Referee-Assistant Referee Let’s Talk Part 2

By:  John Van de Vaarst, National Clinician

This month’s article is part two 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.  Part one, which was the March article, focused on communications before the game.  This month’s article will focus on communications during and after the game.

As indicated last month, open communication is critical to the success of any management team.  If one member of the team is not communicating with the rest problems can develop and information is not free and open.  It is critical that the referee, two assistant referees, and the alternate official are always communicating during the game.

Communication during the game comes in many different ways.  The most common is the assistant signaling with the flag and the referee acknowledging the signal.  This could be for offside, fouls, ball in and out of play, etc.  The best way for this communication to work is that the referee and assistant referees continue to have good eye contact and are in the proper position to make the signal and see that the signal was made.  Good mechanics by the assistant referee goes a long way in helping with this type of communication.  When individuals are first trained to be assistant referees, they are taught to snap the flag so that the referee can hear the sound even if eye contact is not made.  This mechanic should always be used, especially on fouls or close offside decisions.  This not only brings the incident to the attention of the referee, it clearly indicates that the assistant referee is positive about the decision and knows that the proper call is being made.  The referee should also communicate to the assistant and provide encouragement by giving a thumbs up or some type of eye contact so that the assistant referee knows that the referee appreciates the efforts that are being made to assist in game control.  A verbal positive comment to an assistant referee goes a long way in building the confidence of the assistant referee and ensuring that the team is working together and communicating.

Another type of communication between the assistant referee and referee is when there may be some confusion about a particular play or incident.  During these situations, the referee should go to the assistant referee and get an explanation of what the assistant is thinking.  This should be done quickly so that the game can be restarted and dissent kept to a minimum.  During this situation the referee should face the field of play so that players can be observed.  The assistant referee and referee should not be near any players so the conversation is not overheard.  The players should not have any input during this conversation.  Once there is agreement then a quick explanation to the captains by the referee may be appropriate.  This should be profession, stating the know facts, and advising of the decision.   The amount of time for debate should be minimal and the game restarted.

The alternate official should communicate with the referee regarding substitutions.  The alternate is responsible for making sure the substitute has reported in and can legally come into the game at the proper time.  The alternate also communicates by keeping the game report on an official NISOA Alternate Official Form.  The greatly assists the referee and eliminates some of the reporting requirements for the referee so that more time can be spend on communicating with players and maintaining game control.

Another way an alternate official can communicate with the referee is through signals that are very subtle.  For example, when a ball goes out of bounds on the referee diagonal and the referee glances back toward the alternate, the alternate official can place his/her hand in front of their chest and point with a finger the direction of the throw in.  The referee can then make the proper call.   The alternate can also provide information when requested by the referee.  This can be most helpful if there is a severe incident on the field and the referee seeks out help on who should be ejected.  The alternate official must pay attention throughout the game so that if an incident occurs, information is readily available.

The alternate official is responsible for the players, coaches and bench personnel that are on the sideline.  The alternate must keep control and always act in a professional manner.  There cannot be any confrontation with the coaching staff nor can the alternate official discuss any decisions made by the referee with the bench personnel or coaches.  If the bench becomes so disruptive that the game is being adversely impacted, the alternate official must communicate with the referee as to who should be ejected and the reasons for it.  Again this must be done quickly and professionally.

The half time interval provides a great opportunity for the officiating team to communicate.  While in the locker room or on the field in an isolated area, the referee team can review the first half play, discuss any problems that were encountered, and discuss any adjustments for the second half.  The referee should seek out opinions of the assistant referees and alternate official on how the game is being controlled and anything they noticed that could result in second half problems.  The referee should also discuss any concerns about how the assistant referees are performing the duties and responsibilities and any adjustments that need to be made.  This is also a good time for the referee to let the assistant referees know that they are appreciated and comment on any difficult calls that might have been made during the first half.

The post game is yet another opportunity to communicate as a team.  The referee, assistant referees and alternate should spend some time discussing the entire game as a team.  This conversation should equate to an unofficial assessment of each other so that improvements can be made for the next game.  Open and frank discussion about positioning, mechanics, game control, etc. will go a long way to improve the overall quality of the officiating team.

In summary, communications amongst the referee team before, during and after the game will go a long way to improve the officiating team and make the game more enjoyable for all.