The Whistle – Your Tool for Communication

Published on April 20, 2017


By Don Dennison – NISOA National Clinician and National Assessor

The monthly “NISOA Referee Nuts and Bolts” column is written primarily for the college and high school soccer referee. However, any soccer referee who wishes to improve personal performance may also find that this series is helpful.

Of all of the tools in the referee’s kit, the whistle is probably the most important if it used properly and at the right time.


There are several types of whistles available in the market:

  • Metal or plastic (either lanyard or finger grip) i.e. Balilla, Acme Thunderer;
  • Pealess (Fox40®) (either lanyard or finger grip);
  • Electronic.

I personally do not recommend a metal whistle for several reasons; it freezes to your lips in very cold weather and if you quickly move it to your mouth, you can damage your teeth. A rubber cover for the tip of this type of whistles is, however, available. The Fox40 is not my favorite but is loved by many officials. My main complaint is that it is very difficult to control the strength of the whistle’s tone and as noted further herein, the whistle should not be blown at the same strength in all situations.

I have not had much experience with electronic hand-held whistles, but they seem to not only be expensive, about $16 or more, but are not easy to activate by the hand. The few that I have seen have three tones and would appear to require quite a bit of practice to operate properly.

You can now purchase whistles in many colors, but I suggest that black or silver (for metal whistles) are the only ones that should be used in the collegiate game. You are not out there to put on a show. That’s why we wear black shoes. The exception may be for those special charity events such as “Kicks for Breast Cancer” where pink whistles are sometimes given to the participating officials.


There are few things more annoying to me as an assessor than to see a referee running with his whistle clenched in his mouth. For one thing, you will eventually, if not already, experience a ball hitting you smack in the face, or you can trip and land face first on the pitch. In either case, you may well have a substantial dental bill or worse. Secondly, if you run with the whistle in your mouth, it is very easy to breathe into it during a sprint resulting in an inadvertent whistle. More importantly, the referee should after seeing an infraction, take a second or two to assess the situation for a possible advantage call. The mouth carrier has a tendency to whistle right away, frequently denying an advantage and to impulse whistling. The few seconds that it requires to bring a hand-carried whistle up to your mouth provides that necessary time gap to determine possible advantage.

The whistle is best carried on either a wrist or neck lanyard or worn on the hand (finger grip). Using these methods, it takes a second or two to bring the whistle up to the mouth thereby avoiding the problem noted above. My personal preference is the finger grip since there is no lanyard to become entangled or a whistle to grab. If you watch ice hockey you will see that all of the officials use the finger grip. Of course, the choice is yours and whatever is the most comfortable and works for you is the way to go. In any case, always carry a spare whistle.


In the Collegiate game there are specific times when the whistle should always be used:

  • To start play (1st and 2nd half and for the kick off after a goal is scored)
  • To stop play for a free kick or penalty kick, to suspend or terminate a match
  • To stop play at the end of a period
  • To restart on a free kick when 10 yards is requested
  • To restart play on a penalty kick
  • To restart play after a card is given, after an injury or substitution

A whistle is not needed to:

  • Stop play for a goal kick, corner kick or throw-in (except when the ball goes back into play after it has crossed the touchline or goal line)
  • Stop play after a goal. (If you whistle for a goal just before the ball crosses the goal line, think of the hole you have dug when you have a drop ball)
  • Start play on a goal kick, free kick corner kick or throw-in.

The whistle should be reserved for doubtful situations and not overused, else you become a “Tweeety-Bird” which spoils the flow of the game.


The manner in which the whistle is blown will reflect the thoughts, personality, authority and determination of the referee. You should make the whistle talk for you. A short and sharp tone or note is perfect to start play as for example on the kick-off. A stronger or longer blast should be used for a severe infringement. Don’t use the same blowing force for every situation. Certainly, never blow the whistle right next to the ear of any player.

The pitch of the whistle is also important since various tones are available. There is a difference in sound when a match is played on an open field as opposed to a closed stadium. Accordingly, you should have several whistles. This is also handy in tournaments when matches are played on adjacent fields in which case you should chose a whistle with a different tone from that of the referee on the adjacent field.

Get to know your whistle; it is an important tool in your arsenal.




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