)/Spectator(s): The fans may be so desirous of success for their team that they need every call to go their way. The following are some suggestions to help you manage the sidelines.

Working with a Game Administrator

Approach the administrator and request his/her assistance in controlling the sidelines;

Identify the problem section of the sidelines;

You may have the people physically remove themselves to a position far enough away to see the match but not to hear them or give them the opportunity to agitate the crowd.

Don't restart the match until they have moved the appropriate distance that you have decided upon. Once you have stated your decision to the coaches -you must carry it out to maintain credibility. Make sure the decision is enforceable and sufficient to remedy the situation.

Working without a Game Administrator

If you can identify the coach who represents the harassing fans, approach the coach and motion him/her to meet with you away from the sidelines; if you cannot identify the allegiance of the fans, work with the home coach.

Slowly walk to the meeting area in order to get your composure and to decide what to say.

Meet him/her near their sideline - don't expect them to come to the middle of the field.

Speak quietly and inform the coach that if the comments of their fans doesn’t cease, the offending spectators will have to leave the area.

If the spectators do not stop, or if the comments involve foul or abusive language, ask the coach to have the offender leave the area.

Thoughts on the Art of Refereeing

Why Referees Have to "Think" on the Field

Referees should not go into every game on "automatic pilot". Each game is different in terms of skill levels and competitiveness of the players. While this might not be the pro game, each player is viewing this game, this minute, this second as his/her World Cup and referees should act accordingly. It's a matter of concentration on the events on the field of play/sidelines and not about things away from the field. Being sharp in the last 10 minutes of the game is both physically and mentally demanding and marks the true professional.

It is a true art to be able to concentrate on the action at hand, make constant and consistent value judgments in split seconds. Given that referees are human, they will also make human mistakes and sometimes those errors in judgment can alter the outcome of a match. However, a good referee will make fewer mistakes than most players will on the field.

What Do You Have to Think About?

Your position on the field - It's tough enough to properly call a soccer match when on top of the play. It's impossible when you stay within your own end of the field or never cross the touchline. In the two-man system, the objective is to keep play between the two referees. Always think about your position - you should know why you are where you are - think about the standard of the game, the weather, the atmosphere of the game and make your calls accordingly.

Use of referee "aids" - You must think about when and how to use such aids as the whistle, signals and your voice.

Use the whistle to communicate control. Too many referees make calls with barely an audible "tweet," which tells everyone on the field that you are unsure of yourself. On your first call, give the whistle a firm blast and confidently point in the direction of the play. A firm whistle will eliminate 50 percent of the arguments. Vary the strength and lengthof your whistle depending on the infraction - for a serious foul - blow the whistle very loudly.

Hand signals are also important. It's better to make a firm decision that may be wrong than it is to point one way, then the other, and then look obviously confused and intimidated. Yes, sometimes you point the wrong direction for the throw-in or point to the corner when you should have obviously pointed for a goal kick. These lapses of thought sometimes occur to even the best of referees. Don't say "MY BAD" but "MY ERROR (to the players in earshot - not for the sidelines to hear) and point decisively to the correct restart. Show confidence in your decision.

Talking to players while the match is underway is another way to assert control. If you believe that talking to players could be an aid to your control of the match - then talk to the players - don't worry about a coach who says s/he doesn't want you to speak to them while the ball is in play. You don't need to talk constantly to players. Talk for a reason. Talk to admonish. Talk to assure. Talk to diffuse a potential situation. Make players believe you know what's going on and what they are doing. Above all, respect the players.

Game Control - Think about your relationship with the players. When you need to react, think about the action, decide the outcome and announce the result. Signals should be clear, concise and authoritative. Think about your field presence. Whatever field position you need to take to effectively control the situation - then take it. Don't be restricted to any 'officiating' system that has been taught to you. Use what is comfortable to you as well as being effective for the players, coaches and spectators. Avoid touching players—the player may take exception to it, or even feint injury! Think about the difference between calculated dissent and emotional dissent - the first should never be allowed. Think about applying the use of "advantage" - the field position of the foul, the intensity of the match, the benefits of controlling a situation or letting the game flow.

Maintaining Your Authority

It doesn't matter if you're a young, old, experienced, or inexperienced referee, sooner or later you will encounter challenges to your authority on the soccer field. Every time you sound your whistle to stop play, not only do you have to know the correct restart; you must accept the fact that half the people on or near the field will not agree with your decision.

