The Memories & Spirit of the Game, as only Ken Aston could teach it...
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Dealing with Coaches and Spectators Improving Communications with REBAR Mechanics and Interpretation of Play Action
In the Name of the Spirit Protecting our Young - Bulletproofing Referees Random thoughts on officiating at higher levels
Some thoughts on the Art of the Referee
by Mike "Skipper" Goblet
"Cogito ergo Arbitro - I think therefore Umpire"
Member of the Masters of Mayhem

Referees need to be able to apply laws, not parrot them. More importantly, referees need to know both when and why to apply them. Referees who, after their first year, work only by the letter of the Laws and are safety-wired on auto-whistle are of no use to the players, coaches, spectators, or their fellow referees. They do not learn. They do not grow. They hurt the game. They may be referees for twenty years, but their experience is that of one year repeated twenty times.

Reading play and players is a skill, perhaps an art, at once easy and difficult to master. I'm a reasonably good instructor, yet I can only point out the path. I can't travel that road; that journey belongs to the individual. To develop those skills you must develop sufficient experience to move beyond the letter of the Laws. You have to understand the very concept of the game and the purpose of it's Laws.

In greatest simplicity, the concept of the game is that it is a hard, physical contest to be played between two teams, and that the teams should have the opportunity to demonstrate their skills without unfair interference by their opponents. The Laws define how the game is to be played, and describe examples of unfair play. The referee's original place in this was to settle disagreements between players. Players were expected act within the confines of the Laws. Most still do, fouling in the conduct of play rather than in an attempt to foul their opponent. In today's game, the referee is to enforce the Laws, yet must do so through man- and match- management skills and not through literal application of the letter of the Law.

Soccer is exceptionally physical. Its players must be allowed to display their skills in an aggressive manner when this behavior does not place an opponent at a disadvantage by unfair means. It is the duty of players to develop both in skill and physical fitness. Often unskilled and physically unfit players are awarded free kicks when fairly challenged by skilled and fit players. Is this the result of the referee not understanding the basic nature of the game?

For an act to be worth punishing, putting aside misconduct, I believe the act must truly affect play AND not be the result of true 50/50 play. Further, trifling, doubtful and advantage must be considered within the enormous amount of time allotted us to form a decision.

Folks continually complain about not having a library of "authoritative" interpretations and guidance. They cried they were without practical guidance although Additional Instructions Regarding the Laws of the Game was included in their annual copy of the LOTG through 1996 (and is available again). They cried upon learning that some people had access to certain Memoranda or Circulars. They bemoaned not having access to Questions and Answers on the Laws of the Game (which is now available). They continue to do so though they have access to Advice to Referees.

These, and similar publications, have always been available to those who sought them. For referees affiliated with the USSF, virtually everything is available in the Referee section of the Federation web site.

The ironic thing about publications is that they can't make a referee even one iota better. A walking encyclopedia of the Laws and their interpretation often is not a good referee, while a fellow with an entry-level knowledge can be a very good to great referee. The acquisition of knowledge is vital part of referee growth. It is, however, lower down in the scale of importance than the skills of mechanics, attention to detail,man- and match- management, concentration, and a devotion to protect players' health and safety. These skills must be blended together and cemented by courage.

A referee must be a person of deep introspection. Constant, objective evaluation of their role and their impact on the game is vital. Truly great referees first developed knowledge of self and aspired to perfect their skills to offer what the game demands of them. They possess the humility to accept that they are not to be the center of attraction. They accept that they are to insert ourselves into the game only as often as the game demands it.

The skills just mentioned really don't rely on the Laws of the Game. They rely on the referee accepting personal responsibility to develop the intangible skills mentioned for their growth and improved service to the game. I suggest many referees are unwilling to spend the time necessary to learn their part in the game and develop the skills needed to play that part. Too many curse the darkness rather than become light bearers.

If referees feel their State does not provide adequate instruction or clinics, where is the record of strident and continual demand that their State fulfill it's responsibility? Where are the groups of 3 to 5 referees who attend high level matches to observe that referee's decisions and the result of those decisions, then invite the referee team out for a cool, adult beverage over which they might discuss the match? Where is the drive to visit other states' clinics?

Is weeping and the gnashing of teeth over the seeming inability of skilled officials to identify obvious fouls righteous indignation? Or is such behavior a self-serving pat on the back due the weeping tooth-gnasher believing they are better able to identify fouls than their colleagues on the field?

Some will not seek to develop an understanding of the nature of the game. They hurt the game. They turn players and observers against flow. They stifle development of a player's ability to play through contact. They establish and fortify in player's and observer's minds the belief that all contact is foul. They create an atmosphere that can make the next match a referee's game from hell. Worst of all, they affix blame on everyone else, including both other referees and players.

Frankly, I feel such folks should find another field of endeavor.

Back to the point in discussion. It is the referee's responsibility to observe players, to evaluate their actions, and to form an opinion as to whether their actions unfairly affect play. They then decide whether some action must be taken to set right the illegal act. It is easy to be just - justice only requires that a prescribed response be made when proof of injustice exists. It is far more difficult to ensure that the right thing is done. Doing the right thing may be in conflict with doing the just thing.

