Identify and deal with…
Founder of Ken Aston Referee Society
The aim of this page is to help... Referees
Maximize the use of body language to impart authority and confidence.
|The use of body language is an important part of the
Referees man-management technique. To be a successful Referee
means that you must be self-confident, and good at communicating
effectively by using both verbal and body language techniques.
This is more important in the early years, where Referees will
not have the support of Assistant Referees or colleagues on the
local parks. Good communication skills can be learned. Effective
communication is not only necessary during the game itself, it
applies to the whole life of a Referee (including acceptance of
an appointment, to having a drink in the bar after the game or
dealing with the media). It is important in all situations to be
confident, without seeming arrogant. During play, the club
officials, assessors and the spectators may not hear what the
Referee says. So it is important that the correct body language
message is imparted. It is no good wagging a finger, or being
aggressive towards players or managers - the secret is "is to
control your feelings with a polite and confident outward
A Referee can convey all sorts of body language messages to players,
coaches, managers and spectators about his own emotions, confidence and
ability. Non-verbal body-language messages are more frequent and more
powerful than verbal messages. It is therefore, very important that
Referees consider what messages they are communicating to onlookers.
Improving his message-sending ability will greatly assist the Referee.
Body language includes your physical appearance, fitness, the clothes
that you are wearing, posture, eye contact, touching behavior, gestures,
facial expressions, arm and hand movements - and even no movement at all
(by standing still in the right place!) A Referee's body language often
speaks louder than words. Even making a correct call can cast doubts in
the minds of participants, if the corresponding body language does not
There are several ways for a Referee to communication to players. All of
which must work together to be effective. As a rough guide, experts
estimate that of all communication... 55% is through body language. Of
the remainder, 38% of communication is through the tone of voice, and 7%
is the actual content of what we say. It is therefore important that
Referees don't send confusing messages, or minimize the importance of
the message being given. To maximize communication, the body language
must not contradict what is being said, and the tone in which it is
It is important that Referees are aware of their feelings during a game.
Being able to adapt to suit each and every situation will enable you to
communicate efficiently. This flexibility is essential, and allows you
to communicate by adjusting your body language, tone of voice and what
you say, to suit the constantly changing moods of the game.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What feeling do I convey to the players?
(Confident? Interested? Knowledgeable? Enthusiastic? Cold? Scared out of
- How do I look? (Tidy? Professional? Clean?
Slovenly? Dirty? Shirt not tucked in?)
- How do I sound? (Scared? Quiet? Loud?
Confident? Know what I am talking about? Don't have a clue?
Authoritative? Polite? Rude? Mumbling?
Below is a list body-languages! that a Referee can consider:
Attendance of Training: Don't slump in the back row, in your t-shirt and
sandals. Dress smartly, sit upright near the front, and show those who
are in charge of your development and promotion, that you mean business,
and want to get on (and take your Refereeing career seriously).
Acceptance of Appointments: If you are given a 'bum' game, don't blow
out your cheeks or roll your eyes upwards. Show the Appointment
Secretary, that you can be relied on to officiate in any game. This will
show that you are confident and can be relied on to do a good job.
Arrival at the Ground: This will be your first chance to make an
impression with the players and the club officials (and any assessor
watching behind the tree!). Make sure your dress is tidy, and walk
upright towards the changing room. Be friendly and polite at all times.
And most of all, make sure you arrive on time so that you are not
rushing to prepare yourself for the game. Do not have a 'fag' hanging
out of your mouth. Chewing gum can also be seen as being arrogant and
over confident - and is certainly not good manners.
Inspecting the Field of play: Before the game starts, the Referee will
need to inspect the field. This is a very good opportunity to show that
you are capable, confident and have the authority to deal with anything.
