Published on April 17, 2015


By: John Van de Vaarst, National Clinician

“Hey ref, call it both ways!” “That was a foul 5 minutes ago!” “Your partner was right there, why are you making the call?” “Why are you calling that as an assistant referee, when the referee is allowing that type of play?”  These are a few examples of commonly used comments from coaches when there is an appearance that the game is not being officiated consistently by the officials assigned. This article will focus on several areas where the lack of consistency can create problems for the officiating team and overall game management.

Consistency is defined as condition of adhering together : firmness of material substance

b : firmness of constitution or character :  persistency. Being consistent as an official and an officiating team throughout the game requires fairness, ability to make tough decisions, team work and more.

Referees must be consistent with foul recognition. A trip near the center of the field is fairly easy to call. The referee observes the foul and sounds the whistle. The same foul occurs in the attacking third of the field or approximately twenty five yards from the goal and for some reason it becomes more difficult for the referee to sound the whistle. When the same foul occurs in the penalty area and is committed by a defender, many referees seek out options so the call does not have to be made. These examples clearly indicate a lack of consistency and potential problems for the referee. Referees must be willing to make the “tough call” no matter what the outcome of the restart may be. A trip in the penalty area cannot be ignored or a lesser call such as dangerous play be made by the referee so that he/she does not have to award the penalty kick. Top referees have the ability to make the hard calls without hesitation and be able to control the game because of their abilities.

Many state high school associations utilize the duel system of control for varsity and sub varsity games. Consistency in this type of system can become a problem when the two officials assigned observe the level of play in different ways. For example, a higher level official is assigned with a newer official. The newer official can recognize a foul but has not learned the difference between the spirit of the game and the rules of the game. The experienced official is allowing play to flow when the ball is in his/her end of the field. When the play is near the newer official a play that was allowed is now being called a foul. This leads to frustration by the players and coaches involved. Another example is when the play is very close to one official and that individual has a clear observation of the situation. The other official from a far distance sounds the whistle and calls a foul. In this instance coaches and players question the official who was closer as to why the foul was signaled. Officials assigned to a duel system of control need to learn how to “read” the other person’s style of officiating and strive to work together so the game is call in a consistent manner.

When the diagonal system of control is being utilized the referee should spend some time during the pregame discussion reviewing ways to work as a team and be consistent. One suggestion is to include in the pregame a statement that the assistant referees should observe what the referee is calling and what is being allowed as fair play during the beginning of the game. The assistants should make the same type of decisions as the referee during the game. A real life example is during the first half the assistant referee raised the flag on several occasions when the ball was heading for the goal line and the defender was shielding the play. The assistant referee felt it was obstruction. The referee was allowing the game to flow so the assistant was not recognized. This scenario created several problems. First, the coaches saw the raised flag and began questioning why the referee was not acknowledging the signal. This creates problems for the referee since the coach now feels the referee is ignoring a foul situation. Secondly, fans become concerned and begin to challenge the referee with comments. Lastly, the players can become frustrated because the referee and assistant are not a team. In this case the referee must discuss the situation with the assistant at half time so that the second half does not have the same problem. Working as a team is critical for the success of any officiating crew.

In summary, every official should strive for consistency in every game. This will result in better game control and enjoyment for the players, coaches and fans.

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