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Question Number: 34204

Character, Attitude and Control 4/24/2021

RE: Under 19

Jonathan of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Unites States asks...

Would like your opinions on my "unorthodox" refereeing style. When I center referee a game, I tend to talk quite a bit during a match. Any challenges where a player goes down but no foul I'll call out things like "not a foul", "fair shoulder", "straight up header", etc. Ball to arm but not handball, I'll call out why I don't call it "off themselves", "arms in body", "too close by", etc. I also may call out why I call a foul, like "watch pushing in the back", "too late", "unnecessary extra contact", things of that nature, and I frequently say things loud enough for all to hear rather than calling players aside.

For the most part I receive zero dissent or complaints during a match even the late teen high level boys matches where issues almost always happen, and in fact I frequently receive compliments and praise. I feel like most refs run into issues with game management because their reasons for calling/not calling fouls are left hidden so players/coaches get frustrated, and I would see this when I would AR these level matches and it discouraged me from taking the whistle. It seems that allowing people in the match to get immediate answers for my calls/non-calls helps keep things calm and level.

I'm wondering if this practice is something that would/should be discouraged by the community as a whole. I have heard some people say that you shouldn't explain things because then players expect an explanation for every call/non-call and may cause issues if you don't, but more or less I do that already and as mentioned before everyone seems to have responded well to it.

Answer provided by Referee Richard Dawson

Hi Jonathan,
 lol, you sound a lot like me!
Unorthodox is just an interesting way of saying you are unique! Good referees are intelligent enough to understand their role in the game. so they do not overreach or ruin their contribution. I mean, look at the great view we have been on the pitch, so much better than the following play as a spectator from the stands! lol,

You are no eccentric, my good fellow,  effective communication is the cornerstone of the foundation on the pitch upon which to build your reputation. The composite whereby you have effective legal & practical knowledge of the LOTG  and actual understanding of the game itself as it relates to the participants. Just avoid being a chatterbox, use direct simple methods & do not interrupt the flow! Save the eloquence for post-game analysis

 "In the opinion of the referee", the much-chanted mantra of our profession is an essential ingredient in the profile of a competent referee. In the opinion of a player, coach, fan, or spectator whether a referee achieves a measure of respect for their game management is within the actual working of a game. Being a decent friendly human being is not against our core values or primary objective, which is to apply the LOTG  and guide the game to a safe conclusion, guided by the conduct of the teams involved and the referee's interpretation of the level of bendability law 18 allows  Knowledge of rules and interpretation of the law is pertinent to a referee's makeup, but attitude and composure at an adult level must be a positive influence into the "know it all" personality of those who view with disdain imperfections in others.

Refereeing is a job. It requires hard work and discipline. Referee's "Game management" is limited to his or her ability to withstand this pressure exerted by their peers, spectators, coaches, parents, players, political agendas, power agendas, local organizations, lobbyists, and news media. Being neutral is not as easy as saying you will be! You see the game in all its eccentricities is not viewed in the same manner. Referees are accorded a certain stature, but respect is an earned quality not demanded! Game management is an art form in as much as it is the application of the rules. Conduct and adherence to your principles will eventually determine whether you are accorded respect in the opinion of others. You have already remarked on the favorable feedback so perhaps you are on a good track? 
Football is a very emotive game - without such passion, it would not be the game that it is but it does have different needs. . I do not advocate ironing out all of the emotional 'peaks and troughs' experience by all of us during a game. But respect, understanding, acceptance of decisions, good behavior - must be targets that all of us aim to achieve in life as well as in football
I once commented on a magazine article, " Are we still on the same side when we disagree? "  remarking there are four points of view from which a game is seen.
1 player sees what he feels
2 coach sees what he wants to see
3 spectator/parent sees what they think they see
4 Referee sees what he sees,
Perhaps it's time to add a 5th element? referee sees what he sees & assists others to see it too!

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Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi Jonathan
In our game referees must be committed in my opinion to to the four following responsibilities

1. Ensure that the game takes place in accordance with the Laws of the Game and the Rules.
2. To intervene as little as possible in the game and to not make ourselves the centre of attention. It is not our game.
3. To establish and maintain a good atmosphere so as to make the game as enjoyable as possible for the participants.
4. To show an interest in the players

To do all that referees must be good communicators which includes the ability to get on well with others in a productive way. Good communication skills are important in any field of human activity but perhaps even more so increasingly in refereeing. Referees need to try to establish good channels of communication with players and coaches alike from the moment the referee arrives at the ground until the game is over.

As referees we are not trying to win any popularity contests, but we are not out to make enemies either. The key to establishing good rapport is effective communication. If we can communicate effectively with players and coaches, then they are likely to cooperate with us and not question our decisions in a hostile, aggressive way.
We referees can also improve communication if we treat players and coaches with courtesy and respect, and we should be able to expect the same from them. Although we should be cordial and polite when refereeing, we should also keep a certain distance so as to remove any doubt about lack of impartiality or taking sides. We should be accessible and receptive to
questions and complaints without letting the rhythm of the game being disturbed by a barrage of comments or dissent. We should avoid lengthy discussions and get on with the game going promptly.

I have always said that referees should bring their personality to the game and to work on the parts that causes difficulties for the referee. For some it can be too little communication while for others its can be too much and getting involved with players when there is no need to.
You mention that your style of referee is unorthodox yet I would say that for many it is the norm. Many of the recent "fly on the wall" referee documentaries shows referees engaging in ongoing communication with players by explaining decisions, speaking with players etc.

Like my colleagues on the panel I use extensive communication with players by calling out reasons for a decision when it is helpful to do so and constantly speaking with players and at times coaches as required
Over the years I developed phrases that I felt had good effect in communicating with players. Those include "Nothing there" " It's a foul all day long" " It was a foul at the other end 10 minutes ago and its a foul here now" " Its up to you #. Its a caution for a reckless challenge and if it happens again I will take the necessary action"

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Answer provided by Referee Joe Manjone


I have always used this communication style and like you find that it assists in letting players and coaches know why a call was or was not made.

Also, it does seem that more referees are doing this than in the past. This may be a result of players being more verbal and asking why a call wasn't made or giving their opinion that a call should be made. Referees are now being proactive and informing the players before a question or comment is raised. I believe that it provides for better game control.

As long as this is working for you, you should continue to use this form of officiating. You may also, if you do not already, inform your partners about your verbal explanations and their success in the pre-game conferences. This may help a younger official to become a better official.

I hope that you have a very successful season. I officiated in Philadelphia and Bucks County 57 years ago. At that time, unlike many areas of the country that had not even heard of soccer, soccer in Philadelphia was booming.

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