It very often happens, that coaches are warming up their players during
your inspection - so here is your chance to use your body language to
good effect. Give them a friendly wave or two. Do not, walk around with
your shoulders slumped, fag in mouth or socks rolled down. Be smart, and
think about what sort of impression you are giving to onlookers. You
don't have to "strut your stuff" - just look as though you are
interested and efficient at what you are doing - and that you really
want to be there!. This is the time when players will 'weigh you up'
before the match. At the same time, it also allows you to 'weigh the
Avoid, pacing up and down, around or displaying a wide range of emotions
prior to or during a game. This will only serve to make you seem
vulnerable to the pressure.
Entering the field of play at the start of the game: This is the most
important body language time for the Referee. Striding out confidently,
looking smart and well dressed is half the battle when you're
Refereeing. If you are going to make a first impression - now's the time
to do it. You don't get a second chance to make a first impression.
Below are some very simple rules:
Before you leave the changing room, always check that you are properly
dressed and have the correct equipment in the correct places - just to
remind yourself that you have everything you need to start the game.
Don't forget the essential items, which if you do not have them, will
make you look incompetent and give a bad impression - ball, flags, coin,
whistle, notebook, pen/pencil, watch & cards etc. There is nothing is
better for players, than to see a Referee who gets out on to the field
of play, then realizes he has not brought the ball (or coin) with him.
Carry the ball, and place it on the center mark with your hand - do not
dribble the ball out - or demonstrate your 'keepy-uppy' ball skills!
Be smart - socks rolled up, short tucked in (at all times!), and no
'builder's bum showing over the top of your shorts! etc.
When greeting the captains, stand upright near the center spot with your
two Assistant Referees nearby. Greet the captains with a firm handshake.
Do not use a 'wet fish' handshake. Have your coin in a ready position.
Fumbling for the coin will make you seem incompetent.
During the game... Below are many suggestions for
- When running, try and do it smoothly and in a relaxed fashion. Do not
over-emphasize body movements. Be natural. The way you move should
convey the impression that you have total confidence and belief in what
you are doing.
- When moving towards confrontational areas, aim to arrive with some
breath remaining in your lungs. In other words, don't arrive with a
shortness of breath that prevents you from speaking to players on your
arrival. By all means sprint - but there is no need to kill yourself
getting there! Sprint to the incident and use your voice to prevent the
player’s actions from escalating. Your body presence and positively
taking charge of the situation at this point is critical.
For Confrontation, and dealing with players
(Also see the
+- Diffusing Dissent -+ page)
- Use your body language to calm down situations when you are talking to
players. Use your hands to indicate a calming motion with both palms
facing down. This indicates to the players that you are calm, and that
you wish the players to cease their aggressive manner.
- It is important that you to remain calm and polite at all times. Even
if you feel angry, frustrated, unsure of yourself or frightened inside.
- When a player 'takes a dive' (simulation): and you want to keep play
going, you can gesture with a upward wave of your hand, for him to get
up. Whatever you do, DO NOT simulate a diving motion
with your hands and arms, because this will seriously inflame the
- If a player looks at you quizzically, wondering why you gave a foul
against him, you can answer him by using a subtle hand movement such as
demonstrating a small tug on the shirt, or mimicking a pushing offence
with your hand, or a mimicking grabbing offence to indicate holding etc.
But be careful not to over-demonstrate with signals of this kind.
- If there is a player (or substitute) awaiting your signal to enter or
re-enter the field of play, you can beckon him to enter, with an
outstretched arm, clear bend of the elbow, with the fingers
outstretched, traveling upwards from waist to face level.
- See the
+- ABC of Conflict -+ page to position yourself to the best
- Calling players to you: There are several methods of doing this, and
you can use any method you like. Some Referees like to make a stand, and
insist that players do the 'walking'. In other words, the Referee will
stand still and beckon the perpetrator towards him. Some Referees like
to approach the perpetrators themselves (but do not do this if the
culprit is purposefully making his way from you as a gesture of
defiance. If this happens - stand your ground and call/whistle for the
player to come to you. Do not chase players around the field of play.