How does the referee learn to do the right thing? The only way I know is through constant study of all aspects of his art, including the Laws, mechanics, players' actions and reactions, concentration, and the courage that is vital to the employment of these skills. The referee is always involved in a balancing act involving flow and control. Maintaining this balance may require bending of the Laws beyond a comfortable point. Strangely enough, this bending often leads to a strengthening of the Laws, not the weakening. This phenomena results from the player's appreciation of the referee's knowledge of the game and his willingness to allow them to play while protecting players' health and safety. They respond to the referee because they trust his judgment.

The best insight on gaining and maintaining balance is simple:

Never sacrifice control on the altar of flow.



Yet should flow be sacrificed on the altar of comfort? Does a referee have a right to "comfort" derived from textbook officiating eschewing the real work needed to play their part?

When I read comments savaging other referees, or complaining that their "bad example" in not calling fouls negatively affects the game at lower levels, my reaction is not positive. That position absolves the referee in that "lower level" match from their responsibility to make their mark on that match and ensure proper control. My opinion is assuredly negative when comments come from officials who supervise referees.

Ignorance of playing styles and a lack of comfort with vigorous physical contact is understandable when first encountered; it is almost unforgivable after a referee has encountered such situations many times. When referee supervisors complain openly, yet practically do nothing to correct perceived problems, they prove to me their total unsuitability for such a position.


You'll get no black and white instructions on what to do in all given situations. Even the best advice may not be sufficient when you encounter certain player actions. Each referee's response must be based upon a decision whether their action will be of benefit to the game, not merely whether it is supported by the written law. You and I are appointed to manage the players and the match to a successful conclusion. We must, I repeat must, do this by inserting ourselves only when truly necessary.

A final, simple, thought. Before inserting yourself, observe the full impact of a foul action upon the play or player. Where the foul does not directly affect the play or the player - whether they flinch or do not - keep the whistle down. Your understanding of this precept will benefit that specific match, and will contribute to an overall strengthening and growth of this beautiful game.

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Improving Communications with REBAR Mechanics and Interpretation of Play Action
In the Name of the Spirit Protecting our Young - Bulletproofing Referees Random thoughts on officiating at higher levels
Dealing with Coaches and Spectators
by Mike "Skipper" Goblet
"Cogito ergo Arbitro - I think therefore Umpire"
Member of the Masters of Mayhem

Without question, there are times when each of us come into contact with some coaches who lack focus, some coaches who do not know the game, some who attempt gamesmanship, and some who are hostile for financial reasons.

While there are some who would be adversarial for the sake of being adversarial, the greatest portion are well meaning, caring, and really want to do a good job. They don't begin their day by planning the ways and means to annoy referees or create the game from hell. They have enough to do managing players, parents, and the occasional dog.

Although I have good friends who occasionally take exception with my beliefs, I hold that the referee himself is responsible for the creation of many if not most adversarial situations.

I cannot count the number of referees I have observed who are delivering anything but the service they were hired or volunteered to perform. Players, team officials and spectators (who commonly provide the money used to pay us, be it in cash or in kind) have every right to expect that referees will:

  • Know the Laws
  • Be physically fit/run/remain close to play
  • Understand the game/adjust to match demands
  • Respect players, team officials, and spectators
  • Communicate expectations to players and team officials
  • Be physically fit/run/remain close to play
  • Protect players from injury
  • Deal with players who consistently foul
  • Refrain from argumentative and/or vindictive behavior

Let's look at these individually:

Know the Laws

There is no excuse - none whatsoever - that can explain a lack of up to date knowledge of the Laws of the Game, the interpretations of those Laws, the procedures (mechanics) they should employ, and the administrative policies of the Federation as they apply to referees. Let me add that truly minor subjects such as not having each and every circular from FIFA or memorandum from the Federation do not even figure into this equation - any material which is necessary to keep a referee updated is available on the USSF web site. There are few referees who cannot gain access to that web site, either directly through their own internet access, a visit to the library, or through assistance of a friend. We are indeed fortunate to have, easily accessible, the Laws of the Game, Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game, Procedures for Referees, Assistant Referees, and Fourth Officials, and the Referee Administrative Handbook.

Beyond this, there are innumerable in-service training modules available, as well as an Intermediate Referee Course and a State Referee Course. If your state does not offer these courses, get a number of officials together and respectfully request that they be scheduled. It may also be possible to attend In-Service Training or either course in a neighboring State. I attended the Intermediate Referee Course in Connecticut while registered in another state.

There are a number of excellent books on the subject, as well as videotapes. In short, a referee must accept responsibility for their own development and do what is necessary to maintain and improve their skills.

Physical Fitness/Run/Remain Close to Play

Each of us is aware of what is expected of us in this matter. We must be physically fit enough to be where we need to be during the 50 to 90 minutes allotted to each match. We must operate by the Diagonal System of Control (even though we may be the only official assigned to the match), not the Diameter System of Control (remaining within the center circle for the entire match). Far too often referees simply do not have the fitness or display an inability or willingness to run and/or remain close to play. Even if their decisions are correct, they do not engender trust. MCI (Long

Distance) calls are never appreciated. (Note: There are some referees whose experience allows them to manage play from longer distances, and commonly their demeanor and consistency engenders great trust and comfort levels from all observers - even their assistant referees. This ability does not, however, excuse them from the need to be physically fit, to run, and to remain close enough to play).

