Referee Nuts and Bolts – May 2009

By Bob Sumpter, NISOA


Welcome to the third volume of “NISOA Referee Nuts and Bolts.  This month, there is a set of five short topics that should provide helpful suggestions about techniques and procedures to try out in your NISOA College and High School refereeing activities.

Remember, these short discussions are meant to help you add to the collection of personal skills, information and attitudes that you can learn to use to become more successful in your intercollegiate and interscholastic soccer refereeing. To the extent you consider and try out these suggestions you should find some, if not all, helpful.

– – – – –

1. How about the Caution for incidental profanity?

The recorded game data about incidental profane language suggests that it is not being uniformly or adequately penalized by caution.  Indeed, a frequent complaint of school coaches is that allowing unacceptable language is one of the main failings of Referees.  Most seasonal data suggests that only a few hundred cautions are issued for the use of incidental profanity throughout each season.   Considering that there are many hundreds of universities and thousands of high schools playing soccer it seems that a lot of incidents are going unpunished by the referees.

Common sense also questions whether the few hundred recorded incidents reported truly reflect what is happening on the school fields.  As one example, there are more than 5,000 college soccer Referees and many more thousands of high school soccer Referees active in the game. If each college or high school soccer Referee hears at least one incidental profanity uttered during any season (which is more than likely) then there should have been that many cautions issued in a given season.

Many Referees do not seem to understand the effect of allowing an incidental profanity violation to go unpunished.  Imagine if your usual practice in a game was not to caution such an incident.  The other players, observing your inaction, would then believe that they too are entitled to use profanity during a game and escape punishment.  That would create quite an unacceptable game atmosphere if it were to happen.

Incidental profanity is a nettlesome problem in the game.  Once ignored by the Referee, it leads to further incidents, and worse yet, if it continues unchecked it leads to more serious misconduct by virtue of the Referee being perceived by players as “weak”.

Tip: Understand that you have no option to decide whether or not to caution for incidental profanity.  The rules emphasize it as a MANDATORY caution.

Tip:  Understand that allowing it to go unpunished will create a game control problem for you.  The problem will inevitably become more serious than you want to be faced with in any game you referee.

– – – – –

2. One difference involves speed with endurance.

Many newer Referees often ask what the major differences are between the level of game that they currently officiate and the more competitive games that many aspire to officiate.  In my opinion there are two major differences in the more competitive games that the Referee experiences in moving up the competitive ladder: (1) speed with endurance, and (2) skill. These differences are seen in the more competitive college and high school games.

Let’s consider the first difference, speed and endurance.

The players are more highly trained, and their fitness level is higher than the “next level down.”  That comes from the fact that at the more competitive levels, the more organized and serious the team becomes about the competitions they are in.

The schools that sponsor extracurricular soccer teams provide professional and institutional organization, administration and management (including a developmental, participation-based, and competitive- based coaching program.) Player and team training is more structured, with fitness and skill essential parts of the program.

Players are then able to execute at a fast pace on the field, a pace more likely much faster that the “average” Referee who officiates the game is sometimes able to match in his/her own performance.  Also, the players are probably able to keep up a high work rate for longer periods than newer Referees are prepared for.

What does this suggest?  Referees who seek to move into more competitive levels need to pay attention to their fitness level, including speed with endurance.

Tip: Decide on, and follow, a personal fitness program.  Make sure you build that fitness program to account for the demands of the system of game mechanics you will be using in that competitive level at which you want to officiate.

Another Tip:  Also important is the need to decide on, and follow, a fitness program that includes elements of building up your endurance level under heavy exercise.  Remember, most games last at least 90 minutes, and with allowed overtimes often extend well beyond 90 minutes.  You want to be prepared to remain fit and not become exhausted while moving at faster speeds up and down the field for a much longer period than the 90 or so minutes your present game level requires.

– – – – –

3. About serious foul play.

Ejections more often than not involve physical violence.  Player safety becomes a paramount issue.  One of you prime jobs is to protect participants against injury that might result from serious foul play.

This is underscored by the fact that the rules call for immediate Ejection for serious foul play.  That means a violation committed in a manner to be considered potentially injurious to an opponent and therefore a violation that should be disciplined by Ejection.

The rules also call for the same in the case of fighting, and, in the college game, add special reporting requirements for the college game.

Also understand that the violation of spitting at an opponent is always to be considered as serious foul play, and the participant ejected.

The perception of hesitation to punish serious foul play is taken as a sign of incompetence, or worse yet, as a sign to players that you are not prepared to protect them against injury that may be caused by a serious foul play violation.  Under that perception, many players will reason that from that point on in the game, they will have to take steps, either fair or unfair, to protect themselves.

