Communication for Goalkeepers - Referees

Solid keepers need to be good communicators with teammates, coaches, and referees. Let me share some tips on how to interact with referees to increase your chances of success.

[This post is part 3 of a 3 part series] 


Interactions with referees can be hard to replicate outside an actual match, but having a clear strategy of how to do it is helpful.

Here’s my best advice on how to interact with referees to give yourself the best chance of success:

Do it as little as possible.

In most cases, not communicating at all with the referee is the best course of action. In the course of every match they will blow their whistle and make calls for and against your team, but do your best to keep focus on the game and not on the ref.

Remember in my post about communicating with teammates that I said keepers should take rational action, and not engage in emotional reaction? This is a great reason to take that advice.

Imagine this with me: You're down 2-1 in the game, but have the momentum. There are about 20 minutes left, and you know that's enough time to score, and maybe even win. But the optimism is starting to fade as the minutes tick away. The other team's defense clears a long ball toward your side of the field, and one of their forwards picks up the ball and is on their way toward the goal. Out of nowhere a counter attack threatens to kill your chances of getting back in the game.

Your defender catches the forward and muscles them off the ball, then turns to clear it to your wing mid. Phew, crisis averted. But here comes the ref catching up with the play. They blow their whistle, and award a free kick to the opponent. Now you have to deal with a free kick from 30 yards. What should you do? How should you react?

Ignore the referee! Don’t waste your time trying to change something that won’t be changed. Trust me, ignore the referee, ignore the call they made, and get to work organizing your team because that is what you can control.

For a keeper there is no time to complain to the ref, because urgency is high when a free kick is given to the other team. And when there is high urgency, it’s time to take rational action so your teammates have some help knowing what they need to do. Ignore the ref and get to work organizing a wall and getting people marked up.

Did the ref just give a red card to your best player for some small thing that seems totally unfair? Don’t waste time complaining, because now you need to organize the defense even better than before.

The bottom line is this in almost every case: Ignore the ref and get to work.

Referees will do some things you like and some things you hate, but the reality is neither of those things should distract you from the task at hand. The keeper’s job is not to criticize the referee but to prevent goals, so keepers, do your job. This is also true for coaches. Unless a player’s safety is at risk, I really see very little benefit from addressing the referee at all.

After all, complaining will never change the call, but can really change the referee’s attitude toward your team. Let the other team ruin their relationship with the ref by whining and yelling while you stay calm, collected, and focused.

And especially for goalkeepers, referees can be great allies. Referees tend to err on the side of protecting keepers, so don’t risk that advantage by being rude to them. As a general rule, it’s important to remember that they are people, and they do some things right and some things wrong. In the end, all you can do is accept the calls they make and handle your business.

From a strategic point of view, a referee is much more likely to listen to you if you have been respectful to them. Give them space, and give them respect, and you will be more effective when you need to approach them in a critical moment. If everything you say to a referee is at 100% volume, they'll stop listening. Pick your moments to interact with them if you must, but remember that silent respect will often benefit you more than emotional complaints.

I would love to hear your experiences with referees. How do you interact with them to give your team an advantage?