A visit or call to a High School or College athletic trainer could provide you with a training plan to attain and maintain fitness.

Understand the Game/Adjust to Match Demands

Most referees have heard of the Spirit of the Laws, yet lack the understanding of the game necessary to apply it. Too often they officiate by the book - which they understand perhaps as poorly, completely stifling play, annoying all observers, and often encouraging the very behavior they complain about. They can not recognize changing frustration levels, nor can they read the players response to contact. They generally under- or over- officiate, and no one is happy.

It is also important that referees know and accept their own limitations. Some referees can not or will not accept that they are not able to adjust to older/higher skilled teams. When a referee does not adjust to the demands of faster play and/or highly developed skills, they do the game and themselves an injustice - and invite the troubles they complain about.

Respect Players, Team Officials, and Spectators

You reap what you sow, in the greatest majority of matches - well over 95% in my experience - respectful actions on the part of the referee will diffuse trouble. Taking comments personally, identifying with and validating comments of people who mean nothing to you, is YOUR problem. Far too many referees operate in a hair-trigger reaction mode; any comment, even mildly critical, can hurt, distract, or anger them. Something like road rage. Now, please understand that I do not advocate for the referee to ignore anything said to him. I recommend just the opposite - comments can be a useful barometer of feelings and emotions. They may tell us that we are in fact missing something - be it off the ball or over-enthusiastic contact, that we are too far away from play, that we are calling too tightly or loosely - and we should evaluate our match plan if such comments are continual. It is uncommon to experience continual "constructive criticism" if our employers (players, team officials, and spectators) form an opinion that we are doing our job.

As a whole, referees are far too sensitive and reactionary. Were referees to become more responsive, that is to say be attentive to comments and adjust to them without any display of rancor or annoyance, far less trouble from this source is likely. A quick self-analysis of mechanics and our observations of player actions/responses to contact or our calls can allow us to decide if we may be too far away from play, are attentive enough to off-the-ball contact, are reading play and players correctly. This is not a lengthy debate or discourse - constant comment on one or more subjects should engender a response of some form in our performance. Even if the comments are completely baseless, added energy, in the form of mechanics - moving closer to play, staying up with play, anticipating play, will normally reduce or eliminate any real "constructive criticism.

Additionally, the referee must learn to filter what they hear. The referee must realize that comments are often made entirely out of frustration and are (what was that word?) reactive and not thought out. In any case, the referee must be the mature one, regardless of the comments, and act professionally. In short, the referee must learn what not to "hear."

Does this mean the referee should ignore the truly unacceptable comments or threats to himself or any other person? No. Such behavior has no place in our game - and is especially unacceptable in the youth game. Many of us can deal with "industrial language" intelligently while maintaining personal control, and should do so. We are not given our powers to belittle or humiliate players, etc. When a player or team official acts in an unacceptable, stop the game when appropriate, isolate them from others, and do what is necessary. Do not threaten, browbeat or attempt to intimidate - these actions will backfire. Instead, take action - warn, caution (or report misconduct for team officials), or send off (or dismiss team officials) as is appropriate. If you warn or caution (report misconduct), tell them their action is inappropriate and you expect them to control their behavior, and that further inappropriate behavior may result in a caution (report of misconduct) or send off (dismissal). Note carefully that a specific action has not been specified - any inappropriate action can incur one of these responses from you.

As to comments from spectators, you have no real power over them. You do, however, have the power and duty to ensure the match is played in a safe manner and to protect players. This may seem a stretch, but inflammatory comments can indeed affect both. Should the comments distract you, then you cannot fulfill your duty. Should they distract players, they could indeed affect the safety and well-being of players. One may even extend that inflammatory comments can cause grave disorder. In any of these cases, the referee can stop play until the situation is corrected - but must be careful not to try to do this on his own. In most jurisdictions, the home team coach is responsible for spectator behavior and protection of the referee. In youth play, both coaches should be involved. Tell them that play will not restart, and the match may be terminated, if the situation is not corrected. Again, do not try to control a spectator yourself. (Don't try this in semi-pro or pro matches - it will be a cause for much warm-hearted hilarity and thoughtful observations regarding the referee's ability to function under such pressure).

Respect is vital in all aspects of the game.

The more respect you give in a controlled and almost dispassionate manner, the more you will receive.

Communicate Expectations

As noted just above, communicating expectations is far preferable to threats and confrontations. The referee must be clear in demonstrating what he expects in behavior through actions more than words. In a recent amateur match there was no way that my limited command of Spanish could explain how I would call the match. They quickly learned where the go/no go line was drawn. There are times when communication is "individually universal," comments ostensibly directed at one player but clearly seen by all players, most if not all of whom are fully aware of what the individual player did. Silence kills match control almost as surely as lecturing. The referee's actions often speak for louder than words, and are far more effective.

Protect Players from Injury

It's our duty. Period. Protecting players is important in all levels, but is much more important in youth play. When Momma Bear decides the referee has not protected Baby Bear, the referee is in deep trouble. When players decide that the referee has not protected their buddy, they will take this duty as their responsibility, and the referee is again in deep trouble. This commonly happens when referees either attempt to model skilled, perhaps professional referee's responses to contact - or they simply cannot identify injuries when they happen. Sensitivity toward apparent injuries should be far higher at the lowest ages - any injury should bring up the whistle. This sensitivity, however, should not disappear at any given age group - buy immediate stoppages should greatly decrease unless the injured player is in grave danger.

