Referee Nuts and Bolts – March 2010

By: Bob Sumpter, NISOA, Florida

This monthly column is written primarily for the college and high school soccer Referee. However, any soccer Referee who wishes to improve personal performance may also find that this series is helpful.

All articles address those basic techniques, procedures, practice alternatives, and skills that are sometimes forgotten or overlooked while going through the experiences of soccer refereeing.  The short discussions and accompanying practical tips stress important advice for competent performance.

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13-1 “What Might I Do to Get a Player to “Quiet Down?”

Many times the Referee can tell that a player’s behavior is approaching the unacceptable, and may well lead to a misconduct incident on the field.  There are some things the Referee can try in order to help avoid a misconduct problem.

The first thing is to recognize the potential problem player, and determine that you will try to help that player avoid becoming part of a behavior problem. Then try the following.

Tip: While running your pattern, make sure you deviate from the recommended pattern as often as you feel needed to run close to, but not interfere with, the player in question.  That will help make the player aware of your presence and perhaps put the player on guard about what may or may not be attempted, behavior-wise.

Tip: If the player, when you are nearby at any time, does foul an opponent, make sure that your whistle is quick, loud, sharp, and as close to the player’s ear as you can get.  That again should help to alert that player of your presence and jar the player enough to sense that you are near, mean to be near, and will not allow unacceptable behavior without taking immediate corrective action.

Tip: If you do penalize a player for a foul, and you believe that player might become a significant behavior problem, use a quick word of counsel to the player, preferably outside the hearing of others, about the need to improve conduct.  By so doing you put that player on notice that continued misbehavior is not a good idea, and may well lead to harsher punishment.  At that point, the player is then in clear control of his/her continued participation in the game based on the level of conduct displayed.

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13-2 “Experience: a Necessary Ingredient”

Learning how to Referee soccer is a performance skill that you mostly acquire by practice.  That means the more you get out onto the soccer field, and the more you Referee games (regardless of the level of skill involved in those games), the more you will absorb the necessary skills to be a competent Referee.

The need to get out and referee reminds me of the story about the naval hero of the early days of our country, John Paul Jones, who when he petitioned the legislature for a fighting ship to command, said (my paraphrase) that he “intended to go out into harm’s way” and meet the enemy as often as he could.  He came to be honored for his success at naval warfare, and is held in esteem as one of the principal founders of our Navy.

Similarly, you can sharpen your skills by accepting as many games as you reasonably can (given other limitations in your daily life) in order to learn and practice the skills needed to manage all possible game situations, many of which come unexpectedly.

You can never predict the type of challenges you will be faced with regardless of the skill levels of the teams involved.  Many game situations that arise will surprise you.  You will learn from them all.

Non-game experience (i.e., suggestions, advice, reading, classes, etc.) will primarily give you skills and information that prepare you to take the field, but it is not a substitute for actual game experience.  You need to try out whatever you learn in actual game play.

Tip: Refereeing is a skill that you need to learn in practice.   Get out and referee as often as you are able to do so.  Try all of the information, suggestions, and techniques you have learned to sharpen your own performance.  Over time, you will improve.

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13-3 “Your Word and Commitments”

We talked about the type of reputation you should want to develop as a Referee.  A lot of what your reputation becomes depends on how you keep, or do not keep, your word.  The object is to make your word reliable.

For example, once you accept an assignment to a school game, do all in your power to honor the commitment to Referee that game.  Appear on time, make sure that you and your assigned Referee Team are properly prepared, and then do your best to officiate the game as competently as possible.  If for some reason you feel, at the time you take the assignment, that you might not be able to fulfill the commitment, tell the Assigner at that time, so that he or she can make the necessary decision of accepting your tentative acceptance or not.  It’s only fair.

The acceptance of a game not only involves the schools who play that game, but also the local Referee Chapter from whom you receive the assignment.  Replying to and confirming an assignment within the requested time deadline is important.  Lack of a reply creates lost time, effort, and ability to take corrective measures by your local chapter.

Last minute notifications by you to decline an assignment after you’ve accepted involves many people and groups, protracted attempts at communicating and arranging for replacements, and sometimes results in a less than satisfactory experience for the two schools involved. If you need to cancel, then do so as far in advance of the game as possible; at least at the first instant you know of it and can do so.

Another factor in keeping your word is your obligation to only accept assignments for which you are qualified as being certified for that competition (e.g., college, high school).  Working with only others on the Referee Team who are certified for that type of competition is also part of giving and keeping your word.

Tip: Make your given word dependable in all respects.  Accepting and carrying out Referee assignments is one of the important times this must happen.  Over time it becomes a key part of the Referee reputation you should want to acquire.

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13-4 “Choose Your Words Carefully”

In several places I have given examples of specific statements used to try to correct player behavior or to respond to dissent or argument. It is important that when you do reply to or counsel participants in an attempt to correct behavior that you do so carefully. Over a period of time you will probably develop your own way of addressing players when necessary.  Your aim should be to make your effort effective.

Sensible guidelines for you to follow are:

(1) Keep your remarks short,

(2) Address the problem,

(3) Do NOT ask any question that may draw a response (that gives the player a chance to continue the dissent or argument),

(4) Make a short, strong statement in a way that ends the exchange but also gets your point across clearly,

(5) Frame your remark so that the player knows he or she takes sole responsibility for any follow up, disciplinary action,

(6) Restart play as soon as possible (delays help attract more argument and dissent).

Here are examples of statements I have made in the past that are included herein and that I’ve found helpful over the years:

“If I allow you to do that, then I have to let all of the other 21 players do the same, and I am not about to do so”

“Advantage is not a license for serious foul play”

“If you commit any further misconduct, you will be ejected from this game”

“It’s pretty early in the game for this Caution; you have a long way to go on your good behavior”

“I’m not here to referee a prize fight”

“You play, I referee”

“You coach, I referee”

“If I allow all of the other players to use that kind of language, we would not have much of a game”

“I am not allowed to use that language, and neither are you”

“There are young children and families in the stands; what you said is not acceptable in this or any other game”

Tip: If you choose to say anything to a player, keep it short; use simple words; phrase it so that a response is not required or encouraged; get on with the game!