Some Referees like to use a mixture of the two preceding methods - for
example, call the player over, and whilst the player is making his way
towards you, meet him half-way. This method is probably the best one to
use during a game where the Referee has not had too much trouble to
contend with. Use whichever method you like - or use all three during a
match depending on the mood of the game at that time. If a game is
beginning to get out of hand - always use the first method, and insist
that the players come to you - this gives the players a moment or two to
drop down a degree in their temper heat level - before they get to you.
Give players a few moments to blow off a bit of steam, but don't let
them lecture you.
- If you anticipate that the perpetrator's) is approaching you in a
manner that suggests that he will take some stopping as he approaches
you. Tell him to "calm down", "slow down", "keep a distance away" or any
other verbal warning that you can think of to that effect. Do not put
the whistle to your mouth (unless you want to lose more teeth than is
necessary under the circumstances). At the same time, use your 'body
language' by holding out both of your hands palms forward (like shooing
cows back) and gesture at them to slow down and demonstrate this by
shooing the cows (sorry players) back. Do not stand still at first when
you are doing this, else you are likely to get stampeded. Use a bit of
Law 18 Common sense, and gain a few extra moments by moving backwards a
few steps whilst making the warning actions just mentioned.
- When issuing a caution or a sending off, do not thrust the card in the
player's face or up his nose (even though you would very much like to do
so!) Ask the player to face you, look him in the eye, and merely raise
the card in the air to one side of the player (and not directly at him).
Thrusting a card at the player will only aggravate the matters further.
- When issuing a warning, or talking to a player, ALWAYS look them in
the eye when you are speaking to them. This is very important, as it
demonstrates that you are in charge, and are serious in what you are
saying. It is natural to look away when admonishing a player. Looking
players in the eye is probably one of the best improvements you can make
with your body-language skills - and it lets the players know who is in
charge of policing the Laws. YOU and not THEM!
- The 'Referee Stare’ is a very good body
language tool when a player is some distance away from you, and is
moaning and groaning. The 'Ref. Stare’ lets the player know that you
have heard what he is saying, and that you are aware of him! This is
best done when the ball is out of play. If you do it during play,
remember not to lose concentration on the game itself. It works a treat,
and you can do it even if the player is at the other end of the field of
play. If the player is not initially looking at you (this is because he
knows you have spotted him, and he is trying to avoid eye contact with
you) - his eyes will eventually meet yours – and no words are needed.
Stare at him for about 5 seconds. A slight shake of your head from side
to side will also strengthen the purpose of your message for him to
behave. The 'Referee Stare’ must NOT
be done in such a way that players might accuse you of threatening them
with your looks. This would put you into the position of being the
- In addition to this, when you have engaged the players’ eyes, another
tip is to use another body language method. Use your hand to mime the
‘zip your mouth’ movement, by pretending that you are zipping your own
mouth closed. This is a very easy way impart your views (without words)
over long (or even short) distances on the field of play.
- Any hand gestures that you make when communicating to players should
be descriptive of what you are trying to communicate. Your hands should
emphasize what it is that you are saying. Use open clear movements and
try to avoid small hesitant hand movements that will make you seem
- A wry smile, with wide-open eyes as you run by, is also most
disconcerting to a misbehaving player. This tells him that you are aware
of his bad behavior, and he had better look out!
- Temporarily readjusting your diagonal to stand near a trouble maker is
another easy way of letting the perpetrator know you are "on his case"!
This works best during goal kicks and throw-ins.
- For moaning players who are approaching you - use one hand to ‘brush
away the fly’. In other words, use your arm and hand to wave away the
trouble maker. This is doubly effective, if you do it whilst moving away
from the player, to get into your new position. Hanging around will only
serve to create an unnecessary argument.
- A simple shake of the head whilst looking at the player is another
simple method of putting the player ‘in his place’.
- When you have given a free kick, move away swiftly to a new position.
