Be Observant and Proactive

“Be Observant and Proactive”

By: Rodney Kenney, NISOA National Assessor, Florida

Have an effective pre-game.

The pre-game can be one of your most important management tools. During the pre-game; review with your Assistant Referees and Alternate Official what you expect from them in player management situations. Player management situations are substitutions, injuries, altercations on the field, problems with coaches and spectators, incidents behind your back, mistakenly giving a second caution without ejecting the player, and bench management, just to name a few. The more prepared the Referee Team is to deal with player management problems, the more successful the Referee Team will be in any game.

Recognizing Key Players.

This could be one of the most neglected areas in soccer refereeing at all levels. Be aware of the key players. Don’t let those key players be unduly intimidated. You must recognize when a single player is being continually fouled. At the higher levels, players will “line-up” to foul a key player in order not to make it seem like persistent infringement by one player. This type of persistent infringement is more difficult to identify than one player doing all the fouling. If you allow this to go on without taking serious disciplinary action one of three things will happen:

  • The player will be fouled until he/she is too hurt to go on and has to be substituted (like what the Nigerians did to Mia Hamm in the ’99 Women’s World Cup).
  • The player will take things into his own hands (as Diego Maradona did in the ’90 World Cup after 19 of the total 26 fouls were against him) and get himself/herself sent off for retaliation.
  • The player will just quit being effective and will be substituted.

All of these actions are very effective in eliminating a team’s best players. As you can see by the examples, it can happen even when you have the best referees in the world doing the game.

Be a good listener.

By this, I don’t mean listen for things that offend you. On the contrary, try to block out offending comments and listen to what players are saying to you about the game as well as what they are saying to each other. Most Referees shut out players’ conversations as griping at each other or whining about the refereeing. Sometimes they are conveying information that can help you control the game. The “mind game” at the college level can sometimes lead to more problems for the Referee than the physical game. The vehicle used to work the “mind game” is talk. Also, look for signs of frustration and react in a positive way to it, by talking to the frustrated player, or perhaps by calling what you had thought to be a trivial foul earlier in the game, but now has become a game control foul that if called, will relieve some of the frustration.  If you aren’t tuned in, you’ll miss the early warning signs often ending with a physical confrontation between players and leaving you wondering what happened.

Assistant Referees often see what the referee cannot see.

Referees tend to be within ten to fifteen yards from the ball and area of play and focus primarily on the action around the ball. When the ball is away from the Assistant Referee, that Assistant Referee’s focus should be on the players who are away from the ball. These are the players who are in an offside position, who push, who trip, or who hold an opponent before the ball gets to them, most of  which is normally unseen by the Referee. The trail Assistant Referees must also watch play behind the Referee as they turn to follow the ball up the field, keeping a close eye on the action of players who have not left the Assistant Referee’s half of the field. It is not always necessary to watch the play on the other half of the field since both the Referee and the lead Assistant Referee are watching that half.

Deal with misconduct early.

Misconduct that may seem trivial at the start of the game may become a problem as the end of the game nears. Some examples are: Allowing a player to kick the ball away after you call a foul, picking up and holding the ball, standing in front of the ball to prevent an opponent from taking a quick free kick, or preventing the goalkeeper from putting the ball back into play. Early in the game when time is not an issue this misconduct may seem of no consequence. Late in the game when the team that is winning uses this type of misconduct to waste time or take away the opponent’s momentum a major conflict could arise.

A caution for this type of misconduct when it occurs early in he game will set the tone for the rest of the game. And it is not as though the players don’t know this is misconduct. They are taking advantage of the opponent and you. If you have not been dealing with this throughout the game you may end up needing to eject a player for a second caution because they did not think you would caution for this type of misconduct since you had not earlier in the game. This kind of inconsistency will get you in trouble every time.

Be proactive not reactive.

Although we want the players to set the tempo of the game we want them to play within the confines of the NCAA rules. When misconduct, intimidation, and rough play are used by a team to win the game instead of skill and finesse, Referees must be ready to deal quickly and harshly to bring the game back within the rules. If a Referee thinks that a game that starts out badly will get better without proactive intervention from the Referee, he/she is a very naïve Referee.

Summary: Plan out you approach to every game you officiate. Include a discussion of your plan in the pre-game briefing of the Referee Team. Remember: have an effective pre-game; recognize key players; be a good listener; Assistant Referees often see what the Referee cannot see; deal with misconduct early, and be proactive not reactive.