Tip:  Do not hesitate to Eject for serious foul play at any time in a game.  Your action should be immediate and without any display of hesitation or allowed dissent from anyone.

Tip:  Never let any hesitation on your part become a license for serious foul play.  Make your decision immediately based on your first impression of the violation, and act accordingly! You entire game control from that point on is at risk.

– – – – –

4. Disrespect

A nationwide high school questionnaire a few years ago asked if the recipients observed coaches and team personnel who showed disrespect to Referees at high school soccer games.  Seventy percent replied “Yes.”  This is a rather startling reply, and suggests that there is a behavior problem and that it may well have to do with soccer Referee performance that is considered substandard by those answering the survey.

One possible reason for this is as a reaction to Referees who do not fairly, consistently, and firmly enforce both the letter and spirit of the rules.  The Referee who has not mastered the rules, or does not continually study and work at rules mastery inevitably fails on the field.

Another possible reason is that the Referees are not confronting and penalizing coaches, team personnel and players who show open disrespect.  Unfortunately, some Referees do back away from dealing with coach, team personnel and player misconduct.  The only result of this for the Referee is eventual failure to control the game properly.  The sooner a Referee realizes and accepts the need to deal firmly and fairly with coach, team personnel and player misconduct, the faster that Referee will get on the track to competent performance and respect.

Tip: First, study and master both the letter and spirit of the rules thoroughly so that you can implement them.  Do this by devoting even a small bit of each day to studying one small bit of the rule book.

Tip: Refereeing sometimes requires a Referee to stand up to a coach or other team personnel, during an uncomfortable confrontation, with courage and firmness.  There is no substitute for being able to confront misconduct with courage and firmness.  Remember, you have all of the authority on the field to adequately control any given type

of participant misbehavior during a game.  There is no reason to back away from that responsibility.

– – – – –

5. Beware these unfair acts.

There are several violations that some Referees avoid punishing severely enough.  When not punished severely these specific incidents almost always lead to control problems for the Referee.  Most involve possible serious injury to the opponent.  You do not want to handle these violations incorrectly if your game control is not to suffer.

The first is an unfair tackle from behind where contact is made intentionally into the opponent.  Players get angry when this happens to them because they have little chance to evade or protect themselves from a tackle that comes from behind, outside of their normal range of vision.  The potential for injury is therefore increased and players, even if uninjured, become much more likely to react and retaliate against such unfair play.

The second is the tackle into an opponent that comes straight in, over the ball, with impact by the sole of the tackler’s foot against the opponent’s shin.  This is commonly refereed to as a “leg-breaker” for obvious reasons.  Again, this is especially dangerous and can easily cause serious injury.

The third is any violation committed against a goalkeeper.  An unfair physical violation against a goalkeeper usually draws the anger not only of the goalkeeper but also of the goalkeeper’s teammates, who consider that a goalkeeper has less chance to defend against unfair play because of the nature of the position. That makes these actions more dangerous to a goalkeeper and increases the chance of injury.  Drawing other players into a confrontation also makes this violation especially dangerous to your game control.

The fourth is head butting an opponent.  It is a form of striking, but must usually be punished as either serious foul play or violent conduct.  This is extremely dangerous to the opponent and prone to cause serious injury.  This should not be ignored for any reason whatever.

The fifth is the violation of spitting at an opponent.  This is a particularly disgusting and demeaning act.  It almost always draws a retaliation if not quickly penalized.  The player who spits at an opponent must be Ejected.

The sixth is the violation of dissent.  This is one act that you should consider as serious because it is a direct challenge to your authority to manage the game and control behavior.  Yet some Referees mistakenly do not regard it as such, and tend to treat it as a behavior that can be corrected and prevented from recurring without penalizing as a violation.  I disagree.  My observations suggest that if dissent is not penalized at the very first incident, it draws other players into also trying their hand at dissenting with ensuing Referee decisions.  That’s not a good idea for enhancing your game control.

TIP: Do not tolerate any of these violations under any circumstances.  Stop play and penalize immediately.  Where applicable, Eject without hesitation for Serious Foul Play or Violent Conduct as appropriate (except, of course, for dissent, which draws a Caution for a first offense).

ANOTHER TIP: In the case of dissent, do NOT allow this to go unpunished.  You have two options: to Caution a player for a first offense, and for a second offense, to Eject that player for persisting in misconduct after receiving a prior Caution.  Also, MAKE SURE that you do NOT incorrectly Caution for dissent where a player has used abusive language or gestures in the dissent.  Abusive language or gestures require an Ejection even for a first offense.

– – – – –