Taunting And Game Control

by: Bob Sumpter, former: NISOA Director of Training, NISOA Director – National Referee Program, NISOA National Rules Interpreter.

TAUNTING is serious misconduct. It adversely affects player conduct on both teams. It needs to be recognized and dealt with quickly.

The experience and feedback in the high school soccer game is that incidents are occurring all too often, and in too many cases are NOT being dealt with properly by the Referee.

Why emphasize that TAUNTING, like any other form of player misconduct, must be both recognized and immediately penalized whenever it occurs? Why? because it negatively affects your control over player behavior.

The greatest negative impact on game control comes when a Referee either doesn’t recognize, ignores, or allows game participants to taunt opponents without taking immediate corrective action.  Now truthfully, if you ignore a first occurrence, you may get away with it for a short time.  But, once allowed to pass without punishing the act, subsequent acts of taunting will most likely occur, and those subsequent acts will be ever so much harder to control than the first one.

Recognition involves interpreting what you can hear a player say to an opponent, or see a player’s taunting gesture at an opponent. The verbal taunt, or the gesture that taunts, is meant to insult, intimidate, debase, degrade, bait, or      incite an opponent. In effect, it is meant to rile the opponent into committing misconduct, or into making a playing mistake that risks his or her team losing the game.

You can probably cite examples of taunting that not only involve words or remarks directed at opponents, but also by inappropriate insulting or demeaning gestures or body language. The verbal taunt is perhaps easier to recognize.  The gesture seems to be the type that, more often that it should, gets by Referees.

NISOA emphasizes that it is a MUST for a Referee to handle the very first instance quickly and firmly. If you do so, you will definitely reduce the possibility that you will have to handle any more instances in that game.

The experienced Referee learns that if taunting is ignored it tends to become a serial problem. Let’s go over how a serial problem comes about.

First, the player who made the taunt feels he or she not only got away with using the taunt, but might be able to get away with it again.  This obviously leads to additional problems from that player.

Second, as team mates see the player get away with taunting without being penalized, they could well feel encouraged to try the same unfair tactic.  If that happens, the Referee now has multiple incidents to try to correct.

Referee action at the first occurrence would probably have avoided this from happening by not only discouraging the first player who taunted, but by discouraging team mates from trying the same unfair tactic.

Third, the effect on the game could be even worse if players on the other team also get the idea that they would be allowed to taunt because the Referee did not address the incident committed by the opponent.  So, at least three bad results are likely if you fail to respond to a first act of taunting: (1) The taunting player feels he or she might be able to get away with it again; (2) Team mates might try to do the same; and (3) players on the other team might try the same.

This serial misconduct effect is not uncommon. The sooner you realize that if you allow even one player to act unfairly in a game, then the other 21 players on the field will more than likely assume that they can also do the same.

There are other related possible results as well.

Consider an example. A player who is taunted often becomes frustrated and angry, especially if the taunting persists.  Think about it.  A person insults you.  The obvious intent is to get you angry enough to try to retaliate. Thus you get into trouble in the game by committing misconduct against the player who insulted you and got away with it. If that example sounds a lot like “baiting” an opponent into committing an act that gets him and his team punished, you’re correct.

Consider another example.  Perhaps the intent in taunting an opponent is to upset the opponent just enough so that a tactical or playing mistake is made, and the offending player’s team gains an unfair advantage. That, again, is an unfair result of allowing a player who taunts to get away with the act.  Even though this doesn’t involve retaliation, it is still unfairly biasing the game; it violates both the letter and spirit of the rules of the game.

Worse yet, this could well affect the result of the game, by giving the offending team enough of an unfair advantage so that they are able to win as a direct result of their un-penalized misconduct.

In both examples if the Referee had acted to penalize the first occurrence, the unfair results would probably have been avoided.

Your primary responsibility as a Referee is to insure a fair game.  That requires that you act quickly when any act violates both letter and spirit of the rules.

In the end, it is better to control this type of misconduct from the beginning, than to try to deal with the repeat misconduct that usually occurs if the first act is not dealt with.

Remember you set the standard of conduct that you will allow in each game you officiate.  Set the standard too low, and allow an unacceptable level of conduct, and you become responsible for misconduct that could have been avoided.  In effect, you become part of the problem, and not part of the solution.