You can take disciplinary action against players who disagree with your authority, but dealing with coaches and spectators is another matter. Your success will be determined by the smart exercise of your "power to penalize" and the air of confidence you project on the field.

Confidence is a very visible attribute. It includes physical appearance (proper attire), body language, demeanor, speech, and even how one runs and walks. Confidence is visible from the moment you walk onto the field and it continues during your contact with players, coaches, or spectators throughout the match. You can pretend to be confident when you may not feel that way, but true confidence only comes after officiating many matches at all levels of competition - “been there - saw that - handled it before.”

Part of maintaining your authority also deals with the courage of your convictions. Referees should send off a player or players who truly deserve to be dismissed regardless of:

  • where on the field it was committed
  • the amount of time on the clock
  • the potential for impacting on who may eventually win or lose a match.

How to Deal With Controversies

All referees should respond to controversies with credibility, self-confidence and composure. Remember that the Rules of the Game are in black and white but soccer is a game of gray shades. Common sense must be applied to the decision-making process. When the time comes to address the matter, here are a few good points to remember (another thing the referee has to think about).

Maintain composure both verbally and non-verbally

It is really easy for you to have a negative or defensive reaction when someone disagrees with your decision.

  • Maintain good eye contact with talker.
  • Keep an interested facial expression. Show respect.
  • Keep a confident body stance - not hostile - not defensive – no one is going to physically harm you.
  • Listen when they are disagreeing. Otherwise they may think you are belittling them which will only increase their hostility.

Don't respond immediately

Count to ten before responding to give you time to form a good response and to maintain your composure. Use a quiet voice and avoid being defensive. Reaction time in such situations should be slightly delayed to slow the conversation down.

Separate yourself from the crowd

Effective communication is best when it is on a one-to-one basis. If it's the coach you need to speak to, have him/her enter the field a short way. Keep your voice low - the conversation is between both of you - not the world. When an issue is discussed in public, a crowd usually forms and they all want to put their two cents in. Furthermore, when there is disagreement and a lot of people are party to the discussion, their comments are often directed at others rather than assisting in the resolution of the matter. Keep the matter between you and the coach.

Maintain Credibility

Your credibility is crucial to a positive resolution of situations. This attribute is just as important as your ability to communicate and to develop rapport with both players and spectators. You don't have to give a detailed explanation of every decision you make and you should not acknowledge such requests. You have to "read the game" to decide whether or not to explain your decision. If the requests are persistent, tell the coach you'll discuss the situation after the game. This will allow a cooling off period and diffuse the situation. Given the fact that you were closer to the play or a series of occurrences the coaching staff had concern about, you're response could be " I was closer to the play and didn't see it that way". Such conversations should take less than 30 seconds - remember - the game is for the players and not for discussion purposes. Being composed in times of controversy is an art and a survival skill for all referees.




  1. The maximum length of the quarter shall be fifteen (15) minutes.


  1. Free substitution is permitted when the ball goes over the sideline or end line.


  1. Equipment:


  • Only shoes with molded soles or sneakers are permitted as footwear.
  • Shin guards must be worn at all times by all players.

Ø A mouthpiece shall be worn by the soccer goalie for protective purposes. (Note: Private schools’ modified teams’ goalkeepers do not need a mouthpiece.)


  1. One time-out period per quarter (including each overtime period) may be called whenever the ball is out of play. The coach is permitted on the field during the time-out period to instruct the players.


  1. Sliding tackles are not permitted.


  1. Overhead scissors kicks are not permitted.


  1. The flip throw-in is not permitted.


  1. Corner flags must be of a flexible nature and conform to the NF rule standard of not being less than 5 feet high.
  2. In the event of the disqualification of a player, substitutions must be made for that disqualified player. If a team has no eligible substitute, the team may continue to play shorthanded.


  1. There shall be two overtime periods of four minutes when the regulation game ends in a tie. A coin shall be flipped prior to the first overtime period. If a tie still exists after the second overtime, no further play shall be conducted. (Note: Section IX and MHAL schools do not play overtime at the Modified level.)
  2. If both teams have a minimum of 22 players, a 5th quarter will be played. If a 5th quarter is played, no overtime periods will be played.


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