The Challenge of the Competitive Game, Part One

The Challenge of the Competitive Game, Part One (Feb 2013)

By Bob Sumpter, NISOA

The Challenge

As soccer develops in the college and high school games, the level and intensity of the competitive game are increasingly apparent and present a challenge for the Referee to perfect and use those personal skills, attitudes and competencies needed in today’s game. Every NISOA Referee has the potential to perform at the highest competitive level. One way to achieve that target is to analyze characteristics of the game and its participants so that the particular refereeing skills needed can be identified, practiced and improved. The main ingredient in the challenge is to have the desire and willingness to acquire those attributes in your quest for personal excellence.

To Start

This three-part series of articles is about practical suggestions for consideration and performance improvement in a number of subjects related to refereeing competitive college and high school soccer that affect your ability to successfully referee the competitive game. In this three-part series we’ll cover 10 subject areas: (1) A Serious Attitude, (2) Speed, (3) Intensity, (4) Competitiveness, (5) Integrity, (6) The Players, (7) The Spectators, (8) Experience, (9) Feel for the Game, and (10) Referee Team.

(1) A Serious Attitude

The referee must be absolutely serious and professional about his/her outlook, performance, and conduct. In particular, in your performance you must strive to become as well-trained as any of the student-athletes you referee.

Also importantly, you must be responsible for all commitments made and accepted. You cannot lightly or with other reasons either accept an assignment that you should not accept, or turn back an assignment once accepted. The colleges and high schools for whom you referee rely upon the games they arrange for their student-athletes’ development as part of an overall educational program.

Most referees enter officiating as an avocation, as opposed to practicing it as a hobby. There is a difference. An avocation suggests a commitment to perform an activity to the best of your ability, sometimes becoming a life-long pursuit of personal excellence. A hobby, on the other hand, suggests an activity that you enjoy to fill in spare time. The commitment to a hobby does not necessarily involve as strong and complete a commitment as an avocation.

Refereeing the competitive college and high school soccer game rests upon the personal excellence goals of the referees involved.

The commitment includes: willingness, time, energy, ethics, dedication to training and experience opportunities, and the perseverance to reach set goals. In a nutshell, the referee must be serious about becoming professional in outlook, performance, and conduct.

(2) Speed

Competitive players and teams learn to execute skills, tactics and game strategies at top speed. They are trained and constantly practice to do so. With the repeated and continual quick reflexes and positional adjustment executed by players and teams, it also requires quick reflexes and movement on the part of the referee team to continually adjust and readjust to not only what is happening, but just as importantly to what potential play is developing and where the development is likely.

To achieve this, the referee must develop and maintain an adequate degree of personal fitness equivalent to that of the student-athletes in the game. Without a good level of personal fitness the referee team will not be able to perform adequately.

The ability to react to what is observed as quickly as possible, making quick and correct decisions in the process, and implementing the decisions quickly, requires practicing and improving observation skills. A referee should want to work hard on developing these skills.

Commitment to personal fitness requires regular, year-round conditioning, regardless of whether or not the referee has another, primary occupation. At the higher competitive levels, the requirement might necessarily involve daily conditioning as well as a life-style to compliment a conditioning plan. Good physical conditioning also supports good mental conditioning and well-being. When dealing with participants and game situations, mental fitness becomes a prime quality for a referee.

Learning to look for, recognize, and adjust to the game strategies of each team as early as possible in the game also comes into play. Once recognized, the referee team can better oversee and often anticipate incidents that may occur. This means researching and studying the record of the teams you will officiate as often as possible before getting to the game. This information exchanged as part of a pre-game referee team briefing can help do a better job. It is sometimes referred to as part of “doing your homework.”

(3) Intensity

College and high school players on competitive teams train throughout each season on a regular basis. The regular training before scheduled games keeps them continually focused on their part in each contest. Players start “getting up” for a game even before arrival at a field. Heightened intensity continues to build in the locker room, and in pre-game warm-ups on the field. By the time the referee team meets the captains before kick-off, individual player intensity reaches the game level. That level among players is one reason for the pre-game coin toss to be kept as simple as possible.

Once the game begins, the referee team needs to watch for sportsman-like behavior and non-foul performance and keep constantly aware to see that player and team skills are executed in a fair manner. Overly exuberant play has the potential for dangerous or over-aggressive play, and the recognition of that difference by the referee team becomes a key skill exercised over and over again in games.


This completes Part 1 of the discussion of suggestions about improving your ability to handle competitive games. The first three of the ten subject areas have been presented. We hope you have identified at least one suggestion of value to your refereeing from each of the three subjects discussed. This three-part series will be continued next month.