By Don Dennison, NISOA National Clinician and Assessor
I have been retired from active soccer officiating now for several years after having worked over 4000 matches. I still stay active in the sport as a clinician and assessor. Further, I have a granddaughter playing goal keeper on a high school varsity soccer team.
Accordingly, I have attended many high school games in the past several years officiated under the rules of NFHS and I am somewhat disappointed at what I have seen on the field of play. In general, the matches have been well officiated, but much more needs to be done to improve the officiating at the high school level.
My major observations relate to the fitness levels of the officials and to their understanding and application of the High School Rules of the Game and their erroneous use of FIFA and NCAA Rules in some situations. Referees that perform at the top level have several things in common – their fitness level is excellent and they have a complete understanding of the differences between the NFHS Rules of the Game and other Rule Books formulated by other organizations to which many high school players are exposed through summer leagues or games watched on television.
It is apparent that many states do not require their soccer officials to maintain a certain fitness level or to participate in mandatory fitness testing. This shows up on the field when the center referee cannot keep up with the play and attempts to call fouls at a great distance from where the action took place. Additionally, many ARs do not or cannot maintain a position even with the 2nd to last defender or the ball. Similarly, when the dual system is employed, the trail referees do not always move downfield a sufficient distance to monitor the play.
Misapplication of the high school rules has been noticed on far too many occasions. This year alone, I have seen referees at the coin toss applying the FIFA Law, requiring the losing team to take the kickoff rather than giving the winning team a choice of kick-off or goal to defend. See Rule 5, Sec. 2., Art.2,d,3 . I have seen a drop ball situation, where the referee dropped the ball in front of the goal keeper so she could pick it up and punt or otherwise distribute the ball rather than drop the ball between two opposing players as required by the NFHS Rules. See Rule 9, Sec. 2, Art.3
Similarly, I noticed that after an injury to a field player when the keeper had the ball in his hands, the referee dropped the ball rather than awarding an indirect free kick as mandated by the rules. Rule 13, Sec.2, Art. 3,b
Professionalism is another area of concern. I have witnessed a team of officials not all wearing the same sleeve length shirts, arriving at the game site late or without sufficient time to inspect the field and the players. As a result, goal keepers have been seen without the proper numbers on their uniforms, jewelry being worn and a captain’s band worn around the stocking and of a color different from the stocking. See Rule 4, Sec. 1, Art. 1,b
These high school games are extremely important to the players and to their schools, and it is incumbent for the officiating team to treat these games with the same sense of importance and professionalism. We must all strive to do better on the field, to thoroughly know the proper rules and their application and to improve our level of fitness.