Referee Nuts and Bolts – October 2009

By Bob Sumpter, NISOA


Welcome to the eighth volume of “NISOA Referee Nuts and Bolts.  The short topics in this month’s column should present at least one new idea to consider trying out to improve your NISOA College and High School refereeing activities.

This series is called “NISOA Referee Nuts and Bolts” because it tries to address a small, well defined topic in a basic, practical, and common sense way so that you can absorb the information presented easily and put it into practice quickly.

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1. Calling the penalty kick

A penalty kick is usually converted to a goal, especially at the skill level of college and high school soccer. Therefore, your call needs to be correct, and needs to be seen to be correct.

Your first impression of the penalty kick violation will probably be the most accurate.  Most first impressions by the Referee lead to correct decisions.  If you “feel” or “sense” that the act is unfair, and deliberate, and matches one of the violations calling for a penalty kick, then call the penalty just as quickly as possible.

Of course, if you have a signal from an Assistant Referee to confer after your whistle, then do so, but do it quickly and then be clear and firm in implementing your decision.

Avoid the “50-50” penalty kick call.  A penalty kick must not appear to be questionable. If there’s a doubt in your mind when you view a possible penalty kick infringement, it is probably best to not make the call.

However, do not substitute a less punitive call (such as an IFK) in order to avoid having to call a penalty kick.  That leads to bad habits, including avoiding or fearing penalty kicks; or it leads to indecisiveness that is fatal for your overall game control even when the subsequent violation calls are otherwise clear. A Referee who backs away from calling a justified penalty kick is easily spotted by participants, and the ability to keep control after this is recognized is reduced to about a zero level.

Tip: Don’t try to avoid a Penalty Kick call because it’s uncomfortable for you.  It’s your job to make those calls.

Tip: Go with your first impression.  But skip the call if you are definitely not sure it was an unfair act, that it was deliberate, and the call is required in the rules.

Tip: A “fifty-fifty” penalty kick call made when you are not really sure is most often a bad call. Make sure you determine that the act indeed merits a penalty kick.

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2. What does a system of mechanics really do?

First, realize that all of the current systems of mechanics (3 for NFHS and 1 for NCAA) are guidelines, which work most effectively if you follow the system most of the time.

Next, realize that all current systems are primarily designed to put the Referee in a position from which he or she may best manage the game at specific times and when specific events take place.

It’s what you do as a Referee when you get there (i.e., to the prescribed position) that counts.

Finally, realize that all of the currently used systems of mechanics have their own strengths and weaknesses, and no current system is perfect. So if, in given field situations, the system takes you away from where you need to be to control play and behavior, you need to recognize when it might be necessary to adjust your movement or position.

However, by following the procedures of the system of mechanics that you use in your assigned games as specified in the system, you will gain the most effective movements and positions by which you will control the game.

However, as you gain experience you should try to become aware of the need, at times, to  adjust your movements and positions to game tactics, events, and participant behavior problems in order to properly control the game. As one example: in a possible confrontation brewing between two opponents; you might choose to run off your normal pattern and instead stay fairly near the players involved for a while until they become aware of your presence and decide to behave.

Another example may occur when your pattern of movement takes you too far away from the area of play and player contact that needs to be supervised.

Tip: Whatever system of mechanics you are required to use should be followed as closely as possible.  However, you will learn over a period of time those variations in movement and position that you should consider in special situations that will enhance your game control. Do not, however, overuse your ability to vary your movement or position.  You do not want to place yourself in a disadvantaged position to control play or behavior. The specifications of the system will normally place you in the stronger and better positions.

Tip: A system of mechanics is mainly intended to place you in a position from which you can begin to referee.  The system is NOT a substitute for competent refereeing.  If you cannot competently manage the game and control participant behavior, no system of game mechanics will help.

Tip: By all means learn and use the required systems of game mechanics properly.  But, just as importantly, concentrate on learning all of the other information, skills, and attitudes that will make you a successful, competent referee. It takes more than a system of mechanics.

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3. Anticipating a problem

There are many times when the Referee can sense that a possible conduct problem may possibly occur.

For example, you may become aware of opponents, (perhaps while one marks the other in a close and aggressive way,) who nudge and shove each other throughout the game.  If it happens often enough, frustration by one or both grows, and could lead to serious misconduct. It occurs to you that you may want to watch them closely as play progresses.

Or, you may become aware that opponents are moving into the same open space aggressively and seem to be heading for a collision in a manner fair or otherwise. Again, you need to glance over from time to time to keep track of their actions.

Or, you may observe an opponent who consistently moves in to challenge a goalkeeper in an aggressive and potentially unfair way with seeming disregard for the dangerous nature of the challenge. Unfair goalkeeper challenges tend to result in player confrontations, and need to be avoided, or quickly resolved if they occur.

These examples all spell possible trouble.

Tip: The best way to anticipate and handle a possible problem is to be there first.  Get to the spot of the possible problem as soon as possible.  Try to move fast and be there before any contact or challenge takes place.  First off, your visible presence may well help discourage any unfair act from being tried by either player.  Second, you can then be sure to act on any unfair play quickly and help defuse any incident by virtue of your being there and having a full view of whatever incident might take place.

Tip: Of course, staying aware at all times of indications of possible problems is a prerequisite to deciding to move to the trouble spot quickly. Once you are aware that a problem is brewing, stay alert and prepare to move.

Tip: A favorite maxim of experienced Referees is that “Presence Lends Conviction.” That means: be there first!

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4. Your Reputation, Part 2.

(In the June 2009 column we first covered “Your Reputation.”  This short topic continues the discussion of a key factor in your achieving success as a Referee. More will follow in future columns.)

Many Referees do not realize that, particularly in the more competitive levels of soccer, coaches brief their players at a team meeting before game day about the characteristics of the game’s Referee Team (i.e., Referee and Assistant Referees.)

At these team briefings, they review the strengths and weaknesses of the Referees on the assigned Referee Team, and try to build that information into their team’s game strategy.

Without judging the fairness or unfairness of this fact, you need to consider what is best to do to make sure this team briefing on the qualities of your Referee Team members has minimal negative effect on the quality of your game performance, and does not negatively affect the outcome of the game.

Tip:  Concentrate in your own refereeing on building your performance strengths.  Game control is one major priority; a second no less important is consistency in your decisions; and a third of equal importance is to concentrate on assuring a fair game.

Tip: Develop your perceived reputation as a fair, firm, consistent Referee. This reputation will help assure a successful career.