When players, team officials, and spectators form an opinion that the referee will not protect players, there will be very real match control problems.

Deal with Players Who Consistently Foul

I believe that persistent infringement is the least called - and most in need of being called - form of misconduct in the game. While many referees have reasonable foul identification skills, they are not good at maintaining a consciousness of who has committed them. As when the referee is not seen to protect players from injuries, failure to properly deal with players who consistently foul will lead to opposing players taking matters into their own hands. Simply put, referees don't concentrate on this subject near enough.

I need help in this, so I borrowed a method from another referee. I will write the number of players who attract my attention on my left palm, right side for light color shirts, left for dark. When a player has committed two, at most 3 fouls, I will hold up the restart until I can "communicate my expectations" to him. No threats, but I am mentally ready to display yellow at the next offense.

The effect of dealing with only one player who has persistently infringed is truly amazing on the rest of the players. The calming effect and trust it engenders in the referee is very great.

Refrain from Argumentative and/or Vindictive Behavior

While this has been addressed above in a number of ways, it is important enough to make a final pass at the subject. The referee must appear to be in full control of his reactions, regardless of inner turmoil. Arguing does nothing to improve your position, and only plays into their adversaries hands. The referee's attention is now away from the game, his objectivity is damaged, and he is likely to give a questionable call to that team in a subconscious recoil from another argument. Communicate expectations, and get on with the match.

Getting even through vindictive behavior is, to my knowledge, very rare but does exist. I have seen it, and it is very ugly.

This very long message is in no way the end all, tell all compilation of thoughts on this important subject. I know, however, that referees who religiously apply the methods will rarely have match problems beyond momentary incidents - because actions meet the needs of the players, team officials, and spectators, or have adjusted their actions/performance as needed to meet those needs.

The individual referee is indeed responsible for most of their success or failure. Knowledge and application of the methods noted here can make success far more likely.

You may have noticed that I made a point of saying the suggestions I offered were not for professional or semi-professional matches - normally played in a stadium. Yet, I must suggest that we can indeed influence a stadium full of people - if we use the methods I offered. I am not the world's finest referee by a half, yet I promise you that I am able, using these methods, to influence a goodly crowd. I've never worked Giant Stadium or a similar venue, yet they would likely have an impact there, also.

In regards to spectators...

The referee most certainly does not have direct power over spectators. It isn't his field. It isn't his team. Hopefully, he is not related to the spectators who are causing problems. The referee's responsibility is to the game and it's constituent parts as defined in the Laws. Personally controlling spectators is neither a duty or a power of the referee, especially if controlling spectators involves verbal sparing. The referee may, however, stop play when outside interference is such that it is not appropriate or possible to continue play. If you disagree, could you kindly specify where in the Laws there is any direction to the referee that he should directly intervene with a spectator?

In most if not all venues we normally play it is the home team that assumes responsibility for the fields, control of spectators, and safety of the referee and his property. The referee suspends play and informs the home team coach, and I recommended including the visiting coach in the discussion, when spectator interference of any notable level occurs. As to a situation where a coach cannot control the situation, then the referee has a very simple next step. Terminate the match, submit the report, and move on.

The referee determines when conditions are appropriate for a match to be played, and does the game no service by either joining swords with spectators or by ignoring that which may not be ignored. It is, in my opinion, unfortunate when a referee, for whatever reason, performs or fails to perform an action that leads to unnecessary conflict. I hope folks who take the time to study this whole posting see some wisdom in this position, and are able to use some of the suggestions to improve their man- and match- management skills.

Many folks suggest, or even demand, that the referee should never talk to spectators. There are indeed times when you can talk with spectators, but I suggest verbal one-upsmanship or ridicule are not the correct tools. I talk with spectators all of the time -unless- there is serious concern. I enjoy very good relations. I can remember defusing a potentially hot situation through a definitely non-adversarial method - the crowd screamed for a tripping call, and as I passed, I said "I'm sorry, but we disagree one that one." As I moved further upfield I heard one of them say, "I don't agree with him, but he sure is polite..."

You give credence to complaints when you attempt to defend your decisions with partisan spectators, rarely stop the comments, and often create enemies where none need exist. In most cases my recommendation as to learn to ignore them for what they are - attempts to take you out of your game or ignorance.

There were eight specific items I presented in my posting. I suggest that any referee who studiously applies them will experience very few problems with their customers. I should think that referees that focus on only one or a few of the items will not experience anything like the success that is possible through attention to all of them.

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Dealing with Coaches and Spectators Mechanics and Interpretation of Play Action
In the Name of the Spirit Protecting our Young - Bulletproofing Referees Random thoughts on officiating at higher levels
Improving Communications with REBAR
by Mike "Skipper" Goblet
"Cogito ergo Arbitro - I think therefore Umpire"
Member of the Masters of Mayhem

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.

