Consistency, the Elusive Element in Soccer Refereeing

By: Rodney Kenney, NISOA National Assessor

The dictionary defines consistency as “marked by harmony, regulatory or steady continuity: free from variation or contradiction.” Given that definition, how can we expect a soccer referee to be consistent? The difficulty results from the game being so dynamic that it is unlikely a situation will ever present itself again exactly the same, not only in the same game but ever.

Three other factors can cause the referee to appear inconsistent:

1.  The referee’s decision not to call a trivial infraction of the rules, which can hinge on many things, such as the personality of the players involved, player skill levels, when and where the infraction took place, etc.

2.  To maintain control. Because of an increase in competitiveness, it may be necessary to call a foul later in the game that had been considered trivial earlier in the game.

3.  The application of advantage. When and where you allow advantage depends on individual players’ skill, the flow of the game, and the reactions of the players to a foul.

All these variables cause referees to appear inconsistent. How can referees appear more consistent under these conditions?

  • The referee must be fit enough to stay close to play and employ good mechanics throughout the game.
  • The referee must be consistent in his/her disciplining of the players.  As an example, if you caution a player from one team for delaying the restart, do the same to a player of the other team who delays the restart.
  • If a foul is called in the middle of the field, do the same when the same type of foul happens in the penalty area.
  • Maintain a positive attitude and treat players with respect throughout the game.
  • Be at the game early and do a thorough pre-game.
  • Check teams equally, making sure both teams’ uniforms and equipment meet the same standards.
  • Make sure your assistants follow your lead on calling fouls. Nothing looks more inconsistent than having assistants flagging trivial fouls in their area while the referee is allowing those same types of trivial fouls to play on other parts of the field.
  • When giving advantage, call out to the players and signal advantage. This will let the players know you saw the foul and have chosen to allow advantage and not just missed the foul.
  • Be in tune with the players so you can meet their expectations of how the game should be played, and therefore refereed.
  • Manage dissent consistently.  If you caution a player for dissent, continue using that standard on the other players in the game.

Although referees may never appear consistent to those who do not understand the intricacies of the game, referees can help themselves by being consistent on those things that they can control. Unfortunately, the appearance of inconsistency will always be the inescapable fate of the soccer referee in this very dynamic game.