Management Styles

By: John Van de Vaarst, NISOA National Clinician, New Jersey

What is a manager?

An individual who plans, directs/makes decisions, organizes and controls a group of individuals to a particular outcome.  In effect, a Referee is a manager responsible for the control of the game and to ensure it is played within the established set of rules. To do this, a Referee must think ahead and follow a game plan for the management of the game and participants.

The Referee must plan in advance for the game.  Examples of planning include:  travel planning – how long will it take to get to the game site?  Am I traveling with my partners?  Where are we meeting?  These are questions the referee must ask early on in the planning process.  The pre-game Referee Team briefing is a critical part of planning since it sets the stage for how the game is to be managed by the referee team.

Management Decisions and Management Directions During the Game.

Decisions and directing occurs during the game. The Referee and Referee Assistants make numerous decisions throughout the game to maintain control.  Questions go through the Referee Team’s heads continually.  Was that a foul?  Is there advantage?  Is that a caution or an ejection/disqualification?  Is it time to speak with the coach?  Was the player offside or merely in an offside position?  Constant instant decision making is a critical skill for a referee or assistant.

The Referee Team as Organizers.

The Referee Team must be able to organize their actions and cooperation during a game. This begins again with the pre-game Referee Team briefing and discussions on how situations during the game will be managed.  During the game the Referee Team organizes the players to ensure the rules are enforced.  For example the Referee or Assistant Referee may decide to organize the wall on a free kick to allow for the 10 yards.  In a penalty kick situation, a great amount of organizational skills is utilized so that all aspects of Rule 14 are complied with in a fair manner.  Organizing players during a corner kick so that the kick is taken properly and the players are aware of their limitations with regards to obstructing the goal keeper, pushing, holding, and other unfair acts.

Game Control.

Control of the game is critical to the success of the Referee Team. This allows for game flow without problems escalating.  The bench personnel must be kept under control so they do not interfere with the game or detract from it in anyway.  On occasion actions must be taken by the Referee Team to ask for school personnel to control fans who are becoming disruptive.  Players need to be controlled to prevent injuries, retaliations and game management problems.  These are just some examples of control.

Post Game Management.

Management duties are not restricted to pre-game and during-game activities. Several important post-game duties should be met. One example is for the Referee Team to immediately check the records and notes they agreed to keep on game events. After comparing these, the requirement for verifying the scorekeeper’s game record can then be done properly. If necessary, any needed post-game written report responsibility (example: ejection/disqualification reports) can be agreed upon. And finally, the all-important Referee Team post-game briefing should be conducted for the benefit of the Referee Team.

Management Styles and Effect on Performance./

It is clear that the Referee Team members are managers by definition of the word.  With that in mind, let’s take some time to discuss the different management styles the referee team can use.

Participative Management.

One style described in management theory is participative management.  This starts when the Referee gets the Assistant Referees involved during the pre-game discussion (i.e., pre-game Referee Team briefing).  The Referee is seeking input and wants the officials to work as a team.  This style of management also applies to players when the Referee uses them to help control the game.  This could be by having the captain work with the team and speak to potential problem players.  Also, the Referee can allow players to approach in a professional and civil manner so that dialogue between the Referee and players prevents problems.  This style can be applied when approaching a coach and discussing the particular behavior of the coach and allowing some limited feedback to prevent the problem from elevating.

Theory X Management.

Theory X Managers have an authoritative style.  They typically want to provide close supervision and do not feel that individuals can perform on their own.  This type of management style by a Referee usually means multiple fouls called, quick reaction to situations, potential confrontation, and the Referee expecting problems to arise at any time.  Theory X Referees can be most effective on hard fought games between rival teams or officiating games where one or both teams are known for physical play.

Theory Y Management.

The Theory Y Manger is one who is fair and understanding.  This type of Referee expects fair play and player respect of their decisions.  The Theory Y Referee would work to have the players control the outcome of the game and play in manner where there is minimal interference by the Referee.  This style can be very effective in a game where both teams work the ball around and fouls are minimal.

Total Quality Management.

The term Total Quality Management was popular for many years.  This was a philosophy that problems can be corrected in the future by reviewing the current process and determining how the process can be improved.  This method is very helpful during the post game Referee Team Briefing.  The Referee Team should analyze particular aspects of the game and determine how they can improve the process of game control in the future.


To be a top official, one must adapt to the situation at hand.  The management style must be adjusted to fit the need.  At times Participative Management will help control a situation, while other times the Theory X style is required.  Recognizing when to apply which style is the key to success.   Continual process improvement is required to improve current skills and develop new techniques.