The Twenty-Third Participant, With the Best Seat in the House

By: Austin M. Gomez, NISOA National Assessor, Missouri

“Hey, Ref, it’s right in front of you!” “Hey, Ref, you’re losing control of the game!” “Can’t you see that foul?” “Are you blind, Ref?” “Call it both ways, Ref!” “You need help, Ref!” “Whose team are you for, Ref?” “Why don’t you use that whistle, Ref?”

These are familiar expressions heard on the soccer field (i.e., the house of the Referee) by the Referee. They are shouted by the loyal, biased, soccer supporters of their favorite team.

But, come to think about it, the Referee still has the “best seat in the house” as it were, by virtue of his/her positioning on the field of play. For this Referee is actually the twenty-third participant in this emotional, fun-filled, most passionate game.

The NISOA Referee, filled with expertise, experience, and personality tries to handle player and game-management on the field in the most suitable manner via his/her: message-filled whistle; penetrating verbal and non-verbal communication techniques; effective and shrewd positioning; constant eye-contact with the Referee Team; and courage-filled critical decisions throughout he entire 90-minute game. This game can be filled with “Moment-of-Truth” decisions, mysterious tactical and dynamic play, scintillating static set plays, and with a non-written script as to the eventual outcome of the game.

Who is the star player, the thug, the problem player, the hero, the goat, the enforcer, the true number 10, on each team?  No one actually knows at he beginning, but then as the game unfolds the answers may become more visible and or perceptible.  But many times the result of the game is completely unfathomable and unthinkable. This is the truly essential ingredient that makes soccer (i.e., el futbol mundial) the number one sport in the entire world. Height nor strength is never the deciding factor for the winning team.

Soccer, from youth to the professional game, brings out the passion in all twenty two participants.  But the twenty third participant truly has the most exciting duty and responsibility of managing the game, in which the just result is obtained because of the fairness, wisdom, skill level and ability of the players themselves. Many times the better team may not win on that particular day, but the true winner should be the spectators who come out to watch, absorb, cheer, scream and understand the real qualities of their favorite team. This game is also seen, heard, and understood by the only non-prejudiced, courageously fair, fully intelligent, physically conditioned, always thinking, very creative and most knowledgeable participant: the Referee!

Does the Referee make mistakes? Of course! The human factor will always be a part of soccer. Hopefully the twenty third participant will not make a critical mistake.  However, the other twenty two participants, as well as their coaches, surely make many errors in judgment, ability, and execution (both tactically and technically) than the Referee and Referee Team will ever make in a game. That’s all part of any game.

The greatest imaginary soccer spectacle would be a stadium filled with spectators along with the twenty two highly skilled participants, playing for ninety minutes of momentous, mysterious, exciting entertainment, with the best seat in the house occupied by the always-prepared and most dedicated Referee, loving every second of the game!