+-+ BACK TO TOP +-+
Dealing with Coaches and Spectators Improving Communications with REBAR
In the Name of the Spirit Protecting our Young - Bulletproofing Referees Random thoughts on officiating at higher levels
Mechanics and Interpretation of Play Action
by Mike "Skipper" Goblet
"Cogito ergo Arbitro - I think therefore Umpire"
Member of the Masters of Mayhem

This is part of a series of posts in work at this time. The two areas, Mechanics and Interpretation of Play Action are the first part. Future posts will look into Foul Identification, Player Management, and many other areas.

This may go a little deep, and reflects one man's experience and the opinions formed from that experience. I do not suggest that what I will discuss reflects the best way, or even the right way, to apply the art of mechanics to this game. I do suggest that what I discuss has been exceptionally successful in my soccer career of over 1,500 matches at almost all levels and age groups.

I picked up the whistle officially in 1988 when I was 39; I worked my way to State 1 in about 6 years, and worked constantly until 2001, when work changed the focus of my attention. I plan to return in the next few months as time and tide permit. I've written a bit, was a small contributor to the first ATR, and Referee used some of my material in a book in 2001. I've had the honor of being invited to a number of venues to meet and speak with referees, and to serve at many prestigious tournaments. I have many good friends from soccer, and owe soccer far more than I have yet given. Humility is one of the hallmarks of a great referee, and I'm not humble enough, by half.

I had a great benefit "growing up" in Upstate New York. Most of my matches were a one-man match, with club linesmen of very dubious quality. Until I came to Florida, I rarely experienced a true DSC with linesmen, later assistant referees. Doing a one-man match, you learn quickly that you have no support network and must carry the whole load. The referee has to use everything in their tool bag to manage these matches - from U-8 to Over-45. Yes, Mens D1 by your lonesome. "Ethnic" matches by your lonesome. Now, such a situation may savage a new referee, so the assignor was (and still is) very careful in who is assigned to what match. Even so, survival as a referee depended upon quickly developing the necessary skill sets; it was a true learning environment which provides a marked benefit to the eager student.

I discovered that a great amount of referee problems were self-inflicted. We don't always offer value for money; we are expected to be good when paid (begging the question if AYSO folks are expected to be good for nothing ...). Folks demand a quality product, and when we do not deliver it is understandable that they may become a bit cross, and offer constructive criticism. Now, before the reader assumes I heap all responsibility/blame for all sub-optimal results on the referee, be of good faith, 'tis not so. Most referees are very hard working and dedicated toward skill, knowledge, and ability growth.

Referee problems arise from three causes, one natural and the other, well, unnatural:

1.) The steep learning curve from novice to the beginning stages of competence,
2.) The utter reticence of some referees to seek added training and/or advice, and
3.) The inability to perform at a level appropriate to the match at hand.

Time and experience will correct the first cause, the other two require more from the referee than they are willing or able to offer.

In order to deliver a quality product, we must learn the laws. We must understand what they mean, how they came into use, and under what circumstances they are applied. This information is available in various forms - Laws of the Game and Additional Instructions (FIFA), Advice to Referees (USSF), Q&A (FIFA), USSF Memos and Position Papers - all of which are available through the USSF web site. Effective clinics, advanced training courses, and a few really good books are crucial to referee development. Material has never been more available, and no referee can claim with any degree of fact that they have no means of developing a solid knowledge of the laws.

Knowledge alone is not sufficient. Referees must next develop a feel for the game, which is different from the feel of players, coaches, and spectators. We must study the dynamics of player contact and interaction, and the verbal and non-verbal signals all players continually display.

We all are, or should be, aware that referees should manage a match using their powers in a measured, or proportional, manner. Our goal is to apply sufficient control to allow the match to flow with few interruptions, while protecting players from illegal actions by their opponents. This includes protecting all players from injuries caused by illegal actions and violence. To achieve this goal, we must employ the skills of proper mechanics, interpretation of play action, and effective decision making.


You can't manage what you can't see. Proper mechanics, which I describe as the art of being where you need to be before you need to be there, is a subject which could take up many books. In my mind, there are two primary

aspects: gaining a good position and field of view.


Gaining good position, which results in a clear view of play action, requires constant maneuvering, interpretation of the ebb and flow of play, and good use of "dead time."

MANEUVERING: My preferred position is tied to field position. In the defensive third and in midfield, I want to be ahead of play - I want play to come to me. In the attacking third, I want to follow play. Imagine or draw a soccer pitch, including the boundaries, a halfway line, and with the penalty areas at the top and bottom. Superimpose a large "S" on the field of play, with the letter starting at the left bottom corner of the top penalty area, crossing at the center spot, and ending at the top right corner of the bottom penalty area. Using this concept as the basis for my patrol pattern, one can see that I generally go rather wide. Note that neither this concept nor the straight diagonal shown in most soccer media are railroad tracks - both are totally flexible to allow lateral movements to close on play so as to gain a clear view of play action. This "S" diagonal is also the foundation of REBAR, a mechanic that emphasizes the need for the REferee to have both the Ball and the AR within their field of view.

Lest anyone be mistaken by the above paragraph, match situations often shift patrol patterns dramatically.

Should play move rapidly up the right side of the pitch, the referee would be advised to go straight ahead, and only fan out a bit when approaching the penalty area. In this instance, physical location relative to play outweighs REBAR and going wide. The referee must be very aware of their surroundings in such a situation, so as not to be trapped in the passing lanes or to lose any hope of a timely visual link with the AR.

