The Art of Gamesmanship – Interscholastic

Published on July 23, 2009


By Rodney Kenney, NISOA National Assessor, Florida

Few referees recognize the different tactics that players and coaches use to disrupt the opponent’s concentration, intimidate an opponent or waste time. Most referees miss them completely, some referees recognize only the obvious ones, such as diving to get a free kick or faking an injury after a foul in the hopes of causing an opponent to get a caution or be ejected/disqualified.

The fact is, not many referees are aware of the numerous ways teams psychologically and physically intimidate their opponents. The following are a number these:

  1. A player who knows his opponent is more skilled or faster than him will make extremely aggressive tackles, early in the game, that are meant to intimidate the opponent so that he will be more worried about the hard tackles than receiving and playing the ball. Players know that referees, for the most part, do not want to caution or eject/disqualify a player early in the game, and many players will continue these aggressive tackles until the opponent is no longer effective or the referee does caution them.
  2. The first chance an attacker has he will run into the goalkeeper, acting as if he could not stop. This again is intimidation that is intended to slow down the goalkeeper’s reactions on the next challenge.
  3. Once a team identifies an opponent’s best player they will take turns fouling him until he becomes ineffective or is injured and must be removed from the game. Players know that many referees do not identify this as persistent infringement.
  4. A coach will assign a player to physically harass an opponent’s best player until the opponent retaliates and is ejected/disqualified. Many times this harassment is a constant chipping at the back of the legs or holding the player every time he gets the ball. Many referees see these as trivial fouls and allow the player to play through them, not realizing how annoying these fouls can be. Since the referee is not dealing with the harassment, players feel like they must take the law into his or her own hands.
  5. Verbal harassment works on some opponents and either disrupts the opponents’ concentration or takes them out of the game altogether by getting them to physically retaliate (example: Zidane in 2006 world cup, and he was a Pro).
  6. When a teammate is fouled and the referee takes no action or what the players’ consider insufficient action, one or more players get in the face of the opponent who fouled the teammate. This not only intimidates the opponent but also puts the referee on notice that he may possibly lose control if he does not take stronger action on the next foul by the opponents. I have seen these incidents cause the referee, at the next foul, to give cautions for minor fouls and eject/disqualify players for fouls that should have required only a caution.
  7. Players spit in their own hand and put it on their face claiming that an opponent had spit on them. This sometimes results in the referee ejecting/disquallifying a player who actually did nothing.
  8. On a corner kick the defender stands closely behind an opponent and as the ball is in the air the defender bends his knees into the back of the opponent’s knees causing him to dip instead of jump up for the ball.
  9. After the referee turns his back to follow the ball the attacker elbows the marking defender in the face or stomach. Causing the defender to either retaliate or give more space then they would normally give the attacker (assistant referee be aware).
  10. A referee keeping a player in the game who continues to foul after receiving a caution. These players rely on the referee’s effort to be a nice guy by not making a team play a man down. This makes the referee complicit in cheating the opponent of their right to play without having the advantage taken away by the persistent infringer. It also puts the referee in jeopardy of allowing the perpetrator to injure an opponent when he should not have been in the game.

    Players also use tactics that waste time or take away the momentum of an opponent:

    1. When a team is winning and time is running out:
      1. On a throw-in they will throw the ball down the line so that it does not enter the field of play causing the throw-in to be retaken.
      2. On their throw-in they get the player who is farthest away to come and take the throw-in.
      3. They foul the opponent in midfield (free kicks take time).
      4. They fake injury when they are fouled.
      5. They substitute the player who is the farthest away from the entry point.
      6. The goalkeeper takes longer to get the ball back into play.
      7. They fail to retreat 10 yards on a free kick.
      8. They kick the ball away after a foul.
      9. They kick the ball at the goal if an offside is called against them.
      10. The goalkeeper moves the ball from one side of the goal area to the other on a goal kick.

    Although most of the above tactics could get the player a caution, the players will gladly take a caution in the closing minutes of the game, because even if the referee stops the clock for the caution it will not account for the time the player took to perpetrate the misconduct.

    1. When the opponent has momentum:
      1. At the slightest contact with an opponent the goalkeeper goes down with an injury, which must be attended too.
      2. A field player who is fouled takes a long time to recover.
      3. If the referee has been taking a long time to issue cautions, they play to a caution.
      4. The referee calls an indirect kick in the penalty area and the goalkeeper has the ball in their hands. The goalkeeper hands the ball to the referee. This allows the goalkeeper’s teammates time to get into position and since the goalkeeper did not throw the ball away, most referees are not aware that this is a delaying tactic, and do not caution for it.
      5. If a team is fouled and they do not have momentum, they take a long time to get the ball back into play on the free kick.
      6. The team without the momentum takes a long time to get the ball back into play on a goal kick or throw-in.
      7. The coach on the team without momentum tries to engage the referee in a confrontation to slow the game down.

    When referees have identified any of these tactics the next question is what to do about them? In the case of the intimidation, an early caution along with a declaration announcing, “I know what you are trying to do and I will not allow it”, usually works to discourage tactics which intimidate opponents.

    Dealing with the tactic of wasting time at the end of the game, the referees should first make sure that they have been using good time management techniques throughout the game. Then at the end of the game remind the players you will not allow the wasting of time now, and caution for extreme abuse.

    In the case of taking away the momentum, the referee needs to be sure they are not made a party to it by taking a long time issuing cautions, or getting the injured players removed from the field. Stopping play to lecture a verbally abusive coach, or a player after he commits misconduct is another way that the referees contribute to taking away a team’s momentum. One indication that the referee is taking the momentum away is when the players try to put the ball back into play after a stoppage, before the referee is ready to restart. Granted there will be times referees feel that slowing the game down could help them maintain control, but be aware that the referee could be depriving one team of their momentum, thus possibly changing the outcome of the game.

    As you can see, the referee must not only identify obvious fouls and misconduct but also tactics that, although they may not be listed in the rule book as illegal, could nonetheless, have a negative impact on the game. Recognizing these questionable tactics will help the referee make effective decisions and maintain control throughout the game.

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