Officiating, The High School Way

Published on February 2, 2011


Soccer by the Rules – Officiating, the High School Way


Joe Manjone, Ed. D.

It seems that at almost every high school rules meeting, someone invariably asks:  “Why aren’t high school sports rules the same as those used by other organization?  It would be so nice to be able to call games under one set of rules.”  This statement is true. It certainly would be easier on officials if all levels, organizations and leagues of the same sport used the same rules.  However, this is not the case now, and it is doubtful that it ever will be.  Thus, the high school rules of team sports like basketball, football, soccer, baseball and softball are different from the professional, international or college rules in those sports.

The reason that there is a need for different rules is simply because the goals and priorities of each sports organization and level are different.  For example, in professional sports the spectator is a major concern, so many rules changes are made with the spectator in mind. These same rule changes are not needed for amateur or youth games where the participant is of primary concern.

Please remember that participation in high school sports is not as popular and almost unheard of in other countries. In most foreign countries, sports clubs rather than high schools govern and sponsor sport competition for youth. Sports in foreign countries are not considered an extension of the classroom as in the United States. Development and recreation are the primary aims of most club sport programs. Thus, the goals and the rules needed to govern international competition are different from high school sport rules.

The goals or priorities of all high school sports are education, safety, participation, and sportsmanship. High school sports rules are made with these four goals in mind. Examples of how each of these goals affects high school sports rules are provided below.

Education. Sports are considered an extension of the classroom. In sports, the student-athlete is educated socially and physically as well as the mentally. Sports are an excellent media through which this education can be delivered. The official is part of this education process and must be able to communicate with players, coaches and spectators, so that everyone is informed and can learn from the experience.  To better enable this communication, meetings between coaches, players and officials are mandatory, signals are utilized, and all cautions and ejections must be reported and explained to each coach. To properly educate the players and coaches about high school sports, it is extremely important that the official be consistent, call by the rules established for high school sports, lay aside rules from other governing bodies and concentrate on the game at hand—the high school game.

Safety of Participants. This is the biggest priority in high school sports. This is also the reason for the emphasis on the equipment check, the verification of legal and safe equipment by the referee and the rule that requires the official to stop the game when an injury occurs, no matter the position of the ball.  Also, rule that requires injured players to leave the game, when the referee stops the game for an injury is the result of this big concern for safety. Because of this stress on safety, coaches are also involved in the safety aspect of the game. It is for this reason that before each high school contest, the coaches must verify to the officials that all players are properly and safely attired.

Participation. Allowing more players to participate in the game and thus receive the many benefits associated with playing high school sports is a goal in all high school sports. This goal has resulted in the inclusion of liberal or unlimited substitution rules that apply in a number of different substitution situations.  Also, timing rules that allow for more playing time have been added in some sports to provide additional participation.

Sportsmanship. Because sportsmanship is a high priority, a statement discussing the importance of sportsmanship is spoken or read to players and coaches before each game. Also, a number of caution and ejection rules and penalties have been established to eliminate acts of non-sportsmanship. In addition, most schools have sportsmanship events for players, coaches and spectators and many states offer sportsmanship awards to member schools.

With the emphasis on safety and sportsmanship, the “flow of the game” principle, commonly followed in professional or college sports, has no place in the high school game. When “the flow of the game” is the major consideration, the referee tries to keep the game moving and the ball in play by disregarding minor fouls. However, these minor fouls later often result in retaliation fouls, poor sportsmanship, and injuries.  Safety and good sportsmanship, not the “flow of the game” must be the main consideration when calling fouls in the high school game.

So, the next time you hear someone ask, “Why are high school rules different and why can’t all rules be the same?” You can now provide the answer. The rules are made to meet the needs and goals of high school sports. Also, you can emphasize the goals of high school sports and what the referee must do to meet these goals. Hopefully, this knowledge will add to your enjoyment of officiating high school soccer, and allow you to be a better high school referee.

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