Violence in the Game

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

Incidence of violence.

Recently, violence in the game is increasing.  More and more games are having violence as part of play. This poses a problem not only for the game, but for the Referees who are expected to control participant behavior in the game.

There are several possible reasons that may be causing the increase in violent incidents. Conference games in college are becoming more competitive since winning the conference could bring a bid to post season play.  It also allows the team to have “bragging rights” for the upcoming season.

There also is a “win at all costs” syndrome common among many players and coaches.  If a team needs to become violent to win, they may be willing to do so. Some coaches believe that “winning isn’t everything, it is the only thing.”

There may also be another concern among some coaches that a losing season could cost them their jobs.  Therefore they will attempt to win at all costs and allow the use of violence.

With players starting to play at competitive levels at younger ages, their skills become better and better, and in some cases by the time they reach the collegiate level, violence is the only course of action opponents feel they must try against these skilled players in order to stop their attack.

Meeting the challenge.

The Referee must try to do whatever possible to prevent a game from becoming violent. As one example, hard fouls must be dealt with early and, if necessary, cautions and ejections issued.

As another example, it is possible for a Referee allow an advantage when the better choice is to penalize for the foul. This may result in retaliation and escalate to violence.

Televised games from overseas, some professional games, and other types of competitive games, are viewed by college and high school players who see certain types of poor behavior being allowed in games at those competitive levels and jurisdictions.  This can carry over into the college and high school games and create unacceptable behavior problems.  The Referee must learn to recognize these types of behavior early and take prompt action to prevent the problem from growing. To do that, the behavior standards enforced should be those of the educational institutions sponsoring our college and high school soccer games.

Some approaches.

People management is one of the best skills to assist with game control.  Using this skill can prevent problems and violence.  A quiet word to a player or a verbal warning may be sufficient to keep a player’s behavior under control.

Becoming too authoritative may create a negative reaction.  Players and coaches do not normally react well to over- authoritative officials.

On the other side of the scale is a Referee who is timid.  Behavior situations must be dealt with in a calm manner but yet officials need to show that they are in control of the game.  For example, if the Assistant Referee on the bench side finds a need to run on the field in order to get around a coach who is dissenting continually while improperly standing outside the allowed area on or near the touch line.  The Assistant Referee should use people management skills to keep the coach back.  If this does not work the AR should then seek help from the Referee.  The coach must not be allowed to continue the behavior.  Otherwise, it will only escalate and may lead to violence.

Preventive officiating is another good way to keep games from becoming violent.  Dealing with situations early in the game should prevent problems later.  For example: slide tackles with the back leg sweeping the ankle, hard tackles, shirt grabbing, illegal use of elbows, or charging the goalkeeper while in possession of the ball, must all be dealt with in an effective manner. If a Referee elects not to deal with these situations, retaliation may begin as the offended players try to protect themselves. Lacking this type of courage needed in dealing with retaliation will only create more problems and total loss of game control.

Referees can use their personalities to assist in problem prevention.  Talking to players in a professional manner, joking with a player, or other methods may reduce the tension and help the game proceed smoothly.

We’ve all heard the familiar expression: “Presence Lends Conviction.” It is a reminder we often consider in preventing problem behavior or dealing with it when it occurs.  Staying close to the play, and anticipating where a behavior problem might occur helps with game control.  More often than not, following this precept puts the Referee in good position to deal with a “moment of truth” incident in the game and helps prevent violence.

Using the various referee tools and techniques you have acquired as a referee will help you maintain control and reduce the possibility of games becoming violent.