Fitness and Positioning

BY: Bob Sumpter, NISOA

One of the more frequent observations by NISOA Assessors is that not only fitness levels of officials in the school games need improvement, but that in some instances effective positioning during a game needs to also be given some attention. The relationship of physical fitness and good positioning during a game are important Referee performance attributes to review.

No Interscholastic Referee could sensibly argue that fitness is NOT a major key to success in game management of both Interscholastic Soccer. Put in the simplest terms, the Referee needs to constantly be able to get as quickly as possible to where unfair play is about to, or actually does, take place.

We know that in the Interscholastic game, even though there are three allowed Systems of Mechanics, the aim of the procedures specified in each system is to get the Referee into those optimum positions from which he/she can begin to Referee the game and its participants.

If a Referee is not fit, then that not only makes the game harder to manage, but creates added unnecessary difficulties that could be avoided if each official had the proper personal fitness level to do the job required.

To achieve that level of personal fitness, the Referee must maintain a regular fitness routine outside of the games refereed. This process starts with getting information and guidance in order to build and follow a regular fitness routine that addresses pre-season and in-season personal fitness training practices. Such factors as: muscle imbalances, drills for conditioning and performance, personal nutrition, and working on strong and weak fitness and positioning points should be the basis for these programs. Of course, the best approach stresses a year-round personal routine.

If you are able to achieve a decent level of fitness, it will result in better use of the specific System or Systems of Mechanics used during your Interscholastic season.

Movement and optimum positioning are essential to your game performance in a number of ways. For example, there’s nothing like being able to use a strong, shrill whistle blast to let a troublesome player know that you are ready and able to be close enough on the field during play to take whatever corrective action might be needed to curb unfair play. A good personal fitness level will let you do this regularly throughout that game and in each game during you season.

Optimum positioning also gets you to places where you can oversee play AND keep in regular eye-contact with Assistant Referees, or fellow Referees. It also lets you stay near developing trouble spots while play continues.

Personal fitness usually allows you to maintain enhanced, regular eye-contact with fellow Referees at all times, without oncoming exhaustion taking your concentration away from this important aspect of refereeing.

Another benefit allows you to avoid holding to unnecessarily rigid running and movement patterns. It allows you to be prepared to vary from recommended patterns or positions if you feel the need to get closer to troublesome spots or players. It also allows you to make extended runs beyond the guidelines called for in the System of Mechanics used in that particular game. As an example, a timely extended run can sometimes avoid a missed call on a critical offside possibility that catches one of the Referee Team off-guard.

The fit Referee is ready to vary from patterns or positions when needed, and is still able to recover to an optimum position when the event is taken care of. As an example, should an extended run to a goal line need to be followed by a quick recovery and another extended run in the opposite direction on a quick counter-attack, a good fitness level will allow the recovery of optimum position without a lack of endurance affecting performance.

Another example of varying from a position when it makes sense is when a throw-in needs close management while at the end of the field away from an Assistant Referee in the Diagonal System. The Referee can take a position just outside the touch line and close to the thrower, then recover optimum field position as soon as the throw-in is completed.

This is somewhat similar to the possibility of the Referee deciding to take a position just over the goal line during a corner kick when there is a glut of players from both teams gathered around the goal-mouth being attacked. At times, this variation may well give the Referee better sight over a crowd of players. Of course, recovering to an optimum field position after the corner kick is taken is easier if the Referee is fit.

One final note is needed about fitness and positioning. There is a rare possibility that player behavior conditions during as game will dictate to you that the guideline pattern of movement up and down field is taking you away from a recurring trouble spot or a troublesome player. If so, be prepared – following a pre-arranged understanding with the Referee Team before the game – to change your running pattern to get you over to the trouble spot or players. At that time, the pre-arranged understanding will allow the other Referee Team members to change their own positions and patterns in order to continue to provide optimum game and participant management.


Good physical fitness and good positioning are important factors in achieving competent game control. In order to consistently be able to move quickly during the game and get into the most effective positions for game control, a Referee must develop and follow regular workout routines year-round to achieve and maintain an adequate level of physical fitness. That goal is an Interscholastic Referee’s obligation and responsibility.