Whose Call Is It, the Referee’s or the Assistant Referee’s?

By: Georges-Frantz Louis, NISOA National Assessor, National Referee Emeritus, North Carolina

The great Socrates stated that “The man of fact waits in grim silence to make a throw and to claim a point.”

On the other hand, the great Aristotle stated that “To judge is not to understand; hence if we could understand we would not need to judge.”

During critical moments on the soccer field, one group of people faces the most sophisticated task of managing players and situations. We call them “The Referee Team.”

Well! What is a Referee? In my own terms: A Referee is the judge of an organized sporting event. A Referee’s duties include officiating, or helping others to call, a game. Said duties are similar to those of a Law Enforcement Officer without the power to frisk or to arrest any participant. In regards to officiating, I have developed the following analogy: Silence is to turbulence as patience is to violence. In reality, a Referee must be in total control of himself in order to control the behavior of the players or to assist in managing others behavior and actions.

In the meantime, the Referee Team’s primary function is to establish and maintain a safe atmosphere conducive to competition in which players challenge each other’s level of skill and talent; thus, ensuring fun and/or enjoyable entertainment through the application of reasonable principles.

As a School Resource Officer (SRO), I constantly emphasize to students that “We (i.e., people in general) are nothing without a teacher.” In reference to the Referee Team, a Referee alone is nothing without good Assistant Referees (ARs). The bottom line is: it’s all about Fitness (mental & physical), execution, and teamwork. Of course, it also depends on the circumstance.

Our traditional rule of thumb suggests that: “Assistant Referees assist, and the Referee decides.” However, each play is unique, each player is unique, and each Referee or Assistant Referee has his criterion. As far as the Assistant Referees are concerned, knowing when to “insist” is an effective tool to use when attempting to convince the Referee to honor their signals. I suggest that Assistant Referees may insist when: (1)the ball completely crosses either the Goal Line or the Touch Line, and immediately returns into the Field of Play, whether in the air or on the ground; (2)the Referee misses an Offside call and the attacking team maintains control of the ball; (3) a serious infraction was committed by the attacking team and the end result was a goal; (4)the Referee does not seem to realize that a player is receiving a second Caution (i.e., yellow card) in the same game; (5) a team has more than eleven (11) players on the field during play; (6) an Outside Agent interferes with play development; or (7) a serious violation or incident occurs behind the Referee’s back.

Some inexperienced Referees have a tendency to overwhelmingly overrule their Assistant Referees just to show both the players and the spectators that they are in charge of the Referee Team, the game, and the event as a whole. The public and the Coaches love to see a good Assistant Referee. So! No matter what, Assistant Referees should strive to use proper mechanics (means of communication) to convince the Referee to honor and respect the “Letter of the Rules”, in order of course, to preserve the Spirit of the game. I strongly recommend that the Referee Team discuss specific points of emphasis and mechanics during a Pre-game Briefing, especially the importance of collective enforcement of the rules. An Assistant Referee is an integral member of the Referee Team, and should call violations as appropriate. Traditionally, Assistant Referees call violations not just because they are committed in their quadrants but, indeed, when they have a better angle of view, are closer to the violation than the Referee is, the violation occurred behind the Referee’s back, or it endangers the safety of an opponent (in this case, the violation if not called may escalate the level of violence in the game).

Therefore, I say that “making a call is the Referee Team’s responsibility.” Imagine that a signal is given whether by the use of a whistle or by the use of a flag indicating a violation the Rules, which ever applies. Well! (whether you are the Referee or an Assistant Referee) Ask yourself the following:

a. Is the Referee prepared to make the final decision?

b. Is the Referee poised to honor his Assistant Referee’s flag signal?

c. Is the Referee prepared to invoke the Advantage Clause from Midfield to the Attacking Third (The Penalty Area and its lateral extensions)?

d. Is it safe to continue?

e. Why did the AR make that call?

f. Should I make that call?

g. Or, whose call is it? That’s calling a game.

One key to the success of a Referee is to act cool, calm, and collected. Several deterring factors such as fatigue and uncertainty may hamper your decision making process. Therefore, have a game and performance plan and follow it through for the entire game. In fact, be a Judge. Have no agenda and use your Assistant Referees to their full potential.

In conclusion, whenever you see an infraction or a violation, learn to ask yourself “whose call is it?”