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-= 4th Official Advice for A First Timer =-
4th Official Advice for A First Timer
"...for the GOOD of the Game"
Comments by... Joseph Cohen / Gwen Keck / Jim Duncan / Dennis Wickham
Anonymous Referee
"From a Question from... George Costakis"

VIA... SOCREF-L ListServe Archives ~ November 2013

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The Question from... George Costakis ~ I found out today that I'll be operating as the 4th Official for a high school playoff game. This will be my first time in this role, so I thought I would see if anyone has any advice/tips/tricks/words of wisdom to offer having been in that role themselves. Thanks!

Joseph Cohen...


1. If you haven't done so already, read page of the 2013 OSAA Playoff Procedures and Points of Emphasis - POE Memo.

2. In general, your job is to make things as easy as possible for the other members of your crew. So think about what you'd like the 4th to do if you were the Center Referee or an Assistant Referee.

Some ideas:

* Minimizing distractions for the crew:

(a) Get the coaches to complain to you (versus yelling at or constantly talking to) other crew members. This is what Patrick Duffy refers to as being the "rodeo clown". Just as the rodeo clown's job is to get the bull's attention so that the bull isn't attacking the cowboy, get the coaches' attention so they don't distract the other crew members.

(b) Remove sideline distractions:

* Keep coaches and subs in the team area (so that they don't interfere with AR1, and don't distract the Center  Referee and Assistant Referee # 2);
* Make sure that players on the sidelines are wearing pinnies (and that the pinnies are a different color than both teams' jerseys;
* Make sure that the teams bag up balls before each half;
* Don't let players warm up with balls on the sideline. Even they keep the balls off the field, it's a visual distraction for the Center Referee and Assistant Referee # 2;

(c) Get the Site Administrator (required for OR varsity matches) to deal with spectator issues, e.g., spectators improperly behind goal or otherwise in the wrong place, taunting. Also get the site administrator to deal with other issues.

(I had a game last Saturday where two corner flags bases did not have enough weight, so they blew over during the match; also had problems with spectators behind goals where they should not have been, photographer behind goal loudly dissenting. I got the Site Admin to deal with this, but it would have been great if there had been a 4th to deal with this, so that I didn't have to keep jogging over to the Site Admin and then back to the

* Help other crew members do their job...

(a) Manage substitutions per pre-game.
(b) Check whether the clock starts and stops when it should, and alert the Center per pre-game. Keep accurate time per NFHS rules so that you can tell the timekeeper how to correct the clock if needed per pre-game.
(c) Back up the rest of the crew on recording goals and misconduct.
(d) To the extent you can, record fouls -- who fouls whom, and discuss between periods.
(e) If the rest of the crew is about to make a game-critical error, notify them per pre-game instructions.
(f) Call crew's attention to misconduct which only you have seen, per pre-game instructions.
(g) Follow pre-game instructions re brawl or potential brawl.
(h) Back up the rest of the crew on recording injuries.
(i) Make sure that everything here is covered in the pre-game.

* Deal with equipment issues before and during the match...

(a) Get game balls, inflate to proper pressure, retrieve them between periods so they don't disappear during the game
(b) Before subs enter, do a quick visual check for legal and proper equipment.

* Be physically and mentally prepared to become part of field crew should another official go down.

*Joe Cohen*
503.893.9452 (Google Voice)

Gwen Keck...

George..., be sure and dress warm. Jacket and long pants (black) are perfectly acceptable for the 4th official. You can always have more clothes at the table to layer as you need. You will not be running as the rest of the crew, so you WILL be cold. Gloves are not a bad idea.

Take a clip board, paper and writing instrument. All the record keeping is your job. Pay attention to the game. Record all cards, subs, etc. The Referee may ask you to do the game report. Bring a ball pump, and make sure the balls have the appropriate amount of air in them. You are also responsible for the back up balls. It is your job to keep ball boys, if you have them, in place, extra balls, etc.

Introduce yourself to the coaches. It is MUCH easier to do this job if you develop a good relationship with the coaches. You will be the liaison between the officials and the coaches. You will be responsible for the technical area...coaches and players. It is your job to keep them in their appropriate areas.

I would also search out the AD to make sure you have the school contact.
You will also be responsible for the timekeeper, and administration of substitutions. Keep players that are warming up in the correct location.

Make sure there is water for the officials. The Referee may have you check in the teams. Ask the Referee what she would like for you to do.

Have a good time, and enjoy the experience.

Gwen Keck

Jim Duncan...


Excellent question.

I'm no expert. In this topic, as in my day job, if I am considered an expert, it is because in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king... ;-) In other words, I'm the expert in an improvised triage simply because I'm the only guy who realizes that when you see the color "red", something bad has happened, and the more red you see, the worse it is... ;-)

Okay, now with that out of the way, if you're referring to the the actual document called _Guide to 4th Officials_, I think it was published nearly a decade ago, so if you read it, note that it's interesting for historical reasons, and then read the latest _Guide to Procedures_, cover to cover, with attention to the fourth official's authority and duties. I think the latest version is from April 2013 (six months ago).

Joe Cohen's response is pretty good and there's no reason for me to repeat any of that. Let me summarize by describing the 4th as the agent off-the-field for the referee and the assistant referees. In essence, you handle all the off-field stuff that the Referee and Assistant Referee's would really like to have happen. Team officials, players, or spectators come too close to the touchline? You intervene, politely. Players warm up without pinnies?
You intervene. Player attempts to enter the match with illegal or improper equipment? You intervene. Player sent off doesn't leave the premises promptly? You intervene. Coach has questions for the referee? You intervene, politely.

