Referee Nuts and Bolts – June 2009

By Bob Sumpter, NISOA

The fourth volume in the monthly series contains five short articles addressing NISOA Referee skills and information that is potentially helpful to those members who wish to improve their levels of personal Soccer Referee performance and competence.

In this monthly series, each article covers a single, well-defined topic, along with advice about the importance of each to your success.

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1. Your reputation.

Your reputation as a Referee precedes you onto every soccer field that you enter. If you have a consistent pattern of hesitancy or reluctance to punish infringements, violations, misconduct, or other unfair acts by players, you become known for that failure.

If you have a tendency to warn participants verbally about what disciplinary action you will take against them if misconduct or misbehavior persists, and then do not do so, they will perceive that your word cannot be trusted, and that they can possibly continue to infringe the rules and not be punished.

It becomes more of a problem if you referee the same team or teams more than once in any season.  The teams will remember your officiating from previous games, and may try to capitalize through misbehavior on any perceived refereeing weakness you may have displayed.

Tip:  If you tell a player you will take a particular disciplinary action on continued misbehavior, do so!  Don’t make a promise that your are not prepared to keep!

Tip: You want to develop the kind of consistent reputation as a Referee so that players who see you enter the field for a game will say to themselves (or to each other) “Here comes (Referee- _______.”  He’s/she’s  tough, and won’t let us get away with any nonsense.  So let’s just play the game today.

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2. More on fitness at competitive levels

When you move to a more competitive level, increased player fitness, speed, and endurance will become more challenging to your game management. Covered elsewhere is the need to try game control techniques that require you to get close at times to players who you sense might offer misconduct problems if not dealt with promptly. If a player moves faster than you are accustomed to, then you have to learn to move faster to get close to that player when closer oversight is needed.  To use some effective player control techniques you will have to be as fast and as endurance-capable as the players.

One technique already discussed is to digress from your running pattern to get close to the player without getting in the way of play.  Your aim in doing this is not to have that player necessarily aware that you have come close, but be close enough so that when he or she turns at some point and unexpectedly sees you close by, the player will be warned without words being exchanged.  That technique will underscore that he or she is under closer scrutiny than realized.  In a way, it’s like silently saying “Hello there!” to a player without speaking the words.

Another technique also mentioned before is to get and stay close behind a player with possible misconduct potential from time to time so that, should that player commit a violation or other unacceptable behavior, your nearby whistle will make the player cringe from the sharp sound and underscore that you are indeed paying attention to his or her conduct and are taking corrective action.  This technique does work on many players and can help avoid conduct problems.

Tip:  You need to develop and follow a personal fitness and endurance training program.  Once you achieve improved fitness and endurance you can more effectively use specific player and game control techniques that rely on your personal ability to move as fast as, and maintain endurance to last as long as, the players.  If your ability to endure is not now good enough, understand that it takes time to build it up, so start now and maintain your personal fitness and endurance program throughout your career.

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3. Do spectators have an effect?

For some Referees the answer is yes!  Spectators make loud noises that express their displeasure at a Referee decision they dislike.  A Referee may mistakenly react to that by trying to find a decision that the spectators will cheer. That’s not a good idea for the Referee to try.

Also, spectators cheer when a Referee decision is favorable to their team.  This makes some Referees feel good and may mistakenly be led to purposely make decisions to get the crowd to cheer his/her actions again. That’s another bad idea. Both Referee attitudes are not good.

While difficult at first, a Referee can, and should, learn to ignore spectator noises.  The spectators are there to enjoy the game, and cheer on their team, and to “boo” the other team… That’s how the game goes, not necessarily how some of us would like it to go, and not necessarily indicative of the sportsmanship and appreciation of the efforts of both teams that should be exhibited by spectators.

Most Referees will advise colleagues to avoid “Rabbit Ears”, and to become “Tone Deaf.”  Both terms mean to ignore noise from spectators, and not to let spectator input influence any of your decisions. That’s a good skill to develop.

I can remember on game in particular (a professional game) where the 33,000 attendees heartily “booed” a decision that I made.  Did the sound get through to me? Yes!  Did I change my refereeing of the game? No, and in a similar situation you should not either.  Now, the sound of their disapproval caught my attention for a second or two.  And it would do the same to you were you similarly “booed.”  However, the Referee has to remain consistently unaffected at all times.

Tip:  Make your mind up firmly that your judgment will not be affected by any outside influence, that only you will make the decisions that are needed, and that you will stick to your decision(s) once made.

