Make the Call: Coach Orders Injury Against Opponent


This scenario was discussed at the Tier I Referee Academy in August 2016:

You are the center referee in a competitive U-15 Boys match. It is the second half and there is no score. The red team has just signaled for a substitution at a stoppage in play. Your assistant referee on the same side of the red team is signaling for you to come over. 

The AR tells you: “the head coach for the red team just told his substitute if they can ‘take out’ blue #17, it would open the whole right wing for us and we can win.” 

The substitute awaits entry to the pitch.

We collected comments for over a week and have the following answer to post, courtesy of Deleana Quan (FIFA Assistant Referee) and Joe Dickerson (National Referee):

First, ask yourself:

  1. Does that sort of behavior belong in the game? Is it responsible?
  2. Does it bring the game into disrepute if you let the coach stay?
  3. If you show this is acceptable, encouraging the coach to do it again, what message does it send to everyone by endangering the safety of the players?
  4. Are you promoting irresponsible behavior?

Upon any of those answers, that will lead you to telling the coach: “That is unacceptable behavior.”

This is an opportunity to stop a tackle before it happens. That is super rare to get that type of chance with the Laws of the Game.

Dismissing the coach and making it public with body language (pointing them away from the field) is a clear message that irresponsible behavior is not to be tolerated. Be sure in your reports to quote exactly what was said and who heard what.

Note that with the new IFAB Laws of the Game Q&A for Law 5, it refers to the spirit of the game:

“Referees should apply the Laws of the Game correctly but with sensitivity and common sense to create a positive atmosphere on the field of play. It is very important that referees officiate in a way which benefits the game and is in ‘sympathy’ with the emotions and requirements of each match, no matter what the level. At the lowest levels of football, the referees must use ‘common sense’ when deciding if a match goes ahead if there is a (minor) problem with the field of play or the equipment. The IFAB believes that the referee should try to play a match unless there is a risk or danger to the participants.”

You have a duty to eliminate behavior that endangers the safety of any player and does not belong in the game at all.

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  1. John N

    August 21, 2016 at 10:16 pm

    caution the coach

    • JA

      August 22, 2016 at 1:21 pm

      No such thing as cautioning a coach

  2. Rob V

    August 26, 2016 at 2:33 pm

    “Coach, that conduct is not allowed in the beautiful game.”

    Then send him off.

  3. RD

    August 26, 2016 at 8:13 pm

    First, I need to know the tenor of the game to this point. Has it been rough and physical, requiring significant management, or not?

    Second, I need to talk to my AR about the exact words he heard, and whether they could be construed in a non-threatening manner. As in to take out of the game by defeating the opponent tactically.

    Depending on those two considerations a conversation with the coach and the substitute is in order. The coach, depending on the game character, might indeed need a booking. The substitute in any event needs to know what I know. And, importantly, this needs to be done in such a way that the players remaining on the bench understand my focus on this potential threat.

    Lastly, at this age it may not be too helpful, but letting the substitute’s captain know of the concern could diffuse the situation somewhat.

    All of this is conditional upon the first two considerations. If the game has been rough, a real battle, and if the coach’s comments can be construed in no other way than a threat of physical violence, then a sending off is in order.

    • CBass

      July 4, 2019 at 6:08 pm

      Beginning of the game, or towards the end. Rough game, or light. It doesn’t matter. Age and importance of the game, it doesn’t matter either. Your job as a ref. is to keep every player safe, and make it a fair game. A coach even saying this to a player IS a threat to the opposing player’s safety. If words like “take out” are used, be conservative, someone else will investigate it. This coach needs to exit the field and this should be reviewed by superiors. I write this respectfully as a past player, a past coach, and a current ref.

  4. V

    September 1, 2016 at 6:33 am

    We don’t “send off” coaches. We dismiss them.

  5. Colin Arblaster

    October 26, 2016 at 10:23 am

    What was heard, “the head coach for the red team just told his substitute if they can ‘take out’ blue #17, it would open the whole right wing for us and we can win.”

    The direction of the conversation and the directives indicate there should be some sort of penalty toward the coach. For me this statement is far to vague to penalize anyone directly. However, it should raise concern and therefore the referee team should address the matter in order to manage the match and ensure the safety of players.

    My main concern is the statement does not clearly identify a threat. The coach may have meant no harm to the opponent and merely wants his player to mark the #17 effectively and fairly and therefore take him out of the game.

    Language can be misspoke, misheard, and/or misunderstood by any one of several participants. The message here could mean something completely different from anyone hearing the statement. Context and environment may assist in determining if there should be cause of concern. However, it still does not with certainty conclude that a threat has been made.

    So what to do? Is it still a concern? Yes, do something as it is likely still a concern.
    Yes, the AR should inform the CR.
    CR and AR could bring the substitute and coach together and state their concern of the statement heard. Then clarify that if a threatening directive was indeed given and is played out there will be no hesitation in sanctioning both of them strictly with violent conduct within the game but also they would serve as witness in any criminal investigation outside of the game.

    Here they have a chance to plea that it is a misunderstanding. They have a chance to claim innocence and modify their behavior. Have been fairly warned that officials are aware and will sanction firmly and fairly. And that they will support effort of any additional criminal punishment.

  6. umeweall

    April 27, 2018 at 2:54 pm

    Reminds me of something that I heard years ago, when working a U13B team, as AR. One team had a girl on it, and she was a very good player. I heard two players of the opposing team talking about the girl. One player told the other player that ‘we should take her out’. I told them both that if I should see them even remotely trying something like that, they would no longer be in the game. They both got a surprised look on their face, sat down, and I heard nothing from them the rest of the game. To make matters worst for them, the girl scored the winning goal against them, beating one of them, who was acting as the last defender.

  7. Cbass

    July 4, 2019 at 6:01 pm

    Our job is to make the game fair, and keep the players safe.
    An order to injure a player is unacceptable. It doesn’t matter the age or importance of the game.
    Coach is dismissed/sent off. RED CARD!

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