Staying near the area of the free kick will invite dissenting comments.
Players will never (or very rarely) run after you, if you’re quick
enough. There will of course be occasions when you will need to remain
near the area of a free kick (ceremonial free kicks, and when a player
has been injured, or when you anticipate confrontation between opposing
- If a player decides to retie his bootlaces when you are about to speak
to him, ask him to "Please stand up whilst I am talking to you." At the
same time, use both your hand palms facing upwards, and move them
upwards to indicate to the player to stand up. This also lets onlookers
know what you are doing, and that there may be a delay before play is
restarted. If you can, avoid bending over yourself, because placing
yourself below eye level makes you inferior. Keep a straight back and
- It is important to become slower and more deliberate when giving
signals during the game. There is no requirement to break the land speed
- Use... "clear and definite signals" when restarting play, awarding free
kicks, throw-ins and goal kicks, etc? An experienced Referee will give a
firm and positive direction to players with the use of arm signals. It
is no good giving a limp pointing signal that conveys to players an
impression of "it's sort of in that direction...I think...". This also
goes for Assistant Referees who give a limp wave of the flag in the
general direction of where they think the throw-in (or free kick) should
go. Give a clear signal at all times. Crisp, positive signals show that
you have made a confident decision. Sloppy signals such as bent-arm,
unclear direction, or not shown long enough, suggest to players and
spectators that you are less than confident in your decision-making.
The way that you move should convey the impression that you have total
confidence and belief in what you are doing.
It is not always best, when dealing with trouble makers in the game, to
always have a pleasant easygoing style, a quick smile, and calm
demeanor. Although this can create a positive environment that has a
soothing effect on players and coaches, it can on other occasions
inflame passions. Referees will need to judge each incident, and whether
or not a more authoritative stance should be taken.
- Never use finger-pointing or get into a verbal argument with
- If a manager or coach is moaning from the technical area, but the
moaning is not enough to warrant you giving them a warning; do not
purposefully stand nearby with the sole purpose to antagonize the
situation further. Doing this will only lead to further tensions.
- Never react (or reply) to comments from spectators.
- If you have to speak to club officials during the game, do not sprint
towards them. Walk at a moderate pace or "stroll purposefully". This
will allow a bit more time for tempers to decrease and give you some
precious thinking time. Most comments from the sidelines are merely
frustrations being vented. Understanding which comments, moans and
groans or questions merit a response is a key to success in Refereeing.
Yelling back at Club Officials will only create a "mountain out of a
mole hill". More than often, the Referee can use body language alone to
get the "right" message. You can do this by nodding your head slightly,
smiling momentarily, glancing at the perpetrator, holding eye contact
for a moment or two, shaking your head or using your hands to hold up a
stop sign, with both arms outstretched and palms facing the perpetrator.
Each of these methods has a particular meaning that can be used wisely
to communicate over a distance.
- During dead-ball periods when play has stopped, don't stand still with
your arms on your hips or folded, or shoulders slumped, or looking at
the gorgeous talent parading on the touchlines! (Well, I suppose it
would not hurt too much to have just have a quick peek!) This will give
the impression that you are bored or would rather be elsewhere.
- Be alert and interested at all times. One of the greatest difficulties
with Refereeing is learning to concentrate 100% of the time. The easier
a game is to control, the harder it is to concentrate properly. These
are the sorts of games where a 'flash point' will occur, and you will
not be ready to react in time to minimize the ensuing confrontation.
- Never let your body language signals conveys your emotions. Your
facial expression, body language and voice should not suggest you're
happy or unhappy to be enforcing a decision, particularly when it is a
penalty! This is the time when you need to put on your 'stony faced'
expression, and to unemotionally look any dissenter directly in the eye.
