Mad Dog Breakout

by Ed Rae, National Assessor

Ever had a “BAD” game?

If so, was that a referee failure?

If not, whose judgment made it ‘bad?’

Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of US President Franklin, admonished generally that no one could make you feel inferior, unless you let them. Do Referees bow to biased managers, caustic coaches, or unpleasant players? Do they permit; partisans to pass judgment, or rude remarks in the heat of the game? Or do the detractors leave the Referee with punishing after-words? Do you regularly take the responsibility for a bad game wholly upon yourself?

In “When Smart People Fail”, by Carol Hyatt & Linda Gottlieb (Penguin Books, New York, 1988) the authors empathize with that ‘bad day’ feeling, as follows: “…in the short run there are few things worse than feeling you have failed. You feel pummeled, destroyed, distressed, violated, betrayed, terrified, angry, guilty, depressed, vengeful, lethargic, impotent, and occasionally relieved and resolute.”

According to this insightful book, this is called a ’narcissistic loss.’ You have suffered a sadly sinking self-esteem. Self-worth is summarily nonplussed.

Helen Kubler Ross in her renowned tome, “On Death and Dying”, describes the stages of mourning. Some soccer players may often experience these stages when a call goes against them. For example, a penalty kick might trigger a ‘mourning phase’ for players on the penalized team. These same steps may also be experienced by Referees, Fans, and Coaches. A little loss of some sort befalls them during a game; or it may be a big one. As a result, they mourn metaphorically.

Do you dare to take on and keep at the (at times cheerless) challenge of officiating? If so, you will enjoy a boundless number of days that are destined to be full of sun & cheer. Yet during your refereeing career you will also (as we all do) have some sorry sequences of ‘bad’ days. Rains rail, and cold comes. You need to examine your supposed failures and detail the deficiencies you identify. Review your few bad experiences as few as they may be. Do not readily accept that you will experience periodic failure until you have identified and studied each bad experience.

“Failure,” as Hyatt & Gottlieb have it, “is a judgment about events.” Simply put for the Referee, these are the “bad” events that happen from time to time. If you accept these judgments without analyzing them, then you may travel tentatively through the stages of mourning (i.e., sorrow) that Ross lists: shock, fear, anger, blame, shame, and despair. Being at any particular step may not occur to you at the moment. It may be quite short and pass in minutes. Or it may drag slowly on and on for days, or sometimes for weeks.

Reviewing your “bad games” often results in a process of renewal and regeneration. Such a process is both normal and natural. If the bad game was referee-caused, then that understanding might well involve some hurt, which is also an experience that we all know from time to time.

Again, realize that this (bad game experience) happens to Referees throughout every form of soccer. Once you review and deal with your past bad games, the best approach is to extract the lessons to be learned, and then move on with your career. Dwelling exclusively on the bad experiences Is self-defeating. It is what you learn from the bad experiences that helps you in your progress towards personal excellence.

A bad game has happened, it is happening, and it will happen from time to time to officials all over the globe. You need to acknowledge, review, learn, and finally accept. Then you move on.

Let’s look at some reasons why a bad game leaves our emotions tempest-tossed.  Some self-examination is one renewal requirement and a process.

Then let’s consider how we approach resolving the problem.

Task Oriented Style.

You do not read people well-or want to. The human side of the enterprise escapes your notice. You are task focused-only. It seems this is a discomfort for the players. They often react negatively.

You can go to clinics and ask about specific situations, and about more general issues such as person-to-person interaction. Put yourself in the Players’ boots. Consider the Golden Rule. Respect works both ways. Also, try listening to both Coaches and Players. Discount the input for bias, but do listen. Feedback from Assessors & peers too, can be a big help.

Negative Fit.

You just do not match up well with a particular team. Or, at you do not mix well with a particular group, such as: Division One, Two, or Three; Men; Women; Junior College; more competitive level games; intra mural competitions; or any number of other categories.  Maybe you are not physically fit for some levels.

If you are not psyched for any particular category, then you turn down the assignment!  You do not have to run against the wind all the time. Go to that five o’clock game soccer somewhere else.

You lead a full life outside of soccer and you are a Referee too! You rush to make the college campus on time. That is a warning signal. Are you too busy, or mentally & physically ill-prepared for a game? You may need to surrender something. Are you hurried, unfocused, taking too many games? Do you have nagging injuries? You might need to give up specific games to relieve the problem. You owe it to yourself & the players. You need to be intelligently selective with your time, your schedule, and your commitments. All will be the better for you.

Quick Success Syndrome.

This involves your ego, pride, and ambition. Whether these are false, feigned or flippant, you want to be the ‘go to’ person. You are in a hurry. Yet you somehow know it is not going that well for you. Peers notice with alarm.

There is no quick fix for this syndrome; no potent potion to take; no “Alice in Wonderland” elixir. You need to take your time. Concentrate on doing a solid, 100% focused, conscientious job on the games you accept. Polish your refereeing craft. Go to clinics as often as you are able. Learn by watching other officials. In time you’ll get there with confidence of others earned and acumen learned.

Mad Dog Breakout!

This involves ill winds, Satan ex machine, bad luck,

poor timing, stars misaligned, witches’ brew, and mad dog breakout. Any and all are possible.

Some days you cannot win. Everyone endures mad dog days. Learn to get over it. Mindless madness goes away, when you wash your uniform after a “bad game.” Learn not to try to reason with the unreasonable. Ugly endings are gone.

Be sure to talk about it with someone, whether an assessor, a mentor, or a Referee colleague. Then focus your attention fully on the next game. We all experience the “null set.” Edmund Burke warned us that at times, “Forbearance ceases to be a virtue.” New beginnings beckon.


This involves the refereeing skills-set being just out of your reach. Mastery eludes you. Maybe colleagues do not seem to mesh with you when using a three-person system of mechanics. Flag work, eye contact, foul recognition, or some clumsy human relations skill slips. You trip. You fall. Was it a maladroit whistle, or an angry atmosphere? The fault dear Referee is not in the stars, but in ourselves.

Person and game management techniques can be learned. If you do not manage well now, you may by learning short, progressive planning steps. Referee advancement awaits via educational opportunities, assessments, peer discussions, and practice of newly-learned skills. Cut yourself some slack. You can learn additional referee skills and techniques throughout your refereeing career. It takes time. That’s all, a little time. Leaven time with some prodigious effort and assiduous application on your part.

At long last, this unique effort is not for everyone. Try coaching or playing the game. Maybe refereeing soccer just does not suit you. Maybe you do not like the game itself.  You can always choose to go to a sport you do like. But if you do stick with soccer refereeing, there is help going forward and galore. NISOA supplies resources and is anxious for you to succeed. Referees are a scarce, human, closely watched ‘commodity’. Seek out that help that is available. As a referee you are high value. The rules and the game are organized around you.

Ever seized by a setback that depresses your attitude? Consider the golfing great Jack Nicklaus. In a major tournament a sloppy shot into a bunker got the master into tricky trouble. He was quizzed about it later. “What were you thinking about, after you had that nasty, bad shot?”

He replied, “The next shot!”