Referee Nuts and Bolts – July 2012

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

This July 2012 short discussion explores the question: “Do Penalizing Violations and the Competitive Level of the Game Relate?”

Some Referees tend to use their discretionary powers to try to adjust their penalizing of fouls and misconducts to fit the level of competition and player skills, in order to allow more in certain games than in others, with the aim of making the game more exciting and attractive. Sometimes this is done skillfully by the Referee Team and some games seem to benefit from such handling, while other games often turn into overly physical and unfair contests as a result of not adequately controlling player behavior. Trying to use this approach to game management has many dangers in terms of possible loss of behavior control. If you are among those intercollegiate or interscholastic Referees who try to apply this game management approach in school-sponsored games, it would be well to identify the factors that should guide your actions.

First, have you been successful in your games to judge the competitive level of the game in order to penalize unfair play appropriately, as opposed to allowing foul play and misconduct to get out of hand?

Comment: often the more skillful and competitive players will expect and prefer more physical play. They may feel (and show you) that it’s more important to them to let some types of unfair play go un-penalized when by doing so the possibilities of making progress against the opposing team results. When making this judgment, consider that aggressive (and some types of unfair) play that may NOT result in possible injury to opponents ARE accepted by players, provided the approach is equally applied.

Second, what guidance do we get from the rules-making bodies in NCAA and NFHS?

Comment: much of the guidance given over the years through more rigid rules changes, initiation and handling of follow-up game suspensions, the annual reminders given in their “Points of Emphasis”, and the gradual expansion and better definition of the lists of misconducts requiring caution or ejection/disqualification, show that both NCAA and NFHS desire that the game officials hold to strict behavior standards when managing play. So, when you deviate, their guidance is not followed. This becomes a matter of ethics for the individual Referee, and thus limits the extension of discretionary judgment.

Third, what strictures arise from the fact that intercollegiate and interscholastic soccer are sponsored by educational institutions?

Comment: each school-sponsored team faces oversight at their home institution. Even when we referee more skillful competitions, is the job of controlling behavior tougher because the teams might be held to different standards of conduct by their sponsoring schools? While this is a consideration, your ability to level your game management equally poses a challenge.

Fourth, what is the effect on your performance of either your involvement in, or awareness of, “higher” levels of competitions?

Comment: it’s a common sight (and clearly seen) when viewing professional level games that certain types of play at those “levels” which clearly violate the written rules normally go unpunished. A viewer has only to watch broadcasts of European professional games to see that supposed strictures for fouls such as holding, pushing, violent charging, or obstruction are routinely “overlooked”. Do the usual judgment standards of determining careless or reckless actions seem to be applied consistently? In considering this factor, the NISOA Referee has to make sure that the correct standard is being applied in school-sponsored games, and not model judgment after a different game.

Fifth, is it appropriate that the more skillful teams be given some extra latitude, provided that latitude does NOT involve allowing MISCONDUCT without responsive Referee action?

Comment: Basically yes, in order not to unfairly curb the more skilled teams to fully realize their game skills. However, the “extra” latitude should not violate the principle that MISCONDUCT must be penalized. In the current school-sponsored game there are definitely different levels of team and individual skills. So, it is likely that when refereeing a more competitive and skilled game the NISOA Referee Team will be challenged to set the behavior standard correctly in order to get maximum behavior control results. To do this, the Referee Team must learn as much about the skill level of the competing team as possible beforehand, in order to approach and manage the game while keeping participant behavior at a positive level, but also share in the pre-game briefing a unified approach to game management. Once you have some beforehand knowledge, then it is important to be as alert as possible in the opening phase of the game to administer control objectively and positively. Competitive games are certainly different than less intense games, and do require more skill by the Referee Team to get a good result.

Sixth, are there other important factors to consider?

Comment: yes, there are! The NISOA Referee Team task is to identify those that seem to fit the need for this game’s discretionary handling, and to pursue the subject as often as possible. This Referee skill is important to attain. What should you do to “get it right’?

Definitely make sure to continually seek out opportunities to discuss refereeing with other intercollegiate and interscholastic soccer Referees. Get a good idea of how they develop their own approaches to judging the control level that a game requires. Make sure you discuss your own views. If you are lucky enough to have a periodic assessment, discuss this challenge in depth and add the information to the fund you accumulate from your colleagues. And very important is to discuss thoroughly in the pre-game Referee Team briefing the approach to management of that game.


  1. Judge your own level of ability to keep control while not having to harshly penalize all unfair actions.
  2. Make sure you learn and apply the guidelines given by NCAA and NFHS rules.
  3. Learn and understand the goals and objectives of schools which sponsor sports.
  4. Develop and keep a proper perspective when watching the behavior standards applied in non-school sponsored soccer competitions, however “high” the level of competition.
  5. Be careful NOT to avoid required penalties for behavior that is MISCONDUCT!
  6. Always regard your level of competency as a developing skill, and constantly learn from, and share with, your colleagues.
  7. Always discuss the approach to game management at the pre-game Referee Team briefing.