Gamesmenship vs. Dissent

Published on March 11, 2015


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 difference between gamesmanship and dissent.  The article will also provide suggestions on how the officials should deal with each situation.

Webster defines gamesmanship as the art or practice of winning games by questionable expedients without actually violating the rules.  Another definition is  the use of ethically dubious methods to gain an objective.  Dissent is defined as publicly disagreeing with an official opinion, decision, or set of rules.

Dissent is defined in both the NCAA Rule Book and NFHS Rule Book.  Rule 12.5.3 in the NCAA Rule Book indicates that the referee shall administer a caution when a player shows dissent by word or mouth or action to decisions made by the referee.  Rule 12 Section 8 Article 1 of the NFHS Rule Book indicates that dissent is objecting by word of mouth or action to any decision given by an official..

The definitions are clear but interpreting when gamesmanship becomes dissent is sometimes a challenge for the referee.  This is especially so when a coach or bench personnel is involved.  Coaches and bench personnel often times use gamesmanship tactics to get a referee to hesitate on a future call or make a call in favor of their team that could result in a scoring opportunity. Gamesmanship may also be used by a coach or bench personnel to get his/her team to play better.  These are normal coaching tactics that are part of the game.  The referee must be able to deal with these tactics and not allow any comments to influence future decisions.

Referees have different ways to deal with gamesmanship.  The first is to ignore it and hope that the coach or bench personnel will stop his/her actions and allow the game to proceed.  The second is what many soccer officials call “the quiet word.”  A quick comment to the coach or bench personnel that the statement has been noted and there is no need to continue.  if the referee uses this  he/she must make sure it is done in a professional manner and does not create an atmosphere that will make the situation escalate.

Players also use gamesmanship to seek an advantage during the game.  Some players make “off the cuff comments: ” to the referee to try and gain an advantage.  For example, often times players may say to the referee – “let us play.”  This is an attempt to convince the referee not to call a foul against the player’s team.  Another example might be “that is his/her third foul.”  The player is using gamesmanship to convince the referee to caution the opponent for persistent misconduct.  Another example is faking an injury or a foul.  This is a professional form of gamesmanship that is attempting to gain an advantage.

When does gamesmanship become dissent?  This is a question that each referee must decide during the game under difficult circumstances.  When dealing with coaches or bench personnel, the referee must take into consideration what is being said, how it is being said, and what impact is the statement having on game management.  The referee must make a decision as to whether the individual making the comment has crossed the line and is now having a negative impact on the game.  The referee must also think about the result of any action that might be taken.  One option is to stop play and speak with the individual about what is being said.  If this occurs the referee must keep the conversation short, professional, and not opened to a debate.  If the conversation is extended the result usually leads to debate with the individual involved, not the referee, getting the upper hand.  Also, extended debates only draw undo attention to the referee and game management could be diminished.  Another option is to caution the coach or bench personnel.  When making this decision the referee must consider what is the impact of the caution.  Will the action correct the problem or cause it to escalate?  If the problem escalates is the referee ready and willing to take the next step, ejection?  Every referee has his/her own personality and should know what is the best course of action during this type of situation.  People management skills greatly assist better officials in dealing with dissent from coaches and bench personnel.

When dealing with players who are crossing the line from gamesmanship to dissent is similar to dealing with a coach or bench personnel.  The referee must determine what is the best course of action.   A comment to the player during dynamic play that his/her comments are starting to cross the line may suffice.  Halting play during a stoppage and talking directly to the player involved is another option.  Again, this draws attention to the referee so the discussion should be kept short and done one-on-one.  Other players should not be permitted to join in and create a group discussion about the referee’s game management.  If the referee decides a caution is warranted, the referee must stop the clock, administer the caution, advise the player for the reason for the caution and get the game restarted.  A decision to caution can lead to the player attempting to debate with the referee.  It is imperative that  while the referee may allow a few words, the player should not be allowed to open a debate or try to escalate the situation.  The referee must again use people management skills to keep control of the situation and get the game restarted.

In summary, gamesmanship is now part of every game.   A referee must be able to recognize the difference between gamesmanship and dissent and deal with each in a professional manner that will create a positive result.

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