Silent Signals

Published on October 6, 2015


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 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 importance of strong silent signals by the officiating crew both in the diagonal system of control and the dual system of control.

There are many different types of silent signals that can assist an officiating crew during a game.  One of the most important is appropriate for both the dual and diagonal system of control.  Eye contact with the other official(s) goes a long way to ensure each official is concentrating and working on game control issues.  During dead ball situations, especially a throw-in, goal kick, or corner kick the referee should make eye contact with the assistant referee on the diagonal the referee is facing.  Also, if possible a quick glance back to the other assistant referee could be beneficial.  This technique lets the assistant referee know that the referee is paying attention and is constantly looking for assistance.  In the dual system, each referee should make eye contact whenever possible when the ball is not in play.  Again this ensures the other official that his/her partner is working as a team.

During the pregame conference officials should discuss some of the silent signals that should be used during the game.  For example, in the diagonal system of control, what signal does the referee expect from the assistant when the ball goes into touch on the referee diagonal and the referee is not sure which team should be awarded the throw in?  One method is to have the assistant referee place the flag in the hand that he/she feels the direction of the throw should occur.  The referee glances back, observes the signal, and makes the decision based on the input.  The teams involved see the referee make the call very quickly and decisively and the referee’s credibility is kept intact.

Another silent signal that works very well in a dual system of control happens when the ball goes over the goal line and the lead official is not sure if it is a goal kick or corner kick.  The lead official should make eye contact with the trail official who can merely put his/her hand in front of the chest and discreetly point as to where the ball should be placed, either the corner or goal kick.  The lead official then makes the decision and the players never realize that the lead official could not clearly see the play.

Another signal which is more obvious happens when the referee signals to the assistant referee with a “thumbs up.”  One situation would be when the assistant referee makes a decision on off side on a very close play.  The thumbs up to the assistant from the referee lets the assistant know that the referee appreciates the effort and supports the decision.  This “pat on the back” acknowledges the assistant’s efforts and helps build confidence so that if there is another crucial decision to be made, the assistant will be able to make it quickly and correctly.

An official in either a diagonal system or dual system indicates a hard foul and is uncertain as to whether a caution or ejection is warranted.  The referee can look to his/her partner or assistant referee and obtain help.  The partner or assistant can put his/her hand over the breast pocket to indicate a caution is appropriate or place a hand over the back pocket for an ejection.  No signal means that a caution or ejection is not necessary.

One signal that, when given, has to be done in a way that the assistant accepts it without feeling that the referee is no longer seeking his/her input.  There are times when the referee observes a situation differently and gestures to the assistant that the flag should be lowered and play continued.  The assistant must accept this decision quickly and focus on the game.  A discussion can occur about the rationale at half time or after the game.  The assistant referee should not take any overrule personally.  If this occurs the assistant’s focus on the remainder of the game will be diminished.

The above represent only a few of the silent signals that can be used by an officiating team to assist with game control.  The important issue is that any signals that are to be used should be thoroughly discussed during the pregame conference.  The referee should not be surprised by a signal during the game.  If this happens the referee can become confused and game control or a decision on a particular play can become disruptive.  This also applies to the dual system.  Both officials should be aware of any signals that his/her partner is going to use,  Surprise signals only create problems.

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