Inward – Outward – Upward

Published on September 10, 2014


By:  John Van de Vaarst

In order to improve as an intercollegiate soccer official it is most important to continually look inward, outward and upward.  This article will focus on these three points and how to use them to become a better official.

Before each game an official should look inward to determine if he/she is ready for the level of play.  Questions that should be asked include but are not limited to are:  Am I physically ready for the level of play?  Am I carrying any excess baggage that will impact performance?  Excess baggage may include pressure from work, family issues, financial matters, etc.  The hardest question to answer is:   Am I capable of managing the level of play or should I have not accepted the game?  All officials have egos and feel that they can officiate at any level.  However as Clint Eastwood once said ” a man must respect his limitations.”  Trying to advance through the ranks too quickly or accepting a game that requires more skills then those developed will only lead to problems for the official.

After the game every official should look inward and analyze how the game was officiated.  It is easy to say “I did the best job possible considering the players and skill level.”  It is much harder to self critique and truly look inward on how well the game was officiated.  Things to look back on include:  Did I keep up with play?  Was I in good position most of the game?  Did I use game control techniques that helped with the flow of the game?  Did I work will with the assistant referees?  Did the players respect my decisions?  Overall was the game an enjoyable experience for the players, coaches, fans and referee team?  Answering these questions honestly will help improve an official for the next assignment.

Looking outward for assistance will help any official improve his/her skills.  After each game the referee team should spend time honestly talking to each other about the game, decisions, teamwork, and any critical situations that occurred.  This type of discussion can only be beneficial if the entire referee team is opened and honest.  If an assistant referee was not keeping up with play or was indecisive about some decisions, there should be a discussion on how the assistant should function differently in the next assignment.  Another example is if the referee did not act on information from the assistant on a critical play the assistant should clearly explain what happened and why the assistant signaled the referee.  Glossing over these types of situations to prevent defense mechanisms to be brought out does not help the referee or assistant improve.  Accepting the information in a professional manner and openly discussing it will help the entire referee team.

Another example of outward assistance is feedback from other sources.  Every official should seek out at least one assessment per year.  When receiving the feedback after the game from the assessor the referee team should be open to suggestions and listen.  Making up excuses as to why the official performed in a certain way rather than accepting the criticism will not help the official to improve.  Some coaches can be of assistance, too.  An experienced coach may make a comment after the game that the official did a good job but did not deal with persistent infringement.  This comment should be taken back to the locker room and discussed to see what was missed and how the problem can be prevented in the future.  Attending clinics and chapter meetings can also help an official improve.  Even if an official only learns one new item during an all day clinic the time spent was beneficial.  Also, officials tend to learn a great deal during the breaks at a clinic when discussing games with fellow officials and clinicians.   Newer officials should look outward and consider attending the NISOA residential training camp.  This is four days of extensive training that can greatly assist in performance improvement.  Also, the referee will make long term friendships and get to know experienced clinicians who are always available to provide guidance in the future.

Looking upward to the next level of officiating creates goals for the official.  Every young official has dreams of working the NCAA College Cup Final.  In order to reach that level, the official must set goals and objectives to continually move forward.  Using a mentor or another senior official will greatly help in this area.  However, once again, the only way this helps is if the official is open to suggestions and feedback. If an official tries to “short cut the system” and moves too quickly will only encounter problems and most likely never achieve the goals.

Looking upward also means getting involved in the administration of the organization.  If an official has particular skills he/she should be willing to share them with others.  Accepting a position as a chapter officer, clinician, etc. will not only help the official , it will give back to the organization.  Many individuals have looked upward and gotten involved at the National level in some fashion.  This is most important to keep the organization vibrant.  New ideas, suggestions, and input will help the organization grow and improve.  Every official should consider giving something back and help others look upward.  If an official is interested in getting involved at the local level he/she should contact the chapter president.  If someone wants to assist at the National level, he/she should contact a regional representative or a National officer.  Email addresses are available on

In summary, everyone should always look inward, upward and outward.  This will help the individual and the organization as a whole.

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