Straying From Structure

By Rodney Kenney, NISOA National Assessor, Florida

Refereeing is an art form, not a science. If it were a science we could teach referees what to do in every situation. There would be a right and wrong way to referee soccer, but there isn’t, and the game was never meant to be played or refereed scientifically.

The beauty of the game is in its dynamics and diversity, not its structure. The best referees understand this concept and allow the dynamics of the game to dictate how the game will be refereed. The best referees are not tied to any certain referee structure.

Unfortunately many referees interpret the rule book as either black or white, which limits their ability to express the art of refereeing. They feel tied to the rule book as if they were scientific truths instead of guidelines. They never show their personality by take risk for the good of the game or adding creativity to player management situations.

If we, as referees, want to be successful at the top level, we must learn to referee with our heart as much as with our head. We must be free to make decisions in the context of the game and players we are refereeing and not some book solution to every situation.

This is not to say that you throw the rule book out and do what you want. On the contrary, you must know the rule book, line and verse. You must not only understand what the words say but what they mean, as well. In other words, if you want to referee on the creative edge you must know where the edge is.

A simple example of what I am talking about is the restrictions on pass back to goalkeepers. To properly referee the game you must not only know what those restrictions are, but why they were imposed. When you understand that the pass back restriction was to keep the goalkeeper from wasting time, and not because NCAA just doesn’t like goalkeepers, then you can make the proper decision in the context of what’s happening in the game you are refereeing.

The following is a more specific example of how structure can affect a match.

While assessing a college game recently I observed two players having a pushing contest off the ball behind the referee’s back. The referee turned around in time to see the player who had been pushed first, turn and push the player who pushed him. At that point the altercation was over. The two players split up and went on to play. After what seemed like a long time the referee blew the whistle to stop play, and ejected the player he saw pushing the other player. The game went downhill from there; a coach had to be removed and the game got nasty with a number of players getting red cards.

After the game I asked the referee why he stopped the game to eject the player when it was obvious the altercation was over and the players had gone on to play. His reply was that he had seen the player push the other player and felt obligated to stop the game and red card the player.

At this level, in this game, there was a question whether even a caution was necessary. A referee with more understanding of the game and players he was refereeing and a more tolerant attitude might have just run by the two players and said something like  “ Are you two done? If not, I will stop the game and deal with you!” This would have had a more positive result and eliminated the follow-on problems in this game.

Your willingness to find alternative solutions to man-management problems that fit the game you are refereeing will set you apart from those referees whose personalities don’t allow them to stray from the structure they see as the book solution. The Rule Book was written with very few situations that call for a specific disciplinary action; so don’t be afraid to stray from structure if it could have a positive effect on the game.

Those of you, that will allow compromise, referee creatively, accept criticism, endure adversity, referee with personality, and show you understand the game and not just the rule book will have a future as a top level referee in NISOA.