Temperature of the match, emotionally and/or environmentally may demand much greater presence. Allied with temperature affecting players, it also affects the referee, who may need to shepherd their stamina. Rain, snow, ice, standing water - all of these may also affect your patrol pattern.

One item which certainly affect patrol patterns may seem contrary to reason. The referee can't afford to be consistent in being in the same place every time play is in a given area on the pitch. Players who know where you will likely be will take advantage of your predictability to shield fouls and misconduct. Nothing is more disconcerting to sly, underhanded, players than not knowing precisely where you are. The patrol patterns are a guide, not a road map. Patrol intelligently.

INTERPRETATION EBB AND FLOW OF PLAY: When we are able to establish an effective position, reading the ebb and flow of play is really not terribly difficult. At its heart is learning not to fixate on a single spot. In most situations, we have a second here and there where play action does not demand our complete attention. We can use that time to scan the field and gain situational awareness. Where are the players, and what are their match-ups? Are the attackers likely to maintain control. Do the attackers have numerical superiority? Do the present defenders have numerical superiority, and where are their forwards?

With that information, when we observe a change or an imminent change of possession we can determine where and how quickly the counterattack will develop and maneuver toward that area. Watch the actions of the player in possession of the ball. Are they looking nearby, or long? Are they preparing for a long lead pass, or dribbling? Their actions present this information in a continual stream. Usually, when the player with the ball has enough time to lift his head and glance around, so does the referee.

DEAD TIME: There is plenty of "dead time" in every match. Goalkeeper possession (6 seconds is a lot of time), goal kicks, throw-ins, and free kicks afford the referee with an enormous amount to time to reposition. Walking should be avoided when repositioning for two reasons: 1) jogging buys respect from all observers, even if subconsciously, and 2) even a few seconds of non-movement when you have arrived at your chosen position provides a short "break" and allow you to observe the players from a comfortable position.


It appears that doctrine or dogma dictate that the referee will remain within 10 yards of play. I find this too close for an experienced referee, at least for me. I may be 15 or more yards away from play much of the time, but will close in when I find it necessary. The extra distance expands my field of view greatly, and allows me to observe not only play action but also off-the-ball action. I am also less likely to enter the passing lanes and thereby lowers the potential that I will interfere with play. An old rule of thumb states that if you are hit by the ball once, you are close enough; if hit by the ball more than once, you are too close. I'm not certain that I fully support these thoughts, yet they do have some wisdom in them.

I'm comfortable working at that distance, and rarely experience constructive criticism from my customers. The key, as noted in the description of the "S" diagonal and in the last paragraph, is closing in as play action dictates. When a referee employs effective mechanics, they will be able to gain and maintain a good position to observe not only play action but also much of what is happening on the pitch. As an added bonus, greater teamwork is possible by maintaining visual contact with the lead AR.


I suggest there are three phases of in play action: development, action, and after action. All that follows in this section requires time, the amount of which is directly relative to the referee's ability to gain a good position. 2 or 3 seconds can seem like forever when in position; 10 seconds can be too short when out of position. It is vital that a referee work to gain and maintain good position. Failure to do so is the greatest contributor to poor man- and match- control. While this discussion presupposes the referee is in good position, the elements are equally valuable when not in position.


For illustration purposes, Red has control of the ball. Their center halfback is unchallenged while he crosses the halfway line. The referee is visually scanning to discover the Blue team's formation and to identify the most likely Blue defenders. He observes two Blue players moving to intercept Red. The referee can evaluate many things: speed of approach, focus, fitness, and field conditions. All of this information is important. Is there a notable difference in speed of approach of the attacker and the defender? Is the defender focusing on the attacker and not the ball? Is either the attacker or the defender observable unfit or tired? Is the section of the pitch muddy, slick, sandy? Each of these bits of information, along with others I have not included (such as weather), are used by the referee to prepare for various potential actions, as I'll narrate below.

Okay, Red has the ball. Where is Blue? Mostly behind coming from behind him, another moving up to challenge. The one behind...he won't catch up, not quick enough. The other one is closing on him quickly, trying to force him out. I'd better move closer to the touch and back up. Blue's attention is...high - he's looking at the player, not adjusting to be in position to contest for the ball. Okay, now Blue is slowing down a bit, still facing Red. He looks like he's setting a pick, almost. Watch for lower body contact, but don't lose the arms and hands. Don't ball-watch, the ball can't commit a foul. Keep moving, keep position, keep field of view. Get ready, here it comes ...


Where is Blue looking? What is his body position? Is he moving or set? Okay, Red is right there...and Blue sticks out a leg to try an upright tackle. Solid ball contact, he trapped the ball well. No foul contact, arms in, no thigh follow through. Red is off balance, stumbling, but Blue has the ball. Time to move...


Not too quick, now. Scan up-field, does Blue have a target? Remember, the ball does not commit fouls, but is a good reference as to where fouls may occur. There, across on the far touch, there's a dance going on. (When the ball is lofted up high, don't look at it. The players will tell you where it's headed. Look for pairs of opponents bumping-grabbing-pushing each other - these are the dancers.)

