By: John Van de Vaarst, National Clinician
All officials have heard the phrase that assistant referees are to “assist not insist.” The primary responsibilities of the assistant referee are to signal offside, ball in and out of play, fouls within a specific area, and any other duties assigned by the referee. Top assistant referees perform many other functions that assist the referee and improve overall game control. This article will review several items that assistant referees can perform.
Assistant referees need to focus on areas that the referee is not dealing with at any given time. “Off the ball” fouls can easily be observed by the assistant if they are concentrating on their responsibilities and not game watching. When observed, the assistant referee can communicate with the referee the extent of the foul and what appropriate action should be taken. If the foul does not require immediate action the assistant referee can talk to the players involved and let them know the situation was observed and to cease the type of the behavior. Verbal communication with players by the assistant referee can greatly improve overall game control. Verbal communication by the assistant referee to establish walls or when there are tough challenges for the ball is also helpful.
During dead ball situations, the assistant referee should concentrate on players in an area that the referee is not actively monitoring. This will allow assistants to report needed information to the referee if a problem develops. For example, if the assistant referee is watching the referee administer a caution and not watching the other players, a serious misconduct could happen and go undetected. This procedure also applies after a goal. The assistants should watch players and help the referee detect any problems such as taunting or other related issues. All three officials should never be recording the score, caution or ejection in their books at the same time. At least two of the three sets of eyes should be on the players at all times.
Assistant referees can also help with preventing encroachment when there are free kicks near them. They can provide verbal instructions to the defenders so that the referee does not need to come all the way over to the wall and deal with it. The same principle applies to time wasting. Assistant referees can encourage players who are wasting time to get the ball back into play be taking the throw in, proceeding with the free kick, etc. Again, this allows the referee to focus on other match control issues.
The assistant referee on the bench side of the field has additional responsibilities. If there is no alternate official assigned, the assistant referee must manage the substitutions along with the referee. This includes making sure the proper amount of players enter and exit the field each time. Also, the assistant may have to communicate with the time keeper to make sure the clock is stopped and started properly. This could become critical late in the game when the winning team substitutes. In addition, the assistant referee must perform bench control duties and ensure that the coaches, substitutes and other bench personnel do not detract from the game. It is critical that this is done professionally and in a manner that does not escalate any situation.
Good assistant referees make the game go much more smoothly for the referee. When assigned as an assistant always focus on the duties and avoid game watching. If this is done, the game should be officiated at a much higher quality level.