Soccer - Role of the Coach and the Referee
These thoughts do not apply above the youth level, at that level the coach and referee may react to one another, but rarely do the two have direct interactions during a game.
In youth soccer, there is much more interaction. Six months ago, I watched my son's game in a U15 division. The league has a policy to prevent “blow-outs” that says that coach should “take action” to balance the game after a three point league.
“Take action” is left deliberately vague because different actions will have varying success depending on the teams, the specific game, etc. This relies on the coach to have the integrity to take the best action at the appropriate time.
In this game, as the score passed the three point mark, the referee asked the leading coach to either pull a player off the field, or the losing team to add one. The losing team had no substitutes to add, so the leading coach reluctantly sat the scoring player out. The proceeded until the leading team was down to seven players. Along the way, the kids began to take the request to sit as a badge of honor, scoring with great fan-fare and proudly leaving the field. The game became a farce.
This fall, I saw the same scenario begin again with the same referee. One big difference, it was a different coach. As the leading team passed the three point mark, the referee pulled the coaches aside saying, “Add one or pull one”. The losing team added one player. Another point is added, another conversation. Instead of simply doing as told, the winning coach offered a compromise. She put the lead player in goal. As the game progressed, she quietly changed the player's positions so that the stronger players were not working together. Only in the last 15 minutes did she pull a player out of play. They finished the game with 10 players.
The role of the referee is to protect the game, the spirit of the game. The referee needs to ensure a fair match, the safety of the players, and that the game is played as outlined in the laws. The role of the coach is to, among many other things, protect the team. Make sure that the players get to play and that they derive as much pleasure as reasonable from the game.
This coach was able to protect the team, keeping all 11 players on the field until just before the end. By understanding the role of the referee, she was able to negotiate an agreement that met both needs. The first coach, a very talented and capable coach, simply followed the referee's request. He did not feel he had the room to negotiate, and allowed the referee to bench four of the team's players.
Of course, the word is negotiate, not argue. And of course, the decision of the referee is final. If the coach seriously disagrees with the decision, the only recourse is a formal complaint to the league.