By: John Van de Vaarst, National Clinician
The purpose of this article is to focus on several different important skill sets to be a successful intercollegiate official. The letter S T O P will be used to emphasize the critical aspects.
The first “s” is study. One of the first things an official must do to be successful is study the rules and be a student of the NCAA Rule Book. Many soccer officials are members of the NISOA, NFHS and USSF. Each of these organizations has its own set of rules/laws. It is imperative that the intercollegiate soccer official knows the differences in the rules and only uses the NCAA Rule Book rules and interpretations during a college game. For example, if play is temporarily stopped for an injury, what is the correct procedure for restarting the game? The NCAA Rule Book indicates that if the ball was in play the game is restarted with a drop ball unless the goalkeeper was the player injured during the course of saving the ball. If this occurs, the game is restarted with an indirect free kick. The NFHS Rule Book allows the game to restart with an indirect free kick if one team was in clear possession of the ball when the game was stopped. If an intercollegiate official restarts the game with a drop ball when the goalkeeper was injured, this could become a situation for a protest to be filed. It is imperative that every NISOA member study the rules on a regular basis and be a student of them.
The second “s” deals with the spirit of the game. Officials must know how to officiate so the game flows with a minimum of interference and the game remains under control. Top level intercollegiate officials have the skills to talk to players and coaches so that he/she continues to gain respect throughout the game and decisions are not challenged. The top level official knows how to apply advantage and allow the game to continue without the possibility of retaliation. Another aspect of the spirit of the game is knowing the teams’ style of play and allowing that style to be exhibited throughout the game in a consistent manner. An example of this occurs when an official observes a hard foul and it is the type that could warrant a caution. The official realizes that the game has flowed well with a minimum of problems. In lieu of a caution, the official stops the game and talks to the player who committed the foul. This approach corrects the problem without a caution and the game continues without further incidents.
“T” stands for teamwork used by the officials assigned to the game. This is critical to success. The officials teamwork begins with a thorough pregame discussion about the different positions to take during restarts, foul recognition and assistance, offside decisions, bench and player control, etc. The team uses these instructions throughout the game so that each official knows what to expect from the other and the game is officiated in a professional manner. Working as an officiating team, is important throughout the game. One example is on a corner kick. The assistant referee and referee should be focused on different players prior to the kick. Once the kick is taken the assistant must not only observe players but must also be alert to determine if the ball crosses the goal line. The referee must closely monitor the players participating in the corner kick to make sure that no one is doing anything that is illegal.
Lastly the assistant referee must be ready for a quick reversal and the ball returning to the attacking team. At this time the assistant must be ready to determine if there is an offside infraction.
The second “t” refers to officials need to be technically accurate with all signals. Good mechanics and positioning greatly assists in credibility and acceptance of decisions. Assistant referees must make all signals crisp and sharp. It is easy to fall into a lull and indicate ball in and out of play in a lack luster manner. Proper positioning by the referee and assistant referees throughout the game is critical for success. For example, there is a very close play when a ball is played through. The assistant referee is perfectly even with the second to the last defender and makes the offside decision. This is a great example of being technically accurate.
The next letter is “o.” Officials must constantly observe what is going on during the entire game. This includes off-the-ball situations. Top officials have the ability to observe the play and work as a team to observe what is occurring off-the-ball. Protecting all players at all times is critical for game control. Being in good position to observe fouls and misconducts is very important. Observing off-the-ball situations is critical. For example, a play reverses up the field. The referee back pedals for the first few steps and takes a moment to see what situations might be developing off-the-ball. He/she observes a player pushing another player. The referee immediate stops play and deals with the potential problem. Observing the pushing was a direct result of observing the play properly.
The second “o” refers to omit. When arriving at a game the officiating team must omit all outside distracters. Taking excess baggage into the game will only result in problems. One way of eliminating this is to arrive at the game at least 45 minutes before kick-off. This provides the officiating team to conduct a pregame conference and properly prepare for the game. Also the officiating team must omit all preconceived opinions of the team and players. The officiating team must enter the game unbiased and prepared to be fair to both teams.
The final letter is “p.” Every official must be properly prepared for every game. The officiating team must be prepared to deal with the unique situation that may only happen once in the entire career of each member of the team. For example, a corner kick is being taken from the far side of the assistant referee. The goalkeeper punches it out and moves forward to be in a better position. The ball goes to a striker who shoots and hits the goal post. The ball rebounds to another striker who is approximately five yards from the goal line. There is a defender on the goal line near the goal post. The shot is taken and a goal is scored. The assistant referee must quickly make a decision. Since the goal keeper had moved up and there is one defender on the goal line, offside should be quickly signaled. The assistant must not assume that the goalkeeper is the second defender. Being mentally prepared will assure that the decision is made correctly.
Finally, one way of being prepared and learning more about the intercollegiate game is to participate in clinics. NISOA chapters and the National Referee Program have clinics every year. Members should take advantage of these events and make every effort to attend and learn. Open discussion on critical plays and situations allow all to learn from previous games.
In summary remember:
S – study, spirit
T – teamwork, technical skills
O – observe, omit
P – prepare, participate
Skill sets for a successful intercollegiate soccer official.