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Question Number: 34172

Character, Attitude and Control 3/25/2021

RE: Under 19

gary of portland, Oregon Unites States asks...

Question regarding game management: Why should you ever "let the players play" if it's not really possible to lose control of a match by calling it too tightly, only if you call it too loosely?

In my years as a referee, the matches I have had (as a center) or seen (as an assistant or general spectator) get a loss of control is because we were too lenient on contact in order to "let the players play", and it frequently results in players getting angry and taking matters into their own hands. This is not to say we didn't call fouls, just that we wanted to let players try to play through some contact instead of whistling everything, especially at higher levels, specifically older boys/men in HS/college.

In the recent few years, I decided to shift away from the more contact-allowed matches I used to call and now am much stricter in allowing contact, and this has resulted in what I feel to be much better performance from myself, a cleaner game with much fewer player confrontations and inciting incidents of physicality or violence, while also not hearing much complaining that I am being too strict or "taking over the game", or at least not nearly the amount of complaining in the opposite direction, when I would allow too much contact.

So after all this, I'm really just curious as to what the benefit is of being a more lenient referee vs. a stricter one, when all my experience has shown that being stricter, rather than seeming like you're trying to make the match about yourself, instead seems to lead to better match control overall.

Answer provided by Referee Richard Dawson

Hi Gary,
excellent question
it's really not about being lenient versus being a dictator. It's more on you realizing what is actually an impact foul! You appear to grasp that ego and centerstage are not what being stricter is about. I think you are on the right track if you mean by stricter you are referring to safety protocols by showing them their limits as to what you will accept and what they can tolerate. The expectations being beyond paint drying but no broken bones! Basically, when you are setting the tone for the game with what I think are preventive measures in an effort to control the game there is always a consideration of safety? Important as safety is, you are a neutral component, not an orchestra leader, so is that decision what the match needs or just you?

A strong presence and a clear correct decision at the first critical match incident is indeed indicative that a firm hand is a better guide than a guy wandering around the center circle occasionally blowing the whistle who, after mayhem results, then tries to enforce a clampdown. Complacency could be your undoing if you relied on doing a good job early, players responding well, so you get careless and all of a sudden a CMI (critical match incident) moment is missed? A game can tilt quickly! What age groups do you do? Male or female or mixed matches? What level of play? What ethnicity? Adults or youth? Recreational or league? College or high school? Do you feel you officiate the same in all?

When you say - contact- what are you referring to? Recognition of Fouls and Misconduct is a different animal than blowing for contact? Contact can be fair or foul. It also can be trifling or doubtful but failure to evaluate it correctly is unbearable. I have seen plenty of referees blow for contact that is quite simply NOT foul, claiming match control was easier?

I do not advocate you misread a slide tackle that blasts players off their feet in horrendous fashion just because a ball is contacted first, we all know I got ball ref, is not an excuse for reckless or excessive actions. Still, soccer is a contact sport. Easier might be your desired goal but are you neutral in doing so? Use your voice especially at youth levels when the tackle is in fact a good one, Well in! Great timing! Brillant! Or if a player goes down because he falls over an outstretched leg after the 1st touch that popped a ball away because too much of it was shown, "Nothing there great tackle!" Yes, indeed an intersectional charge at an angle at a high rate of speed is certainly fraught with what-ifs. Physics does play a role in mass and speed. Shoulder-to-shoulder fair charges should not always make a big guy suffer if the smaller player falls. Fair is fair! Foul can be tolerated but not accepted if safety is compromised!

The concept of leniency is not in the relaxation of the LOTG but should be more like understanding what the player's expectations and requirements are. The difference of overreach versus extending opportunity? The judicial use of advantage is wasted in some matches but highly prized in others simply because the expectations and ability to use it are a skill development that increases with experience and professionalism.

I recall my friend relating an excerpt from his collaborated book, For the Good of the Game! by Robert Evans & Edward Bellion. It had to do with Diego Maradona, a brilliant if ego-centric Argentinian elite player. Ed was refereeing, very aware of how good Diego was with the ball, Ed sought to protect him from was the opposition who were constantly niggling away at every opportunity so Ed decided to stop play and award the free-kicks but to his surprise, it was Maradona himself who said in exasperation, "What are you doing? Let me play!"

Communication between you and the players? Ask are you ok with me letting the play go on? Are you verbal when you see it? Are the players aware of it? If it is trifling in the sense it's not stopping the player from continuing or creating a retaliatory elbow or if it is a foul & you choose to apply advantage, in either case, you should be certain the players are aware, that you are aware. That your silence is not misinterpreted for not paying attention! You can verbally warn, "I am right here, off his back, move past it! "indicating you are seeing what's going on and trying not to interfere but reassuring the players you are aware of what is going on!

