Pregame Duties

Published on April 1, 2016


By: John van de Vaarst – National Clinician

There are many pregame duties that the head referee is responsible for prior to each interscholastic game. These duties are required and cannot be ignored or modified. This article will provide a brief summary of each duty and what must be performed. While the head referee is ultimately responsible, the referee team should work together to ensure all items are completed prior to the start of the game.

The first duty requires that several items are inspected. These include the following:

  • game balls – There must be three or more game balls that are provided by the home team. The balls shall include the NFHS Authenticating Mark on each one. The balls must be properly inflated and similar in quality. The balls must be checked to determine if they are properly inflated and there is nothing dangerous on the balls.
  • field of play and nets – The field must be walked to make sure all markings are proper. For example the penalty mark must be 12 yards from the goal line. Also, the field should be inspected to ensure there is nothing dangerous, such as sprinkler heads, standing water, etc. If the goals are portable, they must be inspected to ensure they are properly anchored. The nets must be checked for any holes and that they are supported so that they extend back from the goal.

The head referee must have a discussion with the scorer and timer to review the duties and responsibilities of each individual. The timer must be reminded that the clock starts when the ball is properly put into play and does not stop unless there is a goal scored or the referee requests the clock to be stopped with a hand signal that is clearly visible. The timer must also be advised that he/she is to count down the last 10 seconds of each half so that the coaches and officials can clearly hear the countdown. The scorer is to be reminded that is very important to list any cautions or ejections including the time of the incident and the player’s number. The head referee will review the cautions and ejections at both half time and at the end of the game. The scorer must also be reminded about when a substitute can enter the game and what to do to alert the head referee about substitutes.

In a dual system of control the head referee should discuss with the other official about game coverage, fouls off the ball, substitutions, and game management. In a diagonal system of control the head referee should discuss with the assistants offside, signals for ball in and out of play, substitutions, fouls,
player management and other items he/she feels need to be reviewed.

Another pregame responsibility is a discussion with the coaches and captains to review pertinent rules, answer any appropriate questions, and address good sportsmanship. Several state associations have adopted a standard statement that must be read regarding sportsmanship. The head referee must ask each head coach whether each of the players are properly and legally equipped.

One of the final pregame duties is to conduct a coin toss with the captains of both teams. The visiting team will call the coin (heads or tails) while the coin is in the air. The winner can choose to kick off or defend an end of the field. The other team is provided the remaining choice.

Although it is not specified as a pregame responsibility in the rule book, it is important that all officials allow sufficient time to stretch and warm-up. This will help reduce the chance of injuries during the game.

Just prior to the start of play, the officials should check the nets again to ensure there are no holes and the nets are still properly affixed to the goal post, cross bar and the ground. This last check will prevent issues that may develop during the game.

The head referee and other officials have many duties that must be completed before the game. It is most important that the referee team arrives at the game site with sufficient time to complete the above duties by game time. The NFHHS Rule Book requires that the official arrive no less than 15 minutes before game time. However, the earlier the officiating team arrives, the easier it will be to complete the pregame requirements without rushing or delaying the start of the game.

Although it is not a duty, it is a very good practice for all officials to properly stretch out and warm-up prior to the game. This will help eliminate the potential for pulled muscles or other related injuries.

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