Verbal Communications for Game Control


By:  John Van de Vaarst

The monthly “NISOA Referee Nuts and Bolts” 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.  This month’s article will focus on the use of verbal communications to increase game control.

Rule 12 in both the NCAA Rule Book and the NFHS Rules indicate that an official may use a verbal warning to deal with players.  This type of communication is usually reserved for a hard foul and the official does not feel a caution is warranted.  This can be a very valuable tool for this type of situation.  An early caution when a verbal warning could suffice could lead to a problem later in the game when the same player deserves a caution and now must be ejected for persistent infringement after receiving a caution.  If an official used a verbal warning the first time, the player would still be in the game.

Verbal communications can be used in other ways and greatly assist in game control.  Better officials know how to communicate with players to assist in game control and prevent issues from escalating. For example, a player who is playing a physical style of play could be given a “quiet word” to watch their tackles or to focus on the ball not the opponent.  A few minutes later the same player makes a good pass to a teammate, the official can use the opportunity to let the player know that the pass was well done.  This lets the player know that the referee understands the game as well as recognizing the  player’s skill level.  This small bit of communication may help the player focus on the game and eliminate the physical portion.  It also tells the player that the referee is not seeking them out to punish but the earlier warning was deserved and is in the past.

Another example is when a goalkeeper and attacker make contact on a 50/50 ball.  The goalkeeper’s team mates will want a foul and even a caution.  The offending player can be isolated and talked to by the official.  If the official felt there was no foul, this is an opportunity to tell the player in a quiet manner that there was no foul and the official is only talking to protect him/her from retaliation.  This type of communication is appreciated by the player involved and the opponents feel that the problem was dealt with and their goalkeeper will be protected during the remainder of the game.  The potential for retaliation is eliminated.

Communicating with a goalkeeper is a great tool to prevent the goalkeeper from fouling in the penalty area (result penalty kick) or just letting the goalkeeper know you are observing all aspects of the game.  When a goalkeeper makes a save and then later raises his/her knee in a protective style, a quick word by the official that he/she will protect the goalkeeper and that is not necessary should prevent a future problem when there is potential for contact.  Another good method of communication with a goalkeeper is letting him/her know that they made a great save.  This can be done when a save is made resulting in a corner kick.  The goalkeeper recognizes that the official is paying attention and will also be observing play when the corner kick is being taken, again eliminating potential problems during the corner kick.

The last example deals with the bench personnel.  On a close play the bench becomes upset because a foul or penalty kick was not awarded.  The official observed the play correctly and there was no foul.  The official if they are on the side of the bench in a dual system or has an opportunity to go near the bench in a diagonal system can quickly and professionally let the bench know what was observed and the rationale for the decision.  Even letting the bench personnel that their concerns were heard goes a long way to prevent escalating problems.

In summary, professional communications with players and bench personnel normally results in better game control.  While there are times when a caution or ejection is merited, there are many other times when a word with a player can suffice.