The Two Components that Affect Refereeing

By Rodney Kenney, NISOA National Assessor, Florida

There are two components that go into becoming an effective referee, one of these are solid facts that are correct in any situation we find ourselves in, and can be taught from a book orat clinics. This I will call the Science of refereeing. The other component is more behavioral, and requires each individual referee to experiment and develop throughout a career. This I call the Art of refereeing. Both components are necessary to become a top-level referee. These two components can be further broken down into elements that make up each of the components.

In the Science component we have the following elements:

  • Mechanics, which are the signals we use, the position we take on the field, the procedures we use to disciplineplayers, how we inspect the field and players, and the pregame.
  • What can be physically changed, this is uniform improvements, fitness level, and how we carry ourselves.
  • What is technically correct; such as knowledge of “NCAA Rules”, conference rules and procedures.
  • How to communicate, Use of the whistle, what to say when,and how to use your body language to covey the message youwant to get across to the players.

In the Art component we have the following elements:

  • What is your culture? As and example, Germans tend to more structured and disciplined, then do Americans who tend to be more freewheeling, and less disciplined.
  • What is your personality? Each of us has a different personality, some are always positive, some negative and some people are mentally tough while others are timid and shy.
  • What is your temperament? Some people never get flustered while others are easily moved to anger or other emotions.
  • What is in your past? Your early family life has a lot todo with you moral and ethical standards, and how you nowapply them. And how you were treated in the past could reflect on your treatment of people today.

Both components are used in evaluating the performance of a referee. This is similar to how figure skaters are judged. Even at the World Champion levels in figure skating, to attain the highest grade you must first do well in the compulsorily(science) phase of the program, before you can go on to the freestyle (art) part of the performance. The same happens in refereeing. This is not to infer that without a perfect score on the science component of refereeing you will not have asuccessful game, because the art component carries the most weight (player management and game control). Although without having good science on your side the art will often be flawed.

Of the two components, the science elements are the most easily observed and corrected. The art elements on the other hand are not so easily identified, and even harder to quantify since they involve personal feelings and preferences. The art component is mostly interpersonal problem solving, better known as player management, and game control. How a referee interacts with the players and officials in the game are not guided by any hard fast rules you can learn from a book, but by intuitive judgment the referee has on how to handle a difficult situation that will bring about the best result for the game.

The referee’s intuition, judgment and manner are all predicate don the elements of the art component. These elements are not easily modified, and require the referee to first identify their shortcomings and then make a concerted effort to change their behavior. Some referees never understand why the management techniques they are using do not work and fail to see it is their own personality, or temperament that is the barrier to their success.

The process for developing into a top-level referee is also tied to the two components. A referee must first learn and practice the science elements. This normally happens during entry-level instruction and lower level games, such as club and JV high school games. Since these games do not require as much player management and the speed of the game is slower, this allows the developing referee time to work on rule interpretation,mechanics, and positioning.

In the next phase the referee begins to work more demanding games at a much faster pace, requiring player management and game control skills. They start to experiment with and develop the art component of refereeing. At this point each referee must decide which player management and game control techniques work best for him or her.

Watching a referee work at this level, I may not completely agree with the referee’s player management and game control methods, but if the end result is a successful game how can I say the referee’s artwork is no good just because it is not my artwork. Many times I have heard assessors say, “What you did worked in this game but in another game it may not work.” If we all can agree we want the referee to use only the amount ofcontrol need to keep the game safe for the players and the rules enforce consistently, what more is required of the referee?

Now if the referee’s player management and game control methods are not successful and the game is called into question because of the referee’s actions, then the artwork has to be modified,and the referee must accept constructive criticism about how they conducted the game and what it will take to become a better player management and game control artist.

As you can see the road to becoming a top level referee is a complicated and time-consuming journey, requiring dedication,continuing practice and development. It is unlikely a referee will ever reach perfection, but along the way when science and art come together there will be some beautifully refereed game and you will gain satisfaction knowing the time and effort youspent to get there was all a worth while contribution to the game of soccer, we all love.