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4. What decisions do I really make?

It may help you understand your job better if you simplify and generalize definitions of your major responsibilities. I know it helped me early on to keep focused on major issues.

For example, you might better grasp the meaning of rules if they can be associated with major decisions you have to make.  Early on I found it useful to summarize my major referee tasks into three decisions that I would continually have to make over and over before, during, and after each game.

These three key decisions are: (1) Do I allow a game to begin? (2) Once begun, do I allow a game to continue or do I intervene to correct problems? (3) Do I allow a player, or players, to participate in a game, or continue participating after the game has begun?

First, do I allow a game to begin? This decision has mostly to do with your exercise of pre-game responsibilities such as: inspecting and approving the field and field equipment, inspecting and approving the game ball(s), verifying player eligibility to participate, inspecting and approving player equipment.  These are important pre-game duties, and must be carefully executed.  Understand that in the case of a problem in any of these areas that affects either participant safety or non-compliance with the technical standards set by the rules, you have the authority to not allow a game to be played.

Second, once begun, do I allow a game to continue or do I intervene to correct problems? (See rules 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17) This decision is made any number of times during a game.  You’ll decide to penalize rules infringements and unfair play as needed to keep the game and participant conduct under proper control.  Understand that here’s where common-sense application of the rules reflects upon your competency as a referee.

Third, do I allow a player, or players, to participate or continue participating? (See rules 3, 4, and 12) This decision has to do with eligibility, and to those players whose behavior lapses into misconduct.  We discuss elsewhere misconduct and the ways to attempt to control and correct it. At any point in a game where you consider a player’s misconduct unacceptable and cannot be corrected, you must then consider removing that player from the game, for the sake of all of the other players, and to make sure the game reflects the standard of conduct expected under the rules you are responsible to enforce.

This third general decision includes the job of deciding if I have to intervene before a game begins, during all stoppages, or after a game ends to control participant behavior?  For example, once in a great while, player misbehavior occurs in the immediate post-game period.  If so, you are still responsible for reporting any participant misbehavior that constitutes misconduct, even if it does occur post-game.  In this case, you must submit a written report to the game authority. The same applies to half time and pre-game incidents.

Tip: Think about your duties, responsibilities, and powers in a broad sense. Some referees get confused by getting immersed in too many details. By keeping your perception of the Referee task simple, it will help you to focus in on the key elements of your job as Referee.

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5. The professional foul

Many people connected with soccer refer to a certain type of foul as a “professional foul.”  These individuals seem to imply that the foul is to be expected and allowed, because it is a tactical act meant (primarily) to take an advantage away from the player or team fouled.

That has always seemed to me an oxymoronic attitude.

A foul is by its very name an act not allowed by any set of soccer rules, and an act that must be punished when it occurs.  The term foul implies that the act is unethical, wrong, or not allowed. It is not ethical for a player to willfully violate a game rule.

One example in the rules of a “professional foul” is the sanction against the deliberate hand ball or foul meant to stop a clear attack on, or clear opportunity to score, a goal.  Referees usually punish these occurrences.

However, there are many other violations committed with unfair intent that are not listed in the rules.  Neither are they addressed anywhere in the regular training or development of referees.

In past games, you may have seen an opponent grab the shirt or arm of an opponent to stop his progress, sometimes wrestling or pulling the opponent to the ground in the process.  Or, you may have seen a player make a late tackle that takes the opponent’s foot or feet out, topples the opponent, and stops progress by the opposing team.  Often, players obviously commit misconduct to unfairly stop the opponent’s advantage.  Recently a marked increase of unfair and violent use of the elbow(s) by players against opponents has bordered on assault. Yet, there are many instances when these acts are not punished by the Referee.

The most recent World Cup (in 2006) demonstrated that shirt pulling, holding in its many variations, and wrestling opponents to the ground, have become either too often tolerated or non-corrected problems.  Many instances took place throughout the competitions up into the finals.

These so-called professional fouls should not be ignored by the referee.  To do so would only help reduce that game to something less than a fair competition based on skill and fair play.  More importantly, if ignored professional fouls inevitably lead to a succession of similar fouls in that game.

Tip: The aim of the referee should be to call and consistently punish the very first and any subsequent professional foul in the game, the object being to discourage any repetition by that or any other player.

Tip: If you have the opportunity, study the examples in videos of the last World Cup as some extreme examples of shirt pulling, holding, and outright wrestling of opponents to the ground that should not be allowed in your games.  Do not let these violations occur in your games without immediate and stern punishment.

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