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-= Improving Communications with REBAR =-
Improving Communications with REBAR
by Mike "Skipper" Goblet
"Cogito ergo Arbitro - I think therefore Umpire"
Member of the Masters of Mayhem

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Communications between Referee and Assistant Referees is paramount to effective man- and match- management. Gone (and happily so) are the times when the Linesman was a useful idiot, treated with less consideration and attention than the town idiot. ARs play a major role in the referee team. A referee would be a fool indeed to ignore the information and assistance of an experienced AR.

Within the Diagonal System of Control I am an advocate of a concept I named... REBAR, and acronym for REferee-Ball-Assistant Referee. The concept is simple: the referee maintains a position so that the ball and AR are within their field of view. As with most concepts, this depends upon the perfect world - which we know does not exist. It is, therefore, a desired rather than fully attainable result of effective, proactive, referee mechanics.

The pre-game briefing is indispensable in setting the communication plan. A clear statement of expectations will define the amount and type of assistance desired. I generally ask my ARs to get a feel for my management style prior to intervening, with a strong request that they inform me of potential problems I can not or apparently have not seen. I ask them to inform me immediately if the situation is serious and they know I have not seen it, but to call me over during a break in play if I had a clear view of the action and took no action IF it was out of character with other calls I have made in that match.

It should be obvious to all that a new or inexperienced AR may, and probably will, lack the experience to assist the referee in all phases of foul and/or misconduct identification; offside may be overwhelming in and of itself. We must be careful to nurture our ARs, not neuter them. New or inexperienced ARs may need fewer or less demanding responsibilities, but with experience and encouragement most will grow into their role at a steady pace. We must also be attentive and quick to protect them from the many forms of abuse and dissent which are prevalent. This protection cannot be provided without constant and proactive communications, for which the referee has by far the greatest responsibility.

To appreciate proactive referee mechanics, one must accept that a referee needs to be constantly mobile. Referees need to be in position to observe, rather than to follow, play action. Three particular behaviors will make success in gaining this position more probable; reading play, effective use of dead time, and (heretical to cookie-cutter referee mechanics) getting a little wider.

Reading play can be taught as a concept, but the true skill is primarily developed through focused concentration. I define focused concentration as paying attention to a few important things. Where is the ball? What offensive and defensive formations are arrayed between the ball and the opponent's goal? Is it more likely that the attackers or the defenders will gain control? What is the position of the defender's forwards? The attacker's fullbacks? These are but a few considerations.

When the referee observes a high probability of the defense gaining control and an opportunity to counterattack, the referee needs to move toward the new point of attack promptly, not to follow the rapidly departing ball. This is not a "sixth sense," rather the application of experience to anticipate the most likely product of the current play. Observe where the player in possession is looking; if it is up field, relocate. Quickly.

Dead time occurs when the ball is out of play during the attacker's throw-ins and at all goal kicks. Many, if not most, referees use this time as recess. They walk up field, and are quite often caught out of position, chasing the ball. The wise referee will jog to the area of the most likely landing zone, arriving well before the ball. The referee's attention will be focused where needed. If players are slow to reposition, the referee will backpedal. If trailing the players, normal jogging is fine. Arriving before the general mass of players is of benefit, as the referee can monitor "debates" as they approach. Proper use of dead time will result in fewer full-speed sprints and offer a far better position to observe developing play.

Getting a little wider is the most important of the three behaviors. ideally, the referee wants to be able to see both the ball and the assistant referee at all times, with the best situation being to look directly over the ball at the assistant referee. Play is ideally contained between the referee and the assistant referee. It should be obvious to all that this best situation is unattainable, even for Michael Babajanov (this fellow is all legs, with a torso, arms and head added as an afterthought...). REBAR does not work unless the referee is outside of play. Although this is not always possible, containing play between the referee and the AR is generally possible and should be pursued as a desirable mechanic.

Hence, REBAR, the RE(FEREE) looking over the B(ALL) at the AR. In order to accomplish this, the straight-line diagonal becomes more of an extended "S," with the top and bottom at the outside corner of the PA. The referee must shift attention from one AR to the other by the time they pass the bottom of the center circle in the lead ARs half, and move nearer to or further from the AR to contain play. In doing so, the likelihood of losing eye contact is greatly diminished. During any stoppage it should become a habit for the referee to quickly scan to the lead AR, and for the lead AR to quickly scan the trail AR. Clear and positive reinforcement, obvious to the players, should also be a habit - but not on every play. Make sure the reinforcement is for an observable action, otherwise both ARs and players will smell a rat.

Effective use demands the referee gain the player's trust from the time they arrive at the field of play, as this does occasionally move the referee further from play, violating the aforementioned cookie-cutter referee mechanics. The reader must understand that going wide does not mean they must stay wide - as noted above, they must close on play when approaching the PA. A marked benefit of this mechanic is reduced interference with the passing lanes, an endearing behavior. Blocking the passing lanes generally leads players to accord the referee the high level of regard, love, and acceptance generally reserved for skunks at a church wedding.

Works for me, won't gain great support from the cookie-cutter brigade. YMMV.

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