Before you move your complete attention to the developing play, quickly scan back, what's Red doing. Hmmm, not good...he's coming up behind Blue and - and - and he just smacked him on the back of the head. Quick look up-field - no developed attack on the left wing, whistle up, deal with this before it gets out of hand. Tweet!

PUTTING INTERPRETATION OF PLAY ACTION TOGETHER: What I described above may take, say, 5 to 15 seconds. Any given match may have a hundred or more of these play action sequences, each unique. A series of short film clips, sewn together to produce a match. If we look at a match in this fashion, it can be exhilarating! We leave the Dick Tracy world behind us and begin to see "our" match, the match no one else sees.

I believe that any referee who can understand and apply the concepts expressed above will gain a few steps on the players, and a few miles ahead of their peers who do not. I trust my thoughts will be of some utility to you.

+-+ BACK TO TOP +-+
Dealing with Coaches and Spectators Improving Communications with REBAR Mechanics and Interpretation of Play Action
Protecting our Young - Bulletproofing Referees Random thoughts on officiating at higher levels
In the Name of the Spirit
by Mike "Skipper" Goblet
"Cogito ergo Arbitro - I think therefore Umpire"
Member of the Masters of Mayhem

Some folks seem to put some value in what I write, and I thank them for the kind vote of confidence. We touch on many areas as we float from year to year - I began writing in 1994 or 1995 - and many of them come up at least once or twice each year. One subject which I have written extensively about is the Spirit of the Game/Laws, a subject that I am somewhat passionate about.

I'm writing again, in defense of the Spirit this time. Defense of the Spirit? Emphatically yes. Over a period of time, I have seen a great amount of what I perceive to be misunderstanding or misuse of the Spirit to explain or justify a referee's choice of actions, especially in youth soccer. Metaphorically speaking, the eagle of the Spirit is quickly becoming a buzzard, used to clean up the carrion of well-meaning but improper referee decisions.

The Spirit is, in reality, as simple to understand as any concept humanity is exposed to. Perhaps limiting it to words is the difficult trick.

The Spirit of the Game is that the game by played with few interruptions; continued whistling for trifling or doubtful fouls should be avoided.

The Spirit of the Game is that the game should be safe for the players, that is to say that they players are protected from intentional acts that are reckless or violent.

The Spirit of the Game is that the game offers equality of opportunity but not equality of outcome, that is to say that players are allowed to display their skills and their opponents will not use illegal means to prevent them from doing so.

The Spirit of the Game is that the game should be enjoyable to all - players, team officials, referees, and spectators.

The Spirit of the Game is that the level at which a foul is considered to be trifling is wholly dependent upon many factors, including age, skill level, field and weather conditions, along with other non-tangibles such as player discipline.

The Spirit of the Game is that any punishment will be in proportion to the severity of the observed foul action, that is to say that the referee must take into account the actual impact of an observed foul action and base punishment upon that and not solely upon the punishment allowable in the Laws for that particular flavor of foul.

The Spirit of the Game is that a match should begin with 22players and that the referee should do all that is possible to complete a match with 22 players. Implicit in this is an understanding that misconduct must be appropriately dealt with, and that appropriately dealing with misconduct can include a quick and direct talk with a player in lieu of a yellow card.

The Spirit of the Game is that everyone on the field of play is a player. It is not unusual for a European or South American referee to say that they play soccer. After all, does not a referee have a responsibility to be fit, to be athletic, to have a strong desire to win?

All of these statements are vital to understanding the role of referees, yet there are more items that are truly vital to fully appreciating the complexity of the Spirit.

Soccer is a tough, combative, and aggressive sport. Hard play, no matter how vigorous, must be allowed provided it is not unsporting.

The referee must be an impartial observer, granting favor to neither team, holding both to the same high standard of behavior and play. Bob Evans' guidance that the referee is not responsible to compensate for the mistakes of a player is a foundation of this principle.

The above statements are in no manner a complete summation of the constituent parts of the Spirit. They are, however, as solid a foundation as one can find short of hours deep philosophical discussion. They explain the role of both player and referee.

Many writers freely use the Spirit of the Game to justify almost any action that a referee chooses. I'll not go back and do a point-by-point exposition of this posting or that. Nothing would be served beyond annoying good people and creating opposed camps. This would not serve any good purpose.

When a referee steps in to ensure "fairness," (a badly misused and wholly misunderstood term in my estimation) perhaps they unfairly prevent a player from learning valuable lessons. If they are commonly protected from the result of their chosen action, how are they to learn the correct action? Conversely, by insuring "fairness" for one player/team, does the referee not perpetrate "unfairness" upon the other player/team who are acting within the law? Impartiality faces the danger of becoming all too partial. Such referee interference is decidedly against the Spirit, no matter what the motivation may be.

Many referees have difficulty in deciding whether or not a foul has occurred. Foul identification is indeed a difficult skill to master, yet a simple concept - effect upon play or player - is a most effective tool at all levels of the game, from U-small to O-45. If an opponent performs an illegal act, the referee must determine the effect of the action: did it affect play, or did it affect the fouled player? Simplistically put, if an illegal action has no practical effect upon the fouled players ability to play or person, at most a trifling foul (by definition a foul which should not be called) has occurred. Correct and consistent application of this principle is assuredly within the Spirit.

Many readers may well be up in arms at this point - so a bit of pacification may be in order.

