Referee Nuts and Bolts – April 2010

By: Bob Sumpter, NISOA, Florida

1. Is Offside That Difficult?

The answers are: “yes”, “no.”, and “it doesn’t have to be.”

From the time you start refereeing you are going to draw periodic criticism for your enforcement of the “Offside” rule.  All of the criticism won’t necessarily be because your judgment and enforcement is faulty.  You will have to develop an overall approach to dealing with the challenge of enforcing the “Offside” rule that both lets you do a good job overall and also not take the continuing criticism too seriously.  To do that, you will have to develop some personal guidelines to follow.

First, understand that the rule is almost one of the most simply stated rules in the rule book.  However, the one element of the rule that makes for all of the controversy and criticism surrounding the Referee’s enforcement of the rule is the troubling provision near the end of the rule which stipulates that offside should only be penalized if the (potentially offside) player is “gaining an advantage by being in that position” (at the moment the ball is played by a teammate.)”

This provision makes the enforcement a matter of complete discretionary judgment by the referee. All of the other provisions for judging the call can be plainly seen and judged.  This one cannot simply be objectively determined, and must be a subjective judgment that must be made promptly while play continues to move and develop rapidly.

At no time to date have any of the soccer rule making bodies been able to clearly express judgment guidelines that allow the Referee to interpret and apply a consistent definition of what “gaining an advantage” means at the instant of time the ball is played as stated in the rule.  Only when a firm definition is framed and implemented will Referees be able to consistently, correctly and uniformly enforce this rule.  In my opinion, this problem of correct and uniform enforcement is primarily a problem of the inability of soccer rule making groups to adequately put into words specific and enforceable criteria for this provision. Be that as it may, it also means that we have to learn to live with the way the rule is worded.

For the foreseeable future, every Referee will have to do whatever possible to learn how to overcome the rule-wording problem and still continue to manage games in an overall fair and objective way.  There are a variety of approaches to consider to order to help you in this process.

TIP: Learn to ignore the criticism you will receive about some of your so-called controversial offside calls.  The enforcement guidelines require you to make a discretionary call regarding a potentially offside player “gaining an advantage”, so DO SO!  Make the required calls no matter how much criticism is leveled at you. The real solution to the problem of loose, ineffective guidelines is not your concern.  Do not let such criticism negatively affect your performance or outlook on the game and your job.

TIP: You can help prepare yourself to make those discretionary calls by observing how other successful Referees enforce the “gaining an advantage” provision.  They might not always be correct s you see it, but you can “get the feel” of what will be tolerated by teams at varied levels of competence as acceptable discretionary applications by studying how other Referees handle that judgment call.

TIP: Make sure you prepare yourself to use the input from your Assistant Referees to help you make more acceptable calls.  Use the pre-game Referee Team briefing to confirm the type of coverage, support and communication you expect from them for judging offside.  Make your instructions short but clear in detail and intent.

TIP: The input you get from Assistant Referees is important when it concerns the offside judgment.  You must be prepared to adjust your field movement, coverage and mechanics if you judge that an Assistant Referee is possibly not giving you the correct input for you to make a proper call. As an example, if you observe when using the Diagonal System of Control that an Assistant Referee may not be able to keep abreast of the players’ alignment so as to judge an offside correctly; you must adjust your own positioning to see if that is so.  On the next play or two, extend your run along your diagonal to get up as far to being opposite the Assistant Referee as possible so that at the next play of the ball you can see if that Assistant’s coverage and view are optimum and correct.  There are few better ways to get an Assistant Referee to “wake up” than to hear your whistle precede the Assistant’s flag for an offside indication.

TIP: Don’t let anyone or anything intimidate you into changing your decision once you have made it. Your subjective judgment is the one that stands.

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14.2 The Quick Free Kick

Free kicks are issued as punishment for rules violations.  Whether or not the free kick is direct or indirect, it is still meant to penalize the team for an unfair act by one of its team members.

As you were advised in your basic instruction, some teams realize that they derive more benefit if the kick is taken quickly, even before opposing team members have retreated the required distance from the kick.  This is referred to as a “quick” free kick.

When a quick free kick is taken the Referee should allow it to be taken regardless of whether or not the opposing team has retreated the required distance and before you have whistled for a kick to be taken (assuming that you have NOT indicated to the kicking team that they MUST wait for your signal before taking the kick)..  It’s a good practice not to insist on the opposing team players to retire the specified distance from the ball  unless there is a specific reason to do so such as opponents having before that time tried to interfere with the kick.  Whatever benefit a team realizes when taking a quick free kick is in keeping with the spirit of the game.  It also allows the game to move forward and places less emphasis on the violation that has been committed and properly penalized.  That’s an advantage to the game.

The quick free kick is legal to take, provided that the Referee has NOT indicated that a whistle must precede the taking of that kick.  However, when such a quick free kick is taken, the opposing team players have no right to unfairly interfere with the taking of the kick if closer to the ball than the required distance at the time the kick is taken.  Any such interference should be penalized as misconduct.

TIP: Remember, when a team decides to take a quick free kick, allow it to take place.  However, do not allow any opponent who may be nearer the ball than the rules allow at the time of the kick to interfere.  If a player does so, penalize as misconduct.