When you decide enough is enough & formalize the foul has advanced beyond just annoying by calling out " ADVANTAGE !' using the arm signal,
perhaps adding a "We will be seeing you number so and so if a card foul requires attention at the next stoppage. Communicating to the players, by your comment and action that you SAW it! You are ON it! So DO not retaliate! If we follow through with PLAY ON! should the player or team escape with a clear way forward, better than a free kick or warning & they score or continue a great attack, take some credit, and be aware if their concerns were met! The opposite by allowing an advantage that really peters out as nothing can create an impression of no confidence in "What was that about? Does the team/player think you gave away a free-kick they were entitled to? This is where your experience, your intuition, and understanding of the GAME itself, not just the knowledge of the Laws

A key component for respect is discernable effort, being able to sell ANY decision through simple presence because you are grounded in knowledge and understanding of the LOTG. Proper positioning allows you the ability to stay with play. Good anticipation, as you move effortlessly to head off trouble or prepare for that swift counterattack. Roll that in with some good characteristics like a sense of calm under pressure, courage, a bit of humor. A good pre-game and communication with the ARs and 4th throughout the match, Be strict in that you want them safe but be fair and neutral by remembering it is their game so let them play!

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Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi Gary
There used to be a phrase in the Laws of the Game which said that "The Laws of the Game are intended to provide that games should be played with as little interference as possible. It is the duty of referees to penalise only deliberate breaches of the Law. Constant whistling for trifling and doubtful breaches produces bad feeling and spoils the pleasure of spectators"
While it is not there any longer the principle still exists on how a referee should officiate.

Now there is a world of difference between allowing deliberate foul contact to go unpunished and not calling every single doubtful and trifling offences.
Indeed if a referee was penalise every single offence and for that matter to caution for every single piece of misconduct the game would not get finished or if it did it would be a pretty sorry affair.
So what is meant by "letting the players play" is not about allowing a free for all on foul contact but rather for the referee to recognise what are minor trifling, doubtful offences that should be ignored and what should be penalised.
For example a defender and attacker are running side by side and the defender gives a small tug of the attackers arm which is ignored and the attacker continues and then miskicks the ball out of play. Does the referee punish the trifling tug with a free kick or does he ignore it in the same way as the attacker did?
Similarly a player carries the ball away a couple of yards at a throw in and drops it. Does the referee issue a caution for delaying the restart of play? And when the player makes a comment about the card does the referee issue a second caution and dismiss him?

The ability of the referee to recognise what should be called and dealt with to ensure that the game is played in the proper manner is one of the key skills of refereeing.
I remember a particular game that had gone well for 85 minutes with not one caution. I was pretty pleased with my handling of the game to that point. In or around the 85th minute there was a foul that should have been cautioned. I decided not to issue the card so as to keep a clean slate of a caution free game which in hindsight was a mistake as after that I had a difficult 7/8 minutes including a confrontation between players. Luckily it was near the end of the game so it did not descend into loss of control of the game.
What it taught me was that there are situations that must be dealt with under the Laws or if it is not that players will mete out their own justice or decide that here is a referee that is not going to take action and the consequences that can cause.

A good referee has a feel for the game and the players. He senses what is happening in the game by listening to what is going on and looking for cues in player behaviour. One of my strengths, having player the game passionately, was understanding player demeanours and sensing how a game was progressing..
Another key skill is anticipation and being able to head matters off before it causes a problem for the game.
Soccer is doing its best to recognise that with tweaks to the Laws. For example in the past if play restarted quickly at a free kick the referee could not go back to caution an offender for the offence. There were times when referees brought play back from promising positions because they wanted to issue a caution. Now they can now still go back.
Imagine the frustration on a player who is fouled, who gets up to make a great pass to a team mate in a promising position for the referee to whistle the play back so that he can issue a caution.
Have a look at this video. In around 12 secs there is a penalty award for a doubtful contact between players. While it is not shown in the video the contact was side to side and it should not have been called
When analysing penalty area situations a referee should remember that a free kick / penalty should only be awarded for clear offences. Football is a sport in which physical contact is a natural part of the game and only unfair physical contact should be punished. Minor physical contact should not be penalised otherwise players will be encouraged to fall on the ground easily and to look for free kicks on every contact.

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Answer provided by Referee Peter Grove

Hi Gary,
Ref McHugh has already quoted the famous IFAB Decision 8 to Law 5 that embodies the reason why it is not good to always call every single, tiny or insignificant potential offence.

Although that particular wording is no longer in the law, the overall principle still holds true. In fact FIFA actually included a version of it in some of its refereeing guidance material up until fairly recently.

The updated version went as follows:

"The Laws of the Game are intended to ensure that games are played with as little interference as possible.
Constant whistling for minor and dubious infringements may cause bad feeling and anger from players and spectators."

Obviously, as ref McHugh also points out, it doesn't mean allowing actual, impactful foul play to go unpunished and it still requires some judgement to find the right balance.

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