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Making or Breaking Your Game

Ben Mueller 5/10/2006

Part of refereeing is selling yourself as a good referee. We do this by dressing appropriatley, showing up on time, having confidence in our decisions, and selling our calls during a match. As referees, we want to be accepted. No doubt that we want players, coaches, fans, assessors, instructors, assignors, and our colleagues to accept our decisions and our refereeing as a whole. There are several key events that happen before, during, and after our matches that can help make or break our game as referees. When these critical events arise, it is important that we react in a way that will help us gain respect and sell ourselves as good referees. I have broken these critical events up into seven phases.

1. Show up on time! This goes without saying. The best referee in the world is no good if he does not show up. Whether you are the head referee or one of the assistant referees make sure that you are on the field at least 30 minutes prior to the kick off. By showing up 30 minutes prior to kick off, you are making an early statement that you are a responsible and caring referee that takes his job seriously. Besides, you have plenty of things to do such as check fields, inspect players equipment, gather game balls, etc.

2. Dress appropriatly! This means wearing your full referee uniform and not wearing anything that is not part of the uniform. Believe it or not, dressing like a referee will help you gain respect and acceptance as a referee. As easy as this sounds, I often times see both young and old referees looking like they are not ready to referee a soccer game. Let's start from the shoes and work our way up. Make sure that you are wearing a pair of black shoes. Do not run around the field in a pair of white tennis shoes or some other colored shoe. This also means that you are wearing your referee socks and yes that they are pulled up. Next, do not just wear any pair of black shorts. Make sure that you have your official black U.S.S.F. or other affiliation shorts on. Your referee shirt should be tucked in from the minute you enter the field until the moment you leave the field. After all, we expect the players to have their shirts tucked in so lead by example. If you have a shirt under your referee shirt, make sure that the shirts are the same color. Also, make sure that all three referees in your crew are wearing the same color shirts and the same types of socks. Finally, do not wear a baseball cap, sunglasses, or anything else that is not part of the typical referee uniform.

3. Pre-game. There is a saying that states "Poor planning always results in poor performance." This is very true. If you are the head referee, make sure to conduct a thorough pre-game with the assistant referees. Talk about how you will utilize each other on the field. Make sure to cover positions and signals on set plays such as goal kicks and corner kicks. Mention how substitutes entering the field will be handled and if there are any special duties that the assistant referees should perform? Talk about special situations such as penalty kicks and whose going to decide if the keeper left the line early or not? Whatever you do, do not be skimpy in your pre-game discussion. It is critical that the referee and both assistant referees are on the same page throughout game.

4. First foul near bench area of team being fouled. Players will gain respect for you if they feel that you are protecting them. Similarly, coaches will have acceptance for you if they feel that you are protecting their players. How you deal with a foul near the fouled players bench is critical as substitutes, coaches, and other bench personnel are watching you and either gaining more or less respect for you. Sure regardless where the foul is on the field, it is important that you are handling it firmly, but it is even more critical when that foul occurs near the fouled players bench. First, blow the foul using appropriate whistle tone. Then run over to the spot of the foul to intervene in any possible retaliations. Make sure to use a firm signal that shows confidence and control on your part. Finally, run the next best position to take for the upcoming free kick.

5. First wall management opportunity. Here is a big part in the referees game where he can either make it or break it. If the referee deals with the wall and infringement early on, he can prevent it from being a problem for the rest of the game. On the other hand, not dealing with it correctly, can make future wall situations very difficult to manage and control. I always go by the phrase "give the players an inch and they will take a mile." If the defending team is lining up too close, verbally shout for them to back up. If the attacking team asks for ten yards or hesitates to kick, then run to a spot ten yards from ball and verbally tell player to get behind the line. Give any player that chooses to stand within a few yards of the ball a card without warning. Players should know that it is their responsibility to yield ten yards and that a caution will occur if they do not. If a player is standing ten yards from the ball and sprints toward the ball before its kicked, give them a card. By giving cards out for these situations, you are making a statement that this will not be tolerated to everyone else on the field.

6. First yellow card (other than mandatory caution). According to the laws, fouling another player in a reckless manner is a cautionable offense. Do not hesitate to caution a player that fouls another player recklessly. When you give the card, hold the card vertically over your head at a distance of about two to three meters from the player receiving the card. By giving the yellow card, you have made a statement that that type of player crossed the line and that play will not be tolerated on your field.

7. First red card. Using excessive force to foul a player is one of the send off offenses mentioned in the laws. If you elect to send off a player for a foul, blow your whistle louldy after the foul occurs. Then show confidence in your decision by raising the red card vertically and again from a distance of about two to three yards from the player.

Refereeing a soccer game is both an art and a science. The science of soccer refereeing is applying the laws and making the correct decisions according to the book. The art of soccer refereeing is about getting creative and choosing how you will handle different situations as they come up on the field. What works for one game may not work for another game as soccer refereeing is not finite. The situations mentioned above may or may not happen during your game. If these situations do come up, you are given a chance to gain more or less acceptance as a referee. By having a plan in mind on how you will handle different situations, you will be able gain more respect and acceptance as a soccer referee.

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