Referee – Assistant Referee – Let’s Talk – Part 1

By: John Van de Vaarst, National Clinician

This month’s article is part one of a two part article on communications.  This is one of the most vital parts of a referee team before, during and after the game.  The first installment will focus on communications before the game.  Next month the article will discuss communications during and after the game.

For any management team to be successful, whether in the corporate world or academia, open communication is critical.  Good managers communicate with each other often and in a manner that helps the organization function in a more efficient manner.  The prevention of “blind spots” and the thorough exchange  of information creates a winning management team.  The referee team on an intercollegiate game is there to manage the game.  These four managers (referee, two assistant referees, and the alternate official) must be able to communicate openly, freely and often to ensure the game is managed so that the players and fans have an enjoyable experience.

Communication begins long before the game clock starts.  At least 24 hours before the game, preferably 48 hours, the referee should contact the two assistants and alternate to discuss where they will meet, if they will travel together and what equipment and uniforms should be brought to the game.  As the weather changes, the referee may suggest only long sleeve jerseys and a particular warm-up suit.  By completing this task, the crew will arrive with everything they need and will look professional if they all wear the same warm up when entering the field for the first time.

When the referee team arrives, after exchanging pleasantries, a thorough pregame discussion should be held.  It is very important that this is a discussion, dialogue, and not a set of marching orders by the referee.  The entire team should openly communicate to ensure all game variables are discussed so when situations occur during the game there are no surprises.  The referee should be open to input from the assistants and alternate on any item and provide leadership so all are in agreement when they walk on the field.  Included in this discussion should be a review of the alternate official’s role and how the referee expects the alternate to deal with coaches and bench personnel.

Upon entering the field, communications continue in several ways. The referee team meets both coaches and exchange appropriate comments.  This should be kept to a minimum since coaches are busy  preparing for the game.  The referee team should warm up together and continue to communicate about the game, positioning, weather conditions, etc.  The team should also go over how they are going to enter the field just prior to the beginning of the game.  Are the teams marching out with the officials or are they just going on to the field?  The alternate official should obtain the rosters from the two teams, check the game balls and go over the NCAA rules as to when the clock starts and stops with the timer.  The alternate should also discuss how he/she will communicate with the timer during the game.  The alternate should also talk to the official score keeper to review when substitutes are permitted and how the alternate will coordinate with the score keeper during substitutions and recording of cautions, ejections, etc.  This is a great opportunity for the alternate official to show how professional he/she is and not a time to socialize, talk with spectators, friends, or others.

The officiating team begins communications with the players when the pregame coin toss is held.  This is an opportunity to indicate to the team leaders (captains) that the referee team is ready, willing and able to officiate the level of soccer that is about to be played.  The referee team must show confidence without an appearance of being cocky.  The spoken words to the captains must be professional and limited to needed information.  This is not the time to socialize, share “war stories”, make threats, etc.  A few simple words that cover the needed information will go a long way to let the captains know the referee team is ready.  The captains are there to have a coin toss and get back to their teams and complete final preparations for the game.  They are not interested in unnecessary comments from any member of the referee team.

Just prior to kick off, and when the referee team is in the center circle they should shake hands and the alternate take up his/her position near the scorer’s table.  The assistants should check the goal nets one more time and take up their positions on the touch line.  The referee communicates with the assistants by making eye contact and verifying they are in position and ready.  The referee then makes eye contact with the alternate and ensures the timer is ready to start the clock.  It is now time to start the game with each official ready to do their job.

Next month this article will continue with a discussion on communications during and after the game. Remember open communication that is pertinent and useful will help in the success of the referee team.