Three Concerns about Game Control

By: Bob Sumpter, NISOA, Florida, (April 2010)

Many discussions among fellow referees often center around the same group of concerns that we have identified throughout the games we officiate. We see the game from the viewpoint of the referee who is most concerned with whether or not the rules are not being infringed, and that the “spirit of the game” as exemplified by fair play and sportsmanship is being honored in the performance and conduct of the participants. It is interesting when, on occasion, we are able to consider opinions and input from the playing side of the field; that is the players, coaches, and schools.

A couple of years back, the annual questionnaire that NFHS used to gather the viewpoint about potential problems in the high school game presented an interesting set of statements about the aspects of the high school game with which we, as referees, are concerned. The responses of the Coaches, Athletic Directors, and the Schools seemed to mirror many of the concerns that I am sure each of you have identified and discussed many times.  I have selected three of the responses that you should want to consider: (1)Unsporting Conduct, (2) Disrespect, and (3) Correcting Problems Before the Game Begins.

Unsporting Conduct

One question asked on the survey: “Have you observed officials who do not penalize unsporting conduct?” Fifty eight percent of the responses said: “yes.”  That’s a startling bit of information for us to think about.

What that suggests is that more than half of the incidents of unsporting conduct throughout the high school game may NOT be penalized.  For the high school Referee it could mean that (1) we are not recognizing unsporting conduct when it occurs, or (2) are perhaps unwilling or unable to handle it, or that (3) we are possibly deciding that unsporting conduct can be ignored without prompt and correct action being taken. Obviously, any of these three approaches to refereeing high school games leave a lot to be desired.

Understand that the survey is sent out nationwide; it represents an accurate perception of what happens in high school games throughout the country.  Also understand that in response to this question, all respondents agreed that more than half of the unsporting conduct incidents they witnessed were not penalized by the officials.

The question we are left with then is how do we work to correct this serious deficit in our game performance?

One way to begin is by realizing that every time you fail to penalize an unsporting conduct, your control of that particular game is in danger of failing.  Once teams see that you are not willing to consistently address misconduct, their conduct will become more and more unacceptable during the remainder of the game involved.

Another way to overcome this perception is for every high school Referee to spend more time learning and analyzing the types of unsporting conduct, and the various techniques and approaches to successfully handling each type.  This can be done by: (1) generating discussions and analysis at your regular NISOA Local Chapter meetings, or at you high school Referee group meetings, (2)discussions with your fellow officials in between games, (3)discussions with your local assessors, and (4)attending games officiated by other high school officials and observing how they manage such incidents.


A second question asked: “Have you observed coaches who disrespect officials?”  Seventy percent replied “Yes”.  This is yet another obvious problem that may well be generated by substandard referee performance.

One possible reason for this is the reaction to officials who do not fairly, firmly, and consistently enforce both the letter AND spirit of the rules.  The official who has not mastered the rules, or does not continually study and work at rules mastery, inevitably fails on the field.  This is one aspect of the problem that is within the ability of each and every referee to overcome.  It takes a firm decision to spend the time and effort to try to become better and better at the art of officiating through study, practice, and constantly trying to improve by using all of the help and resources available.

Another possible reason for the observed disrespect is that we are possibly not confronting and controlling unacceptable coach, bench, and field player misconduct as and whenever it occurs.  Unfortunately, some referees back away from dealing properly with such misconduct.  Again, the only result of this practice is eventual failure to control the game. The sooner we realize and accept the need to deal firmly and fairly with these incidents, the faster we can get on track to competent performance and respect. We often speak of courage as a “must have” attribute for successful refereeing, but many Referees have a hard time developing it.  One of the keys is to realize that as a Referee you have the full power and strength of the rules and the School and Soccer Administrations behind your decisions and acts, so long as your actions follow the rules and policies given by the institutions sponsoring the high school game.  There is almost no act or occurrence that you can fail to control properly once you realize this assurance backs your authority.

Correcting Problems Before the Game Begins

The replies to the third question came as a bit of a surprise.  When asked if they would favor a rule requiring officials to be at the game site 30 minutes before the contest, fifty four percent of the officials replying said NO.  The surprise to me is that this suggests that more than half of the respondents may not realize that the time to eliminate as many potential problems as possible is pre-game, and that means it makes sense for the Referees to get to the field early enough to do so.

As you all know, that’s the time to make sure that potential problems are identified and corrected, such as those concerning the field, balls, player eligibility, player equipment, referee team dress uniformity, time period variations, instructions to timer – scorer – ball holders, the all-important pre-game briefing among the referee team, and the required instructions to teams before and at the coin toss.  With those properly taken care of before the game starts, we can then concentrate on game management without any surprises cropping up that could easily have been solved pre-game.

To do this correctly before the game begins could easily take 30 or more minutes.  Those of us who are not already following this practice are really doing a great disservice to the game and participants by risking avoidable problems.  Most referees “worth their salt” learn this from the very beginning of their refereeing, and make sure that they arrive early enough to complete a thorough pre-game routine for each assignment.

Anything Else To Do?

Your NISOA Local Chapter, or your local high school officials’ group, can help improve your performance in these three critical areas by considering regular training sessions during their normal meetings both during and outside the high school season.  There they can raise, discuss and analyze issues such as Unsporting Conduct, Disrespect, and Correcting Problems Before the Game Begins, as well as the many others that make up the Referee needs, and help set their members off an a course of self-improvement. You should be an active participant in your local referee group. That’s a vital part of your aim for personal excellence as an Interscholastic Soccer Referee.