Referee Nuts and Bolts – June 2012

The monthly “NISOA Referee Nuts and Bolts” column is written primarily for the college 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.

This June 2012 column includes a discussion entitled:

“The Benefit of the Doubt” by Bob Sumpter, of NISOA.


Traditional advice given by Referee Instructors and Assessors is that you should not be too hasty in using the caution card when disciplining a player. One reason given is that players under stress often commit acts of misconduct, or close to misconduct, without really meaning to do so, or do so in the heat of the moment. The advice continues to say that if given some calm counsel and a second chance without being formally disciplined, the player would probably settle down and play out the rest of the game satisfactorily.

Another reason given encourages us to consider that we have a responsibility to “keep a player in the game” if at all possible, and that avoiding using a hasty yellow card is an “obligation” of good refereeing.

I’m not so sure that this advice is always the best.


When faced with a real situation in a game it’s obvious that, on one hand, a good decision and effective use of a threatened caution might indeed keep a player from further misconduct and may perhaps  contribute to a good game for all concerned.

On the other hand, in a real situation, the Referee, when considering to try to “talk the player out of a yellow card”, should think about the negative effect of what might happen further if discipline is not administered at that time. This might result in a worse game for all concerned.

How many of us have the skill to pull off a correct decision in this all too familiar situation? It does take skill, and not every Referee has the skill to properly apply the control needed to make it successful and not add to behavior control problems for the rest of the game.

Using this particular skill first rests upon each Referee correctly judging the level of ability achieved in the competition level being officiated. Secondly, the skill also rests upon identifying whether or not past game experience when trying to make such a decision has worked successfully or not.

Also consider the following:

  1. Is there a danger that a caution not issued will influence misconduct by others in the game?
  2. Deciding not to administer a caution at that time in order to “save” a player might result in that player getting an “extra lick” at another misconduct.
  3. If you have to issue a caution to another player later on for essentially the same misconduct, might that portray a tendency to treat like incidents unevenly?


  1. After you’ve thought about your current ability to employ the skill effectively, use it at first sparingly, until you see positive results when used.
  2. Learn to use the skill in context of the game being officiated; a consistently rough game often requires stringer control measures.
  3. Learn how to discard, or curb, a particular control skill (including this one which is often suggested)if it doesn’t seem to work for you.
  4. When in doubt in a particular game situation, use the stronger penalty at the time misconduct occurs.
  5. Always base your decision upon fairness to all participants and the “spirit of the rules”.