Art or Science

By:  John Van de Vaarst, 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  this series 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 whether practicing as a soccer official is a science or an art.

The dictionary defines science as knowledge about a study of the natural world based on facts learned through experiments and observation.  A scientist is a person who is trained in science. The dictionary defines art as created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings.  An artist is a person that creates art.  Using these definitions as a backdrop for the remainder of this article will determine if a soccer referee is a scientist or artist.

A referee must be totally knowledgeable of the rules that the game is being played under.  If it is a high school game the referee must know the NFHS rules and if it is an intercollegiate game the referee must know the NCAA rules.  The referee must be thoroughly familiar with the appropriate rule book.  A misapplication of a rule could lead to a protest and problems for the referee, assignor, chapter, state board, etc.  The referee must study the rule book on a regular basis so that when something unusual happens during a game he/she will be prepared to deal with the situation appropriately and correctly.  In a sense, referees learn the rule book through experiments.  Every game can be considered an experiment and the referee gains knowledge as various plays and situations occur.  The referee also learns through another form of experiments and that is testing.  In addition to entrance level examinations, a referee should take refresher tests annually and learn from them.  Most refresher tests provide an opportunity to review the answers missed so that the referee will not misapply the rule on the field.  A Referee should seek the opportunity to be observed and assessed, at least once per season.  Obtaining feedback on strengths and areas for improvement will help the referee in the future.   Also, the referee should observe other top officials whenever practical.  This will allow him/her to see how situations are handled and game control is maintained.  Observing other officials should also help in developing people management skills as he/she sees how others deal with difficult situations, players and bench personnel.  Another form of observation is watching video clips of games that have been reviewed by clinicians and interpretations provided.  These real life plays will help the referee develop additional skills.  On the surface, a referee is a scientist.

As indicated earlier, art is created with imagination and skill.   Often times a  referee has to use their thought process (imagination) to resolve conflict.  Being able to respond to a player, coach or bench personnel in a timely manner that will defuse a situation is an art.  The referee is expressing important ideas and feelings when communicating his/her feelings.  The referee also uses the whistle to communicate and express feelings.  A light whistle gets the attention of the players with a minimum of reaction and conveys a message that the play must stop but the referee is not overly displeased with the play that just transpired.  A long hard whistle with authority expresses the feeling that the referee is not pleased with the play and intends to change behavior of the players involved.  In almost every game a referee has to ue imagination and skill to market a call especially when it is during a critical situation late in the game or in or near the edge of the penalty area.  The referee must immediately convince everyone involved that the decision was a correct one.  In a sense the referee is an artist in making the game beautiful for the players, coaches, bench personnel and most importantly the fans.  Based on this the referee is an artist.

When reviewing the above, the referee is both a scientist and an artist during the entire length of the game.