By:  John Van de Vaarst. National Clinician

As assignments are received, almost without exception, officials immediately look at the opponents and make a judgment if the assignment is a quality one or is it a game that just must be covered.  The second step in this process is the official checks to see who he/she is assigned with and if the other officials are, in the official’s mind, the right choice to make a solid referee team.  Every season assignments are made and the officiating crew may not be the best mix from either a level of skill perspective or personality one.  When this occurs the referee has to determine what to do in order to make the game and referee team a success.

The first possible situation occurs when the referee realizes that the assignment is somewhat late in the season and the two teams involved are usually in contention for the conference title.  Both teams are noted for playing a fairly physical game and are very competitive.  One of the assistant referees assigned is an average interscholastic referee and has a history of having problems recognizing the difference in the intercollegiate game and the styles of play.  What are some of the things a referee can do in this situation?

  • Turn the game back because the referee is concerned about his/her reputation and does not want to have any problems.  The referee is more concerned about advancement than the good of the game.  This is a poor solution to the situation and creates problems for the assessor and clearly indicates that the referee is not a true professional.
  • Request the assistant referee be taken off the game because he/she, in the referee’s mind, does not have the skills to officiate at this level.  This is not professional and is a judgment by the referee who appears to have an ego problem and is more concerned about his/her reputation over the game and assignment.
  • Prepare a strategy that will help the assistant referee assigned to work at his/her highest level of performance and be an asset to the referee team.

This last approach is the preferred method of dealing with the situation is most professional.  One scenario is to prepare a pregame discussion that will focus on the referee team and also provide information to the “weaker” assistant referee on how to handle the game.  For example, the referee can spend extra time going over the normal style of play of the teams and how the referee plans on controlling the game.  He/she can also spend time requesting the assistant referee to read the game and how he/she is making decisions so that any decision the assistant referees make about a foul it is consistent with the referee’s decisions.  At the conclusion of the first half the referee can reinforce the pregame topics by going over specific plays and how each official dealt with them.  This should help the assistant referee improve his/her performance and game control be consistent ant both teams pleased with the officials’ overall performance.

Another situation a referee can face when reviewing initial assignment is that one of the assistant referees assigned is a high level referee who normally works as a referee, not an assistant, at the top levels of Division I.  The game assigned is a competitive Division III game.  The referee assigned is concerned that the top level assistant referee will feel that the assignment is demeaning and will not work as hard as necessary to make the game a success.  What are some things a referee cna do in this situation?

  • Contact the assignor and turn back the game.  This creates a problem for the assignor and it is not professional for the official to turn back a game because he/she is intimidated  by a fellow official.
  • Contact the assignor and request the assignments be switched so that the referee is now the assistant referee and the assistant becomes the referee.  This approach sends a message to the assignor that the referee is not capable of working the game and, more than likely, will have an adverse impact on future assignments.
  • Develop a professional strategy to utilize the assistant with the ego to the referee’s benefit.

The last approach should make the game a success.  The referee can use the pregame discussion to engage the assistant and use his/her ego to help prepare for the game.  Asking the assistant questions on the teams, style of play, and how to deal with certain plays will  make the assistant feel that he/she is a valuable to the team and is needed.  During the game the referee can make extra eye contact with the assistant referee which should leave an impression that the referee is seeking additional assistance or affirmation about decisions.  This should help the assistant referee and make him/her feel  important during the game.  At half time, the referee can seek input from the assistant referee on the first half and any ideas on what can be done in the second half to improve the quality of the officiating team.  Again this will make the assistant referee feel that he/she is needed on the game.

The above are only two possibilities that occur when assignments are received.  There are many other thoughts that go through a referee’s mind when taking the first look at the assignment sheet.  It is important that the referee be a professional and remember that each and every game is important to the players and the fans.  The referee must give 100% to every game assigned and work with the referee team to make the game enjoyable for the players, spectators and school administrators.

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