Preventative Officiating

Published on October 1, 2014


By:  John Van de Vaarst, National Clinician

There are many ways to keep game problems from escalating.  Officials who have obtained the higher levels of the game usually have a variety of techniques to ensure a game flows smoothly and problems are kept to a minimum.  Every official knows how to recognize a foul but it is the better official who knows how to keep problems from escalating and how to deal with a variety of situations.  This article will focus on some tips on ways to prevent problems during a game.

First and foremost every game should be treated as a new experience.  If a referee is assigned a game where he/she had problems with a coach or had to eject a player in the past, the referee must make sure that the coach and/or player realizes that the problem was in the past and will not impact the current game.  This becomes difficult if the player or coach becomes a problem in the current game.  The referee must use whatever techniques necessary to let the coach or player know that the current actions, not the past, are creating a problem with game control and will be dealt with in a timely manner.  Never bring up the past during this type of situation, even if the player or coach makes a remark about the last game and the problems.  Focus on the present and state the facts about the behavior and deal with it.

Signals must always be professional.  Body language, facial expressions, or verbal comments should not demonstrate the emotions of the referee.  This could leave an impression that the referee is personally impacted by the foul or misconduct.  The old phrase that emotions can get the best of you clearly indicates what could happen if the referee displays emotions during foul or misconduct situations.

Another good way of dealing with problems is to remain silent and let the whistle and, if necessary, the cautions or ejections deal with the situations.  At times it is very  difficult to respond to a situation and not become emotional and respond to comments by coaches or players.  This is especially so when the player or coach becomes loud and almost to the point of vulgar.  The referee must keep calm and not snap back.  If the referee lowers himself/herself to the standard of behavior of the coach or player usually more problems are created than solved.  Just deal with the situation and if necessary eject the coach or player.  During these times a referee should never take comments, no matter how sarcastic or demeaning personally.  Remember the individual making the comments is yelling at the uniform being worn by the referee not the individual.

There are certain statements a referee should never make.  For example, a referee should never say “it is the rule”.  This sends the message of a smokescreen.  Rulebook definitions usually escalate the dissent and comments from the individuals involved.  Soccer officiating requires judgment and interpretation.  The better way to explain a decision, if necessary, is to use “game” language and keep the comments to one or two sentences.  Another never is for an official to say “calm down”.  These words tend to aggravate rather than calm.  When a referee is challenged, it is a good time to listen and not react quickly.  A pause may be the best solution to a verbal altercation.  Another never is the phrase “be reasonable”.  A better technique is to repeat back what the individual stated and then explain the rationale for a decision.  This approach makes the individual feel like he/she was heard and can now move on with the game.

All referees must keep calm even when there the game is becoming most difficult or a serious situation occurs.  Emotions run high with players and coaches during various situations.  One example is a player is seriously fouled and retaliates by kicking or striking the opponent.  The referee must be able to keep his/her composure and deal with the player that committed the foul as well as the retaliation.  The retaliation is an ejection for fighting and requires a two game suspension.  The player that committed the original foul must be dealt with in a manner that “fits the crime”.  If the referee truly feels the foul only warranted a  caution that must be what is issued.  The reaction by the other team and the coaches will be that their team had a player ejected and the referee is being unfair.  The referee must keep calm and again using the play as rationale describe his/her decision and get the game restarted.

The above represents a few techniques that will assist  referees with game control.  Referees must use their personality to keep players and coaches under control and allow the game to flow to the best of their abilities.

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