Just The Facts

By:  John Van de Vaarst, NISOA National Clinician

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 player equipment and the differences between intercollegiate and interscholastic soccer.

The focus of this article will be on what many seem to be very basic.  However each year there are problems with officials at the intercollegiate and interscholastic level with regard to comment made before, during or after the game.  It is imperative that the referee is a professional at all times.

Many years ago there was a television program where the detective always reminded the witness to limit the discussion to just the facts.  This approach to situations during a game will help a referee mitigate problems and deal with a variety of issues.  When discussing a situation such as a foul or misconduct to a player or coach the referee must limit his/her comments to only the facts and not interject opinion or threats.  A short conversation, limited to the facts, and done in a professional manner should defuse the situation and allow the game to continue without further comments.  When referees get into debates or add opinions, the problem usually escalates and the player or coach is not satisfied until they get the last word.  For example a referee who tells a coach that number 10 is a dirty player and the coach should deal with it is not gaining anything.  In fact he/she is offending both the player and coach.  In addition, the referee is opening up a dialogue that could result in a sarcastic comment from the coach or even a comment that results in cautioning the coach.   The whole problem was started by the referee.

Another area that can lead to problems is making a threat.  For example, the referee tells a player if he/she commits a foul like that again or makes a comment like that again, the player will be cautioned or ejected.  Later in the game if something similar occurs and the referee does not take an action, all the players who heard the original threat feel that the referee has no follow through and his/her credibility is in jeopardy.    Threats are not part of the referee tool kit and should never be used.

Similar to the above, discussions during the coin toss should be limited and only provide important facts.  Going over play situations or describing how the game will be handled will only lead to problems during the game.  The referee should have the captains introduce themselves, flip the coin and get the game started.  In interscholastic games, the referee must also discuss the need for good sportsmanship.  Also in interscholastic games, the referee must conform with the head coach of each team that the team is properly and legally equipped.  The referee should not use this time for any other reason but the requirements.

Post game discussions should be limited to signing the score sheet and making sure there are no player problems during a ceremonial handshake or other related matters.  This is not the time to have an extended conversation with a coach, especially if there was a controversial decision during the game.  The referee should not ignore the coach unless the coach is so irate that any conversation will result in further problems.  A short explanation of the facts and then close the conversation is the best approach.  Professionalism is the key to success.

Lastly, during half-time or after the game, the referee should never talk to the press or anyone involved in social media.  Any comments made can be misconstrued and have long term problems for the official. Do not ignore the person asking the question, merely advise them in a professional manner that you are not making any comments.

In summary, professionalism and keeping to the facts will go a long way in keeping game control and preventing problems from escalating.