Coaches, Players, Referee, and Control

By: Don Dennison, NISOA, Virginia

A. Factor One – Psychology and Common Sense.

The “Holy Grail” of refereeing is to achieve and maintain game and behavior control in every college or high school game to which you are assigned. As a NISOA Referee, or Referee Team member, you need to be aware that attaining that goal involves not only a good deal of common sense in dealing with the participants, but also involves the use of commonly accepted techniques of simple psychology.  While the rules of the game specify the limitations of Coach and Player behavior, they state expectations more, than how to go about dealing on an interpersonal level with the participants with whom you are in continual contact and communication during each game.

Learning to use these simple techniques in dealing with Coaches and Players, cannot only help you to achieve the level of game and behavior that you work towards, but also help you to avoid repeated participant misbehavior, or escalation of misbehavior, into misconduct.

B. Factor Two – Appearance.

When the Referee Team enters the field for the first time, realize that this is the first impression the competing Coaches and Players get of you as Referees who will manage the game. You have heard over and over that a good first impression is important in all contacts and communications with others.  How the Referee Team is dressed and personally groomed is important. A laundered, wrinkled uniform; unpolished shoes; absence of, or non-NISOA, badges; Non-standard uniform articles among the Referee Team; these all can lead the participants to conclude that you either do not care about the importance of the game, or perhaps are not prepared enough to referee the game effectively. Consider how you might look upon Coaches and Players who come onto a field with sloppy or non-standard uniforms, or who have not bothered to show up looking groomed neatly.

Pay attention to your appearance.

C. Factor Three – Eye Contact.

Even before the game begins, you will have to address both the Coaches when you introduce yourselves, and be seen by the Team members as you move about inspecting their equipment and during the coin toss. If you are in the habit of avoiding eye contact when approaching participants, or when addressing them, or when responding to a pre-game inquiry, you might give the immediate impression that you are afraid, or reluctant, to face and deal with them in a civil and fair manner. Also, when introducing yourself to a Coach on your arrival at the field, or perhaps to a Team Captain at the coin toss, and a handshake is offered, make sure you return it with a firm, but not a harsh, grip. This also establishes confidence and sincerity.

During the game, you will in all probability have to communicate verbally with either Coaches or Players. Most of these times, you will be trying to get participants to modify their behavior and stay within the bounds of the standard of conduct that you set for the game. By getting and maintaining eye contact during all such communications, you establish and underscore your firmness and intent.

Avoiding eye contact can signal that you are either unable or unwilling to enforce the conduct standard, and might lead them to further unacceptable behavior.

C. Factor Three – Body Posture.

How you bear yourself while on the field has an effect on your ability to control the game and behavior. You’ve no doubt been told that the Referee who stands erect and moves about in a determined fashion impresses participants in a positive way as not only self-assured, but also as capable of “doing the job.” This is usually the case not only when you referee soccer. It is true in all your activities when you interact with others.

As you watch others who referee soccer, you will from time to time see a Referee who makes a call, then immediately bends his head down and moves off without ever looking at the aftermath of the event just penalized, or at the players involved. What would you guess about that Referee from seeing that behavior? Would you likely feel that the Referee was either unsure about the call, or that the Referee was reluctant to face the players involved?

Posture also has to do with how you move about the field, and whether or not your manner of movement portrays confidence. As you move towards an incident, or into a position from which you can oversee conduct during a critical play, your aggressive approach and speed of movement to get into position should convey your confidence and determination to see that you are there to do your assigned job. Make sure your movement always suggests that you mean to accomplish that end.

D. Factor Four – Tone and Power of Voice.

When you speak to Coaches or Players, you tone of voice should be confident. You do NOT have to raise your voice to convince anyone that you “mean business.” A calm tone and volume will do just as good a job as trying to shout down an upset participant. One of the ways to get this result is to wait until the participant stops, then address that person, calmly and firmly. Always maintain your composure. Since it is more likely that the person you are addressing is upset, by using a calm, composed, and firm voice you will help to avoid an unhappy confrontation.

One technique to maintain your own composure is to realize that there is NO situation during a game that you cannot control.  The rules give you almost absolute disciplinary power in terms of that particular game. This realization should give you the confidence you need to get through any uncomfortable confrontation with a participant.

E. Factor Five – Equal Time, Equal Approach.

A continuing concern for the Referees is to appear, and be, unbiased and objective in your refereeing. You cannot give either the appearance of bias or non-objectivity in any way, shape, or form. In any pre-game contacts or communication with Coaches, make sure that an equal amount of time is spent with BOTH Coaches. Obviously, during your career you will referee teams more than once in your local area, and you probably will establish cordial relationships with local Coaches. However remember that when assigned to a game, you must not seem to favor either Coach or Team. Also, make sure you maintain a respectful manner and speech towards both Coaches and Players. It is too easy for a participant to misjudge your attitude as favoritism, condescension, or lack of objectivity if you seem to favor either team.

F. Factor Six – Managing the Individual and Situation.

Common sense and simple psychology play an important part in developing you ability to manage participants. In addition to what we’ve discussed, the following should help. When you deal with people, treat them as you expect them to treat you. It’s more important for you, as Referee, to do so, because you are the individual to which the rules give almost absolute power. In any exchange, after you’ve established eye contact, try to listen for a bit and quickly identify the mood of that person. Your first communication should be to establish rapport. Then, in order to get a quick but just resolution, convey your decision message clearly, in the simplest terms, and quickly. Avoid asking questions that invite more discussion from the individual. State your decision in a way to declare completion of, and finality to, the matter.

As in all communications, during the exchange make sure you phrase all that you communicate to exhibit that: (1) you care, (2) you have compassion, (3) you are being considerate, and (4) you are in control of yourself and of the situation.

G. Summary

The factors discussed in this article are hardly a complete list of the skills and techniques that you must master and practice to learn how to successfully deal with Coaches and Players. However, these are key factors that will help you become skilled at gaining and maintaining control of game and participant behavior. Practice these for success!