Do not allow your body language to convey your displeasure when an
As you look around troublemakers on the field of play, use eye contact
to focus on one player at a time. This technique is effectively used by
public speakers when communicating to an audience. It's as though you
are having a series of brief one-on-one encounters with each player. If
you are looking around several players to let them know you are aware of
their troublemaking, and will be keeping a close watch on them - make
sure you make brief eye contact with each of them in turn, before moving
on to the next.
When no offence has occurred, you can put both hands behind your back
and shake your head - thus demonstrating to a player that no foul has
occurred. This is a commonly used body language maneuver, most effective
when ignoring penalty pleas by players.
When a player makes a good tackle, and you allow play to continue (but
one player disagrees with you); a simple motion of moving your hands in
the shape of a ball shows that you believe that the ball was won fairly,
and that play should not be stopped. This 'moving your hands in the
shape of a ball' signal can also be used when calling for a new ball,
when the old one has landed in the river!
When a player loses a tackle, and falls to the ground, and you allow
play to continue (but the player disagrees with you), a simple motion of
waggling your fingers upwards with an arm outstretched towards him,
shows that you believe that the ball was won fairly, and that play
should not be stopped. And that he should GET UP!
Assistant Referees (Click here for further
+- Flag Signals -+ and
+- Assistant Referee Advice -+.)
- On indicating corner kicks, another alternative is for Assistant
Referees to run around outside of the corner flag post, and stand about
2 meters along the goal line. This demonstrates to the Referee that you
(the Assistant Referee (have indicated a corner kick).
- On indicating goal kicks, another alternative is for Assistant
Referees to stand on the touch line adjacent to the level of the goal
area line, turn your body so that it is facing towards the half way line
and leave your flag pointing downwards tight to the leg that is facing
the field of play. This demonstrates to the Referee that you (the
Assistant Referee ( have indicated a goal kick).
The above two body language indications, rely on the instructions given
to the Assistant Referees during their pre-match brief. Some Referees
like to see normal flag signals at corners and goal kicks, others like
their Assistant Referees to use the two body language maneuvers
mentioned above. Assistant Referees can during the game, also use a
combination of both flag signals and/or body language to indicate to the
Referee whether a goal-kick or a corner-kick should be given. The idea
of Assistant Referees using body language at corners and goal kicks, is
that it allows the Referee a few seconds to overrule the Assistant
Referee, without the players knowing what the Assistant Referee has
indicated (corner of goal kick?)
- +- Advantage -+ or play-on body language signals by an Assistant Referee risk
causing major confusion. Assistant Referees should not shout or indicate
‘Play on’ or ‘Advantage’. This is always the prerogative of the Referee.
The Referee is the only match official who should indicate advantage.
Assistant Referees have been seen to indicate "Play-on. Advantage", by
putting out their arm or a hand, following an assumed offside that had
not been given by that Assistant Referee. The Referee is the only one
who should indicate "Play-on. Advantage". Imagine a situation following
a foul, where the Assistant Referee uses an arm signal to indicate
"Play-on. Advantage", and then a goal is scored which is subsequently
disallowed because the Referee calls play back for the original foul and
awards a free kick instead.
- Assistant Referees should give "clear and definite flag signals"
indicating offside, free kicks, throw-ins and goal kicks, etc?. It is no
good giving a limp wave of the flag in the general direction of where
you think the throw-in (or free kick) should go. Give a clear flag
signal at all times. Crisp, positive signals show that you have made a
confident decision. Sloppy signals such as bent-arm, unclear
direction, unfurled flag, or not shown long enough, suggest to players
and spectators that you are less than confident in your decision-making.
- Hold the flag downwards whilst running. Show as much flag area as you
can towards the Referee at all times. Switch hands to keep the flag
always showing towards the field of play side and visible to the Referee
- especially during floodlight games when visibility is impaired.
