Fighting/Reckless Play Part 1

Published on September 15, 2015


By: John Van de Vaarst, National Clinician

The NFHS Soccer Rules Book for 2015-16 has several points of emphasis for interscholastic soccer games. The second point of emphasis deals with fighting/reckless play. “Players, coaches, game officials and spectators must work together to model and demonstrate sportsmanship and fair play, to minimize risk and to maximize participation.” A side note is the word participation is a key component to the NFHS philosophy for all interscholastic sports. Soccer officials must perform several different duties and responsibilities to ensure safe play and prevent fighting.

The first responsibility for the referee or head referee in a dual system must perform is during the pregame conference with the head coach and team captain. The referee must address the importance of good sportsmanship during the pregame conference. This should be not be a lecture but a simple statement that the NFHS, State Association and local conferences encourage all players and coaches to exhibit good sportsmanship before, during and after the game.

During the game, the officiating team must work together to ensure the game is played fairly and reckless play is dealt with so that problems do not escalate. The officials must make decisions on every play to determine if it was fair, foul, or reckless. If it was a foul or reckless play the referee must then decide if advantage is warranted or is it better to stop play so that all players know that the particular type of behavior is not part of fair play. Game control is one of the best tools for an official to prevent fights or reckless play. If officials allow rough play and do not call fouls, problems begin to develop and the potential for fighting becomes greater.

Officials must also use communications to prevent reckless play or fighting. When a hard foul occurs, the official must, at a minimum, talk to the player who committed the foul and advise him/her that playing in that manner is not permitted and could result in problems for the player. Officials must also be willing to caution and, if necessary, eject players who engage in reckless play. Failure to do so could lead to another player being seriously injured. Another good tool for game management is to speak to the captain or head coach about a player who is beginning to play in a reckless manner. Advise the captain or coach that they should talk to the player in question and work with the official so that the player begins to play in a fair manner.

Verbal communications are one of the tools that an official can use to greatly assist with game control and player management. Talking to a player about his/her behavior and the potential consequences is a good way to change the behavior and potentially eliminate the need for a caution or ejection. Verbal communication also works well to “get a player in the official’s back pocket.” Letting a player know that he/she made a good pass to space or took a great shot lets the player know that the official understands the game and game flow. This leads the player to believe that the referee will recognize fouls and the player can focus on fair play not fouling opponents. A “well done” when a goalkeeper makes a good save also is a mechanism that lets the goalkeeper know that the official understands the game and will not allow fouls against him/her. If an official uses this type of communication, it is important to use it for both teams so that one team does not feel that the official is bias.

Unfortunately, there are games that no matter how hard the officials work to keep control problems develop. If a player commits a hard foul, he/she should be dealt with immediately. The player must be cautioned or ejected depending on the serious of the incident. The official should communicate with the player the reason for the caution or ejection and, in the case of the caution, remind the player that future actions could lead to an ejection. This is a time for the official to be very emphatic and set a tone so that the player clearly knows that his/her behavior must change.

Part 2 of this article will be posted next month and will deal with fighting, spectator problems and the post game responsibilities of the officiating team.

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