The Whistle – Your Tool For Communication

By Don Dennison – NISOA National Clinician and National Assessor

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

The metal whistle is not normally recommended 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.  The Fox40 is not the favorite of many officials but is loved by others.  The main complaint is that it is very difficult to control the strength of the tone and as noted further herein, the whistle should not be blown at the same strength in all situations.

Most officials have had limited experience with electronic hand-held whistles, but they seem to be not only expensive, about $16, but are not easy to activate.  Most have three tones and would appear to require quite a bit of practice to operate properly.  Once the whistle is used it becomes more natural.

Whistles can now be purchased in many colors, but it is suggested that black or silver (for metal whistles) are the only ones that should be used in the collegiate game.  The referee is not out there to put on a show.  That’s why black shoes are worn.  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 an assessor than to see a referee running with the whistle clenched in their mouth.  For one thing, the referee will eventually if not already experience a ball hitting them smack in the face, or the referee can trip and land face first on the pitch.  In either case, there may well be a substantial dental bill or worse.  Secondly, running with the whistle in the mouth makesit 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 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.  Many referees’ preference is the finger grip since there is no lanyard to become entangled or a whistle to grab.  Anyone watching ice hockey will see that all of the officials use the finger grip. Of course, the choice is up to the referee and whatever is the most comfortable and works is the way to go.  In any case, always carry a spare whistle.  Remember “Murphy’s Law” if the referee does not have a spare whistle.  Something will happen to the whistle being used.


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

  • To start play (1st and 2nd half and 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, thank  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.  Make the whistle talk.  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.

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, the refeeree should have several whistles.  This is also handy in tournaments when matches are played on adjacent fields in which case the referee should chose a whistle with a different tone from that of the referee on the adjacent field.