Safety First

by:  John Van de Vaarst, National Clinician

Seasoned soccer referees remember when they started their officiating career many years ago, unlike today, new referees were taught just a few acronyms.   For example a player must be cautioned if they were a dupe.  Dissent, unsportsmanlike conduct, persistent infringement and entering and exiting the field without permission.  If a player was a real problem the referee was to vap them.   Violent conduct/serious foul play, abusive or foul language, and persistent misconduct after receiving a caution.   The last acronym that was emphasized was see.   Safety of the players, equality in officiating and enjoyment for everyone.  This article will focus on the “S” in see.   Player safety is one of the top priorities for an intercollegiate game.  To ensure this several rules are incorporated into the NCAA  Rule book to ensure player safety.  At the start of each game the officials are to inspect the players equipment and make sure there is nothing dangerous and that the players are properly equipped.  This is the first step on game day to ensure safety.  Referees are provided extensive training on the need to ensure safety and protect all participants from injuries.

It is critical that referees ensure that every player has the opportunity to exhibit their skills and be safe from any injury that can be caused from reckless play by others.   Player safety is of the utmost importance to everyone involved in the game of soccer.  Reckless play that can result in an injury to the player or opponent is a caution.  Players, in the heat of the moment, engage in behavior that is not acceptable.   Often times this occurs when the best player on the opposition has the ball and attacking the goal.  The attacker has every right to exhibit his/her skills and opponents tackling in a reckless manner or committing a foul that can cause injury must be cautioned or if it is excessive ejected for serious foul play.

Another area of player safety is equipment.   The NCAA Rule Book is very clear on what is illegal equipment.  Referees must enforce every aspect of Rule 4.  No intercollegiate referee has the right to ignore illegal equipment for any reason.  Shin guards must be age appropriate, not altered and be professionally manufactured.  The NCAA requires players to wear shin guards that  meet the standards established by the National operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE).    Shoes must not have cleats that can be dangerous.  No jewelryi is to be worn.  That is a very simple statement but yet every year problems arise because jewelry was worn.  This is becoming a bigger issue as more games are being televised and high school players are viewing higher level games with teams wearing all types of jewelry.  The argument is that why is it that players on TV where earrings and I cannot?   An official respond, very professionally, that the player could wear the earring as long as they did not come on to the field of play.  The message was delivered.

If a player appears to be injured, the referee can check on him/her  before stopping the clock to see if the injury is serious enough to call the coach or trainer on to the field.  If the goalkeeper is injured the referee can stop the clock and allow the goalkeeper some time to see if he/she can continue in the game.   This ensures that the goalkeeper is not participating in the game if he/she is seriously injured.

Recently there have been several articles published regarding concussions and potential long term effects from sports injuries.   Coaches and trainers are responsible for making sure players are not participating in a game when injured so that permanent damage is avoided.   Appendix D of the NCAA Rule Book has detailed information on concussions and what an official must do if a concussion is suspected.  This appendix should be reviewed on a regular basis.  No one should be playing the game of soccer that exhibits any symptoms of a concussion.   Refresher training on symptoms and treatments for concussions is a must for every high school official on an annual basis.   A coach must never sacrifice the long term abilities of a star player just to have them play in one game when they are injured.  Referees have the responsibility to remove the injured player or player with a concussion off the field and coaches are responsible to see that the player receives appropriate treatment and is not put back in the game until cleared by an approved medical professional.

If a serious injury occurs, the referee must stop the game immediately, get medical assistance for the player and not rush the trainer or the coach to have the player removed from the field so that the game can be restarted.  The clock is stopped and everything must be done to ensure that the player’s injury is not intensified because of movement without proper treatment.  If it is necessary to wait for an emergency vehicle, so be it.  Wait!!  No game is so important that  a player’s safety is compromised.  Referees should document the number of the player injured and the time of the injury.  This is needed  in the event there are post game questions about the injury or incident.

Remember safety is first and players are to be protected.