You, the Coach, and the Game

By Bob Sumpter, NISOA

This article covers some reminders, suggestions, and information for you to consider about the limits of Coach behavior and how these limits relate to your control over the game and coach behavior.

First, how does the Coach fit into the overall high school soccer picture?

The NFHS Soccer Rules recognize that the Coach must exercise coaching duties while still controlling personal behavior within stated limits. However, a Coach is restricted during the game to the team area (R1-5-3), and by rules governing personal conduct (R12). A Coach must perform coaching duties within these two general sets of limits.

These behavior limits include directing communications to his/her own team in a positive way (R12-8-1-Note), not interfering with the other team (R12-8-1) (R12-8-3), not using video or audio devices (12-8-1-e), and not giving coaching instructions when permitted on the field to attend an injured player (R3-3-2-b-1)

Also, the rules place the responsibility upon the Referee to enforce these limitations on Coaches (R5-3-1), as well as to fairly and firmly enforce personal conduct rules on all Coaches, Players and Team Personnel.

Some Referees seem to find it difficult to deal with Coaches who interfere with the game by violating the rules. It should not be any different controlling Coach behavior than it is controlling player behavior. Both are game control priorities for the Referee.

To start with, remember that high school soccer is an institutional sport. Each school is a responsible institution, professionally managed as a component of a total educational program that is meant to achieve educational development goals for its student-athletes.  State Associations are similarly responsible, professional institutions whose objectives seek to support the schools’ programs through responsible high school sports administration.

A high school soccer Coach is not only an employee of the school, but also is supposed to represent the institution and its educational objectives. As such, the Coach’s behavior during the game is subject not only to on-field control and discipline by the Referee, but also is responsible to the school sponsoring the team, and the State Athletic Association administering the competition. This strengthens the ability of the Referee to deal with a Coach’s behavior problems.

How does Coach behavior affect the game?

The Coach is the team’s authority figure and a model for the desired behavior of every team member. Players are affected by the attitude and behavior of their Coach. If the Coach’s attitude or behavior is negative and overly aggressive, either towards the other team or towards the Referee Team, and he/she displays that attitude, it causes problems to overall behavior control.

As in other soccer programs, the pressure of competitive soccer may stress winning to the point of negatively influencing a Coach’s personal behavior and the behavior of team players and other personnel. To that extent, at times the negative effect of competitive soccer might well help create control problems for the high school game.

What authorities over a Coach’ behavior do the rules define for the Referee.

Under NFHS Soccer Rules, the Referee is given substantial discretionary authority to control participant behavior. This extends to authority over the conduct of Coaches, Players, and other Team Personnel. Most of the discretionary authority over the Coach’s conduct is specified in the provisions of Rule 12-8, Misconduct. This discretionary authority to penalize is probably the strongest control measure for the Referee.

However, the rules also outline other very specific Coach behavior limits where Referee action is specified.

Rule 1-5-3 specifies a “Team Area”. It also specifies that Coaches, Bench Personnel, and Players not active on the field are restricted to that area. (Naturally pre-game, half time, and post game do not apply.)

RULE 33-2-b-1 restricts entry into the field without Referee approval even at an injury. The same provision also restricts coaching instruction during the injury stoppage.

Rule 4-3 outlines Coach responsibility and penalties concerning illegal or improper player equipment.

Rule 5-2 requires that the Head Coach participate in the Referee pre-game conference. This is a positive step to have the Coach take part in reminding teams of fair play and sportsmanship responsibilities. Rule 5-3 clearly specifies that Coaches are subject to Caution and Disqualification penalties issued by the Referee(s).

Rule 12-8, “Misconduct”, lists a wide range of specific rule violations for which a Coach is subject to Caution or Disqualification.  Many of these acts are penalized if they occur without any discretionary judgments being needed. Others are worded so that the Referee needs to exercise discretion and common sense in deciding to penalize by either Caution or Disqualification.

While Rule 12 does state that the Coach is allowed to communicate with his/her own team during play, remember that the restriction about the Team Area also applies, and that any sort of negative communication with anyone on the opposing team is a potential cause for discipline.

You need to enforce all of the disciplines cited with firmness and with the understanding that the longer you wait to deal with unacceptable Coach behavior, the greater danger that your ability to control the behavior of all of the other game participants will suffer because of your failure to deal promptly with the Coach.

Summary: What’s most important?

First, concentrate on the personal behavior examples in Rule 12-8. Rules violations governing Caution and Disqualification apply to Coaches as well as Players and other Team Personnel.

Second, become thoroughly familiar with the rules concerning your authority to penalize.

Third, keep in mind that a Coach, by example and as a role model, demonstrates the behavior level for his/her team.

Fourth, you need to learn to deal promptly with Coach misbehavior. Do not delay in dealing with it.. Any hesitation will create additional behavior problems among the participants.

Fifth, remember that the NFHS Coaches Code of Conduct specifies that the Coach should master the contest rules and teach them to team members. Expect the Coach to know the rules. Also remember that the same code stresses that the Coach shall not seek an advantage by circumvention of the spirit of the game.

Your game control can be greatly improved by making sure you deal with any problem caused by a Coach quickly, respectfully, and firmly.