- Skip sideways to keep level with 2nd last defender, when watching for
off-side. The ‘side-stepping’ maneuver by Assistant Referees is a common
method used here in England. In fact. Phil Sharp (our World Cup
Assistant Referee 2002) has perfected this method, and can side-step
faster than I can run straight! The idea of side-stepping (we call it
‘Crabbing’ here in England) is to allow the Assistant Referee to stay in
line with the second last defender whilst facing the field of play. The
‘crabbing’ method is used to good effect when defenders and attackers
are moving around at a slow to medium pace – but of course, when players
speed up, the Assistant Referee will have to revert to straight
sprinting to keep up with the second last defender. ‘Crabbing’ involves
facing the field of play and side-stepping’ up and down along the
- Eye-contact and discreet hand signals from an Assistant Referee maybe
helpful in passing information to a Referee e.g. type of offence, next
action etc. This would reduce the need for him to come across to the
Assistant Referee for consultation.
- When the ball enters a goal: To confirm a valid goal has been scored, an
Assistant Referee should display clear movement down the touchline
towards the center line. In borderline cases, this movement should be
clear (sprint) to be recognized by the referee. To confirm a goal, the
assistant referee should not raise his flag. If in his opinion a goal
has not been scored correctly, the Assistant Referee should stand still,
retaining any signal already given. The referee may then choose to
consult further if he needs additional guidance.
- Whenever the ball leaves the field of play, the flag signal of the
assistant referee should show clearly the correct restart and direction.
In clear throw-in situations, the assistant referee can directly show
the direction (along the whole touch line). But if he has any doubt
about the direction, the assistant referee should simply raise his flag,
make eye contact with the referee and follow the referee's signal. On
very tight decisions, when the ball stays in play, a discreet hand
signal could give valuable support to the referee.
- There are many types of signals between the Referee and the Assistant
Referee during a game, some of which are listed below, many of which are
used without the players even knowing:
Time Down signal: Assistant Referee uses fingers
outstretched downwards along the outside of the shorts or on his shirt
to indicate to the Referee 1,2,3,4,or 5 minutes remaining in the half.
Time Out: The Assistant Referee can use the clenched
fist either across the chest or down the side of the shorts to indicate
to the Referee that 45 minutes have expired.
Thumbs Up/Down: To indicate that you are happy with any
decisions - or not !
Nod/shake Head: Can be used to indicate that you are
happy with the Referee's decision - for example, after a goal has been
allowed by the Referee or the award of a penalty.
Eye Contact: Movement of the eyes can indicate a free
kick direction to the Referee. Also allows the Assistant Referees' and
the Referee to feel part of a team and to build up a rapport.
Hand Indications: Movement of the hand can indicate to
the Referee that you've seen a hand-ball by a player.
Tugging Gesture: Indicates to the Referee that you have
seen a player tugging an opponents shirt.
Direction Signal: A discrete hand direction signal will
indicate to the Referee which side is entitled to the free kick. (Note -
Assistant Referees should never indicate advantage - this is always the
prerogative of the Referee).
Standing on the pitch: This will indicate to the
Referee, that you wish to talk to him. If you (the Assistant Referee)
believe there has been an infringement that the Referee may not have
seen that requires discussion, wave your flag until the Referee I
acknowledges you. Once acknowledged, take one pace onto the field of
play and bring the fingers of your free hand up to you mouth to clearly
indicate that you need to speak to the Referee.
Miming: You can mime words to the Referee - for example
"No" to indicate that a player was not in an offside position.
- For very tight judgments where an Assistant Referee decides
"not offside" (or the ball has not gone out of the field of play) a
'discreet' hand signal may give valuable support to the Referee when the
Referee makes eye-contact.
After the game... Below are some tips for consideration:
- After ending the half, make your way calmly to meet your
- Give the players a warm hand shake, and not the old 'wet-fish'
- Leave the field of play by walking in a relaxed manner
- Pick the ball up in your hands. Do not dribble the ball back
into the changing rooms.
- Be smart and professional when you go for a drink in the bar
after the game.
If you have any other body language tips, I would be very please to
include them on this page.