Referee Nuts and Bolts – June 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.

The June 2010 column includes discussions entitled:

16-1,”What About Players Who Curse in a Language the Referee Does Not Understand?

16-2,”Players Are Human Beings”.

Your comments, questions, and thoughts about these BASIC topics are always welcome. You can contact me directly at via email.

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16-1. What About Players Who Curse In a Language the Referee Does Not Understand?

This is not a frivolous question. It has been posed to me a number of times over the years. Foreign-language players are encountered is all types of soccer competitions in this country.

Can you really tell what the words mean when used during a game? There may NOT be a complete answer to this problem. But there are ways we can try in order to meet the challenge of such a problem.

Understand that there are reasonable limits to what can be expected of the Referee to control participant behavior in a game. Learning all possible foreign languages in a multi-cultural society, such as ours, is probably NOT a reasonable expectation. However, making an effort to deal effectively with inappropriate language during a game, even if in a foreign language, should be a worth-while effort on your part.

Tip: What immediate steps to take to get through that game?

One recourse is to have a brief word with the team coach at an appropriate stoppage or break in the game. Asking if the coach is aware of what the foreign-language banter means. You might get an honest response and get the help of the coach to curtail the problem.

Another immediate way to respond on the field – assuming that there is no immediate help with a problem where a player on one team reacts to a foreign-language remark by an opposing player with some type of retaliation – is to penalize both players with either Caution or Ejection (whichever seems appropriate).  Then explain your view of the incident in your post-game written report as completely as possible citing the probable negative effects on the game if you had NOT taken such action. Request that the schools sort out the inappropriate language problem so that it does not again occur.

Also, if opposing players approach you with complaints about inappropriate foreign-language remarks being directed at them, again consider approaching the coach of the offending team at an appropriate stoppage or break in the game to ask if the coach knows what is being said and if the coach can take action to correct the problem.

Finally, in any game where inappropriate language is being used and you do not understand the language but do realize that such is being used, one other control approach is to call the game as tightly as possible. I player or coach complaints result about your being too tight, you can then suggest that a loosening might occur if the language-problem disappears.

Tip: What can you do later on (after the game) to increase your understanding of key, common vocabulary?

On a longer-term solution, you may want to attempt to master some basic foreign-language terms involving inappropriate language. Often the school(s)involved have a foreign-language department, or language-fluent instructional staff member, who you might approach to work with your NISOA Local Chapter to help the members receive some orientation in the sound, recognition, and meaning of certain words or expressions. Such a school staff member might be willing to make a presentation to the assembled chapter members at a regular meeting.

Tip: Does it help for you to understand the culture of the players involved, if immigrants or if temporary foreign-student residents? Yes. Your recourse is to ask the Coach for background information on the culture of the players that might help you better recognize and manage language misconduct in future games. Also, you might get additional helpful guidance from school staff familiar with that foreign student group.

Tip: Can your colleagues help? Many Referee colleagues have had experience with this problem. At your NISOA Local Chapter meetings pose the question to find out if any can help you with information and suggestions to handle such incidents with specific teams. Some colleagues might also be able to help you learn some key words in certain foreign languages. Take to opportunity to commit these to memory.

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16.2 “Players Are Human Beings”

Control of a game centers on being able to manage players. It’s a good review to consider some of the human aspects of the players.

First, you have 22 players on the field who are under competitive stress during the game. That stress will come primarily from their desire to win, and their desire to perform to their best level of skill. When they are not able to perform to their own expectations, or if their team is not winning, that competitive stress might at times affect how fairly or unfairly they play.  You need to be aware of how players are reacting to their stress so as to take the correct officiating actions.

As one example, competitive players will be nervous just before a game starts.  Because of that it’s not a good idea for you to hold a long coin toss meeting and do anything more than is absolutely necessary to decide the ends, kickoff, and make any mandatory statements required by the rules. This is definitely not a time to hold a rules clinic.

Also, whenever addressing or approaching players, you need to treat them with the same respect that you expect from them.  Always use non-demeaning language, keep your voice and demeanor at a controlled, relaxed and professional level. Learn to smile.

School players at all levels of competition have a strong sense of fairness.  That’s stressed by their soccer rules and by their school administrations (Coaches, Athletic Directors, Deans, Principals, etc.)  They look for fair treatment and fair play against them.

Players (as discussed elsewhere) look for the Referee to insure safety against injury.

Their need to excel during play sometimes drives them to play aggressively, but not necessarily unfairly.  You need to become aware of the difference.  Experience will help teach you the distinction. Supplement that experience with discussion with other Referees, and continued study using available Referee resources.

Tip: A good Referee is a good manager of people under stress.  Control yourself and your actions first.  Then become aware of how players under competitive stress act and how to recognize and handle that stress. It’s a key to Referee success.