Respect and Reputation

By: Bob Sumpter, NISOA

An important point for the Referee Team members is to remember that all current systems of mechanics are intended to place the Referee and Assistant(s) in the most advantageous position from which to begin to control and manage the game and participants. The use of any given system of mechanics is not an end in itself. The act and challenge of refereeing then begins once you start using the positions, movements, communications, and procedures that are part of that particular system. Part of the challenge is to understand and apply the mechanics and make sure to use the system and other key abilities of the entire Referee Team most effectively.

Therefore, rather than discuss the workings of any given system, in this article we’ll discuss the impact upon your game of equally important Referee characteristics. Specifically, respect and reputation are both important to becoming an effective Interscholastic or Intercollegiate Soccer Referee.  This article discusses three aspects of the impact of respect and reputation: (1) mutual respect among Referee Team, (2) mutual respect between Referee Team and game participants, (3) and the influence of your reputation. Each of the three influences the successful management of every game you officiate.

Aspect One: Mutual Respect Among The Referee Team!

The successful Referee Team relies to some extent upon the system of field mechanics used in any particular game. In the high school game, there are three different systems allowed for use by State Association choice: The Dual System of Control, the Diagonal System of Control, or the Double Dual System of Control.

Regardless of the system used in any given game, you must rely upon the Referee Team, whether you are the Lead Referee, or the Assistant Referee, or the Alternate Referee. All three systems of mechanics only work when you regard all Referee Team members as fully qualified game officials. All three systems require mutual respect for the abilities and integrity of the assigned Referees otherwise all systems will fail to provide a well-managed game.

In accepting this principle of mutual respect, you as a Referee realize that you cannot referee the game all alone. As an example, years ago when the game was just gaining wide acceptance among high schools, there was an initial lack of enough Referees to fill out all of the Referee Teams needed, so it was not uncommon for a Referee to be assigned as a single official for a high school game.  That condition led to some very controversial experiences where a single official had to try to manage a game with twenty-two active players on the field with a non-stop clock running. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen any more. Today’s game requires and furnishes a full Referee Team to succeed.

The point is that if you as a Referee do not accept and expect each member of the Referee Team to fully and capably perform, and decide not to expect or use each team member to full capacity, then you are denying the game a great measure of control by the loss of that team member’s full participation.

To illustrate this last comment, have you ever been with an assigned Referee Team where the Referee during the pre-game briefing announced that the Assistant Referees were to “leave the penalty area to me?” That essentially cut off the assigned Assistants from being able to contribute to a successful game. Instead, the Referee might have better considered relying on the system to provide signals, communications, regular eye-contact, and the other required cooperative procedures between Referee and Assistants to correctly oversee all game incidents. That way, the Assistants would have stayed more fully involved and helpful.

The sum total of this first principle is therefore to rely upon the fact that each Referee Team member is certified to, and is expected to be capable of, performing competently in any Referee Team position. Using this principle and applying to the fullest extent the allowed system of mechanics you employ for each particular game will help the Referee Team obtain the best possible game result.

Aspect Two: Mutual respect between the Referee Team and game participants.

In managing a high school soccer game, you deal with teams, student-athlete players, coaches, and other team personnel.

Giving and requiring mutual respect is a must.

No member of the Referee Team should ever treat a coach, player, or other team personnel in any way that would disrespect the individual or group, nor allow any other game participant to do so. That includes raising your voice when communicating in an attempt to “shout down” the individual. Even in the most confrontational situations with a participant, you need to show civility and respect regardless of what negative behavior the individual chooses to direct at you.

One example is the loudness with which you address a Coach, player, or players. Your tone of voice should preferably be at the normal loudness you might use in talking with a person.  In order to maintain as near to normal a tone as possible, remember that when you need to address a coach, player, or other team personnel, move over to where the individual is located so that you are close enough to the person and can use a normal tone of voice.  Obviously, there will be some game incidents where the crowd noise and other stadium or outside noises make it necessary for you to raise your voice above a normal volume, but even so try to remember to keep as near to normal volume as the circumstances permit.  Certainly, do not shout across a field or any distance to a coach, or team bench, to communicate.

Another example is to decide how to address a coach, player, or other team personnel so as to be polite, civil, and firm in your communication, but yet show respect and objectivity. The best way to directly address either team coach in any encounter during a game (i.e., before, during, or after) is to address him/her as “Coach.” This is a good practice even if you happen to know the last name of either or both coaches.  To others within hearing range of your communication with a coach, if you address him/her as “coach”, it will give a better appearance of objectivity, and avoid giving the mistaken appearance of favoritism in your dealings with either or both team coaches.

Similarly, when addressing individual players on either or both teams, it is a good practice to always address each by his/her uniform jersey number. This is correct even if you happen to know the name of an individual player with whom you decide to have a word. Again, using the jersey number of any player you address keeps the correct appearance of objectivity and non-favoritism.

Should you ever doubt your ability to give and require respect in a firm, fair, polite, and effective manner and still retain control, remember that the rules are specific in that a Referee’s decision on a matter of fact is final. As part of the same provision, the rules specify that protests of NFHS rules are not recognized. It doesn’t take a loud or disrespectful demeanor to keep control of any given game or situation, and you don’t have to spend any time trying to convince a participant, through unnecessary or disrespectful argument, of your authority.

Mutual respect between Referees and all participants involved is important to your successful game management.

Aspect Three: Your Reputation Precedes You.

Do you referee any particular high school team, or teams, more than once in any season? If your answer to the question is “Yes”, then you can bet that your reputation as an Interscholastic Referee precedes you.

The reputation you’ve developed up to that point does have an effect on your ability to control behavior. Teams get to anticipate your game management. Teams get to know your strengths and weaknesses. If you have been effective in past games at managing those games properly and being able to control participant behavior at acceptable levels, the teams will remember. Also, if you have had problems in the past with properly managing games and in behavior control, teams will remember that.

This is mentioned because some Referees fall into the questionable practice of believing that they should avoid using specific behavior control techniques no matter what happens in a game.

As an example, have you ever heard a colleague boast that they have never, ever administered either a Caution or Disqualification in any high school game they officiated? It seems logical that if their game management and behavior control was so effective as to obviate the need to use either of these two powers for behavior control, then their practice and boast is a testament to the fact that they may well be the best Interscholastic Referees ever to come along the pike! However, if their boast is made because they have continually refused to use either of these two behavior control powers even when participant behavior was unfair enough to merit the punishment, then that attitude and practice has probably resulted in games whose results were achieved by behavior that denied game results based on team and individual skills.

The question follows that: when you walk onto the field, what do you want the team and players to think of you? A common sense answer would be that it would be best for the game if participants, based on your reputation, expected you to manage and control their game and individual behavior in a consistently firm and fair manner, while insuring that their individual and team skills would be the principal difference in the game outcome.

You need to work in every game to consistently establish and maintain a record and build a reputation based on firm, fair, and effective game and behavior management. You won’t ever have to announce your reputation to game participants.  Your reputation will precede you onto the field.


So, remember the three aspects of respect and reputation, and their effect on your ability to manage and control a high school soccer game: (1) mutual respect among the Referee Team, (2) mutual respect between the Referee Team and participants, and (3) the fact that your reputation precedes you. These are vital components of your career-long soccer refereeing.