Keeping in mind that the nationally-produced stuff assumes single games in isolation and the very best equipment and staffing, there are some gotchas you should be aware of.

You might not have substitution boards or signs. If so, you need to discuss with the Referee during the pregame how you will signal that a substitution has been requested, because you won't have or cannot use the Assistant Referee flag, and the Assistant Referee might not be nearby. I usually hold my clipboard or notebook over my head, and that works pretty well.

If you're expected to use mechanical substitution signs, then good for you, you've lucked out. Make sure you practice with it and clarify with the center referee how you will use it. If you're expected to use the electronic signs, double-check to see how long they're expected to work on a single charge. Several years ago -- I wasn't present, but heard about it afterwards -- some out-of-the-area authorities expected the fourth officials to use the fancy first-edition electronic substitution signs for a series of games, back-to-back, all day long, not realizing that the batteries lasted less than 2-1/2 hours, and required an overnight recharge. Needless to say, substitutions in the second set of matches got confusing for a while until the Referee team improvised a different method.

If you are expected to fill in the official "Fourth Official" form from the USSF (or some other association), double-check to see what you are expected to maintain or not. Each year, our local club hosts one of the premier college-scouting events in the US, the CASL Shootout-Showcase, spread out over four long weekends in November and December. The Showcase weekends, by definition, are intended to showcase the players, all of them, and so have unlimited substitutions. Several years ago, the decision was made that we needed to get experience as Fourth Officials, and we were instructed to use the USSF match forms. Substitutions go pretty well for the first fifteen minutes or so, and then we all ran out of space on the form. Some of us improvised and kept track independently, even though it limited our ability to do all the other stuff the Guide to Procedures says we're supposed to do, and others of our colleagues simply gave up! When this happens, it's not just the record-keeping that suffers; that Fourth Official is now likely to not take _any_ of his or her duties seriously for the rest of the match, perhaps for the rest of the event.

There's more, but I think that's enough. The main thing is that if someone says, "You're the Fourth Official," don't just accept it without contemplating the opportunity for misplaced expectations. If you're supposed to use some forms, make sure they're appropriate and confirm if you'll need to adapt for local circumstances. If you're supposed to use equipment, make sure you know how to use it and confirm that it will work properly for the entire duration of the event.

Above all, make sure your pregame is modified to consider the fourth official and how you'll handle certain things _and_ how you will fall back to some other procedures if the primary methods do not suffice. As you noted in your request, you're going to be working NFHS games, so keep in mind my suggestions are based on USSF guidance; you need to adjust accordingly to whatever your state and local associations expect.

One last thing: I grew up duck-hunting with my father in the sounds and rivers of northeastern North Carolina. I've never been colder -- including nine record-setting winters in State College PA -- than when bringing up the sinkers from the duck decoys afterward, _EXCEPT_ when I've been Fourth Official. As Center Referee or Assistant Referee, moving around, I've been perfectly comfortable in chilly weather that as Fourth Official made me fantasize I was sitting in front of a warm fire with my feet propped up. As Fourth Official, you get to dress more warmly. DO NOT SHIRK THIS OPPORTUNITY.

Also go to COSTCO or BJs or wherever and buy a box of toe-warmers. The ones I use are semicircular with adhesive on one side. You affix them over your toes -- outside your socks -- and put your shoes back on again, and then go stand in front of a mirror and practice removing that smirky smile from your face as you realize your toes will no longer feel like they're going to DIE and DROP OFF in the next few moments.

If you bring enough to give them away to your colleagues, you will be remembered fondly for the rest of your Referee career, even if you _did_ call offside in error when an attacker got the ball directly from his own teammate's goal kick. ;-) They'll try to forget that you did that.


Have fun! I enjoyed being Fourth Official and I got good reviews from others. I hope you do, too.


Dennis Wickham...


1. First priority... How can you help the Referee? FO [Fourth Official] in high school is unusual. Be sure to discuss your role in the pregame. Usually, the primary focus is on keeping the coaches and bench area under control which often involves being the coaches' best listening friend and not trying to defend the Referee until it is time not to be their best friend. Sometimes it is just monitoring pregame activities and keeping the match on schedule.

2. Second priority... Fouls and misconduct that occur just in front of the bench area. You need to see what happens in the "hole" that the Referee and Assistant Referee may miss. Don't be trying to write down things or look at subs when stuff is happening right in front of you. Emphasis is on "official" not on fourth.

3. Third priority... Subs. Do them by the book (subject to Referee direction) and you will enhance the professionalism of the Referee Team and can really speed up the substitution process.

As the FO, I always make sure that I know:

(a) who/where is the trainer (I can assist them in entering after the Referee signals);
(b) who is properly on the bench (team officials should be listed on the roster) because in the post season the bench can grow to 30 or more; and
(c) what is happening behind the referee's back;
(d) who was cautioned.

Things not to worry about...

(A) The ball. When the ball leaves the field, keep you focus on the field of play. The ball never commits misconduct.
(B) Who scored... Everyone will know who won.


Anonymous Referee...


I've done it many times. The advice below can be summarized into three areas:

1) Pregame..., get the balls, get the rosters, manage the ball chasers.

2) Subs... Find out how the crew wants them handled, then follow that procedure so everyone is on the same page. Usually, they will want you take responsibility for notification, with the Assistant Referee's backing you up, but some crews want to use the flag system only, or radios if they have them (as did one crew on yesterday's Ohio D3 girls championship game).

3) Manage the benches... Hopefully, you won't have much to do as the greatest risk is in this area.

Anonymous Referee...

A final, simple, thought... See you on the PITCH!!!

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