Understanding What Is Expected

“Understanding What Is Expected”

By: Bob Sumpter, NISOA, Florida

We often receive feedback from Schools, Administrators, Coaches, Teams and Players for whom we officiate soccer games that tries to explain the characteristics that they would like to see us exhibit in our management of their games.  In providing feedback these individuals often use familiar terms and expect that we all understand and agree on what each term means when they state them.  How many of us have heard terms such as uniformity, control, preparedness, fitness, common sense, and other words used to describe what the ideal Referee is in the perception of those giving the feedback. Seldom do people realize that not all people interpret specific terms in the same sense and give each not only the same definition and meaning, but also the same stress as the person giving the feedback does.

This brief review suggests some terms as they are understood by both those giving the feedback, and by many the Referees receiving them.

Consistency: The ability to judge each separate incident involving the same elements (such as: trips, or offside, or dissents) in a game with the same judgment factors and control measures so that every like incident is treated in essentially the same manner.

Uniformity: The ability to interpret and apply each unit of the rules in the same manner throughout the game, in a fair and equitable manner so that no one team or player is allowed to violate specific rules while another is penalized. In other words, follow all of the rules as they are written.

Fitness: Soccer is a game of constant movement up and down the field. At times the movement is at high speed, at other times while not as speedy, the movement is constant. Effective refereeing requires that the Referee Team members should be able to keep within an optimum distance of play and players, and also in the best positions at all times to effectively observe and control the game. This means that Referees have the obligation to become fit enough to meet these requirements, and also maintain that level of personal fitness throughout each and every game of every season. Letdowns in fitness often mean letdowns in game control.

Fairness: The Referee is expected to be absolutely fair and equitable in dealing with game participants, without allowing any individual or team to incur any favor or advantage by the Referee unfairly allowing different conduct standards from one to the other.

Common Sense: This usually is stated as realizing that reasonable standards for conduct be set and applied by the Referee Team which realizes that not all violations are intentionally committed, and that some violations need to be dealt with in a manner that shows the Referee Team understands this while still keeping effective control over participant behavior.

Objectivity: This means not caring who wins, or not caring about what the final score of the game should be, or mentally or emotionally not “taking sides”, or not showing in any way any bias towards any participant or team. The integrity of the game rests solely on the integrity of the Referee and Referee Team.

Rules Knowledge: The Referee and Referee Team are the accepted rules authority in any game. That puts the onus on the Referee and Referee Team to have committed the rules of the school game to their complete understanding and memory before ever accepting a game assignment or showing up for a game.

Correct Application: This follows the requirement of Rules Knowledge. You cannot apply the rules if you are not competent in the knowledge of the rules content and intent. Any misapplication of the rules reflects on your abilities and competence, but more importantly on the game itself and on its outcome. The worst occurrence would be an incorrect game result because of a rules misapplication by the Referee or Referee Team.

Dependability: Participants rely on the Referee and Referee Team to perform their game duties and responsibilities competently. Any commitments you agree to (such as time, venue, meeting the procedural and game control requirements, etc.) should be met without question or alteration. The schools and participants look to the Referee Team for the success of the competition as a reflection of the school’s concern for the development of the Student-Athletes.

Promptness: Schools schedule their games to begin at specific times. The Referee Team obligation in accepting a game assignment is to show up at a time that allows them to be able to take care of all of the needed pre-game requirements, and then be able to begin the game at the scheduled starting time, and also to complete the game within the specified period. Any failure by the Referee Team to do so can cause unnecessary and serious problems to the schools and team involved.

Courage: Games are competitions. They often involve disagreeable conduct and situations such as verbal and physical confrontations, serious violations, argumentative players protesting the conduct of opponents or members of the Referee Team, retaliation by players against opponents for perceived or real misconduct, etc. The Referee and Referee Team must accept the need to stand up firmly, fairly, and with authority to those involved. A Referee who “backs away” from such conduct or incident without employing the behavior control needed in such situations not only does not fulfill the game obligation but also risks causing even more serious negative results through the neglect to act.

Protection: Players, Coaches, Teams, and Schools expect the Referees and Referee Team to protect all participants against serious injury wherever and whenever possible through their competent management of the game. Referees must make every effort to learn to recognize the type of individual and team play that risks injury to participants, and take firm and quick action to prevent and correct such behavior without delay or hesitation.

Respectfulness: Game participants expect to be treated with respect. Referee Team members expect the same. Even in the most disagreeable misconduct incidents the Referee should remain calm, effect control over his/her own emotions, effect control by firm and fair treatment of the individual(s) involved, and at no time insult, debase, try to intimidate, or shame the individual publicly through words, actions, or the procedures used to resolve the situation.


This limited article briefly addresses the more common feedback terms used to describe the characteristics looked for by Schools, Coaches, Teams and Players in the school game. The list of terms is certainly not complete. However, it is important that when feedback is given and considered, we should make sure that the giver and receiver both agree on what each term means to both. That way, the exchange should have a better chance of resulting in a better school game.