Referee Nuts and Bolts – November 2009

by Robert Sumpter, NISOA.

1. What Players Expect.

Players have a range of expectations for the Referee. I can cite three that I found to be common: protection, enjoyment, and a fair chance.

Protection from injury not only means injuries because of unfair play by the opposition. It also means protection against dangerous conditions that the Referee is responsible to oversee, including, but not limited to, dangerous field conditions, and dangerous opponent equipment.

To stress this aspect, remember that at the more competitive levels, interscholastic or intercollegiate players are sometimes supported in their studies by scholarships based on their soccer participation. Injury can negatively affect that status. Therefore, when injury because of unfair or dangerous play is possible, or because uncorrected dangerous field or equipment conditions exist, players expect more of the Referee. Enjoyment means that they want to be able to play the game without being concerned that any opponents’ unfair play might be allowed by the Referee Team that would cause injury, either temporary or permanent. They want to feel that the game would be a fun, exhilarating, yet competitive, experience for players and spectators. Players expect consistent performance from the Referee and Referee Team to insure this.

A fair chance means that they want both teams and all of the players to be able to exercise the individual and team skills they work so hard to acquire and master to be the primary factor in deciding which team wins the game.

These are not unreasonable expectations from participants.

Tip: As stated elsewhere, to meet these three expectations, (i.e., protection, enjoyment, and a fair chance) you must referee with consistent integrity. There is no substitute for Referee integrity.

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2. The Language Problem

An issue of great concern to both the NCAA and NFHS and all of the thousands of schools who play under their rules is the continuing problem of profanity by game participants. The use of profanity in all of its forms needs to be stopped. In past years both rules making bodies have strongly recommended that all NCAA and NFHS Referees adopt a ZERO TOLERANCE policy on the field toward the use of any form of profanity. In addition, NISOA has consistently urged every one of its member intercollegiate and interscholastic Referees to adopt a ZERO TOLERANCE enforcement of the soccer rules regarding profanity.

Experienced and competent Referees know how dangerous to game control that allowed, ignored, or overlooked profanity on the field can become. It’s a self-inflicted problem NOT to be ignored.

One part of the problem involves the fact that players frequently use unacceptable language unintentionally. Even though unintentional, the use must be penalized. Certainly intentional use of inappropriate and unacceptable must be penalized without question.

Another part of the problem is caused by those Referees who try to justify not penalizing in cases of unintentional use. This is wrong reasoning by those Referees who do so. The sponsoring institutions (i.e., the colleges and high schools) and the rules-making bodies (i.e., the NCAA and NFHS) have consistently strengthened rules requiring that Referees penalize all types of unacceptable language.

One final thought: any Referee “worth his/her salt” learns rather quickly in his/her career that un-penalized or uncontrolled use of unacceptable language is one sure way to lose your ability to control all types of misbehavior by players, including unacceptable language.

Tip: Remember, whatever profane language you allow one player to use without being penalized, the other 21 players will assume it’s OK for them to use. Imagine the game control result if you make that mistake!

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3. Enforce the Rules

As suggested elsewhere, one simple way to summarize your main decisions and objectives in rules enforcement can be stated as follows: “Do I allow a game to begin?” “Once begun, do I allow a game to continue and finish?” and “Do I intervene to stop play to enforce rules and discipline?”

Rules enforcement then is a matter of making these decisions in detail, and deciding how and when to do so. You should develop a set of guidelines that you can use to achieve successful rules enforcement and game control.

Consider the following guidelines in enforcing the rules: 1. Enforce rules only as stated and intended, 2. Enforce rules equally, objectively for all participants, 3. Do not bend or make up rules to suit your purposes, 4. Penalize only those infringements you observe (or those Assistants report clearly,) 5. Keep decisions within the spirit of the game and rules, 6. Enforce the concepts of a fair game and sporting conduct, 7. Understand you have complete authority over enforcement of the rules at the field before, during, and after the game, 8. Discretion and common sense are keys to successful enforcement (e.g., consider the trifling offenses concept).

Tip: Your job is to enforce the letter and spirit of the rules. You are helped by your referee team members. Develop and act upon the set of enforcement guidelines that you find are most helpful in controlling your games.

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4. The Importance of Backup by Assistants and Alternate Referees.

A Referee Team consists of the Referee, the Assistant Referees, and (if designated) the Alternate Referee. It takes all of the Referee Team members performing their respective jobs competently to properly manage a game. Their functions are covered in the college and high school rules, and further expanded and reinforced in the many training manuals and refereeing aids published by NISOA or the NFHS and their member State Associations.

One important function of the Referee Team is to provide backup of several key game control components.

Make sure to designate how each Referee Team member should back up the timekeeping for the game, either by running their own watch(es) to do so, or by noting start and stop times as well as stoppage durations. This is especially important should either the stadium clock, the timekeeper’s device, or the Referee’s watch malfunctions.

Each should also note the scorer, jersey number, team and time of the goals scored in a game.

They should note the player’s jersey number, team, and the time if cautioned or ejected/disqualified.

Any unusual game problem involving injury, interference by non-players or spectators must be noted.

The outcome of the coin toss, the actual starting time of each period of play, and all over-long stoppages are important to note.

These backup duties for the Referee Team are important for accurate game reporting and post-game verification. As Referee you will want to review (after the game ends) your own notes with the information recorded by the members of your Referee Team.

Tip: The Referee Team members can perform invaluable duties in backing up and recording facts about the game. Many times this will make the difference in being able to accurately report critical information to the game authority.

Tip: Do not fail to instruct the Referee Team pre-game about their required backup duties, and to debrief the Referee Team members post-game to verify the information recorded as backup during the game.