Referee actions recommended or defended as being within the Spirit yet in opposition to the theme of this ever-lengthening epistle generally are man- and match- management techniques. Man- and match- management is a world unto itself.

Folks who have quoted Dave Albany's writings as justification for their actions within the Spirit do not understand that David writes from the viewpoint of man- and match- management, skills which diverge from and may run totally counter to the Laws or the Spirit as described in this posting.

My good friend's writings have limited application - the higher, exceptionally skilled matches. With close study and deep understanding, his concepts are useful - but really should not be in the bag of tricks employed by each and every referee. They are situational, and are only applicable to those specific situations. For example, in a very hot and physical match where tempers run high, he many make bad calls against both sides to cause them to shift their building anger on him, cooling tension between players. This is not a trick for referees who are not masters of their art - and supremely confident in their abilities - as he is.

One can understand and accept a concept such as a one-man dropped ball in certain instances, yet I have rarely seen a situation where the situation cannot be managed to a point that the ball becomes out of play in a non-threatening location. Where I have seen dropped ball situations, the cause is more often a too-quick whistle on the part of the referee where a little patience could have seen a far happier outcome.

Out-of-position goalkeepers are more often the result of poor coaching - the coach not having taught and reinforced the importance of a goalkeeper being in the proper position rather than doing the job of a ball boy. Is it the fault of the team awarded a corner kick or a free kick that the defenders are not in good order and arrayed properly to defend the goal? If the referee allows time for the defending team to regroup because of the goalkeeper ball-boy, then allowing time to regroup should then be the order of the day, allowing defenders to regroup before each and every restart. To do less makes the referee capricious, inconsistent, and very partial.

Perhaps the most important man- and match- management technique is consistency. There is always the argument regarding calling fouls in the penalty area being different from fouls called at midfield. Many, from coaches, to players, to assessors, rightly (in my opinion) condemn referees for not maintaining field-wide consistency. The root cause may be as simple as this. In place of the mantra "call fouls in the penalty area like you do in the middle of the field," a new mantra, "call fouls in the middle of the field like you do in the penalty area" should be used. Most referees could not do this - their match would spiral, out of control, to flaming ruin. What we see is, in reality, is either a total lack of self-confidence or a total lack of courage, normally buffered by the excuse, "I don't want to be responsible for affecting the outcome of the match," when they have done just that. Claiming such a decision is supported by the Spirit is an affront.

Another example can be found in a situation where a defender stops a certain goal by handling, only to see the rebound from his handling go to the foot of another player and into the goal. Under the Law and the Spirit, that player must be sent off, regardless of the fact that a goal was ultimately scored. His action prevented the goal. Fact. Discussion is over. In this situation, though, a referee may well make a decision to issue a yellow card, if, in their view, man- and match- management is better served. Provided he knew the proper punishment and made a conscious decision to handle the situation in this manner, there may be little or no criticism - but the defense in this matter is based upon management and not on the Spirit.

Management and Spirit commonly travel in the same direction, as they should. Occasionally, as in the paragraph above, they follow different paths. Both have the same goal, a successful ending to a match. Misrepresenting one as the other can be disastrous to a referee's career through continuous conflict and failure to advance in both skill and the quality of matches to which they are assigned. We lose enough referees through normal attrition. We should not have to lose them through their lack of understanding of the fundamentals. Nor should the development of the game have to suffer from well-intentioned yet incorrect application of the fundamentals of the game.

One more important distinction needs to be made. Occasionally there is some discussion of referees "making up" rules to suit a specific situation. This is certainly a "don't try this at home, kids" comment. Very, very few individuals can hope to practice this sort of officiating without experiencing problems, ranging from difficult matches filled with "constructive criticism," to mega-yellow and red card matches, terminated matches, less appealing or fewer match assignments, or disciplinary hearings.

Referees must always remember that to properly employ the Spirit of the Game/Laws, referees must do the right thing, not the feel-good thing. Doing the right thing requires a deep understanding of the entire deposit of the Spirit, not simply the parts of the Spirit we find most appealing.

+-+ BACK TO TOP +-+
Dealing with Coaches and Spectators Improving Communications with REBAR Mechanics and Interpretation of Play Action
In the Name of the Spirit Random thoughts on officiating at higher levels
Protecting our Young...
~ Bulletproofing Referees ~

by Mike "Skipper" Goblet
"Cogito ergo Arbitro - I think therefore Umpire"
Member of the Masters of Mayhem

When I first published this in 1998, I suspected it would be somewhat timeless. It appears so. We have many concerns about retention of referees, yet we cannot solve a problem by attacking the symptom and not the disease itself. Coaches and spectators generally need more than the "Momma Bear/Poppa Bear" incidents to set them off. They react, and occasionally respond, to many elementary errors performed by the referee (age not being the major player as many would have us believe.) Let me explain ...

Regardless of all instruction a referee receives, of all mentoring in foul identification and development of the ethos, logos, and pathos a referee must possess, there are many aspects in match management that the referee has sole control over. All of them contribute to more peaceful and enjoyable experience. A failing or lacking of even one may lead to the problems that bring so much concern to this subject.

If we can embed the following items into a referee so that they become autonomic, we will likely see a marked reduction in this crisis.

The First Impression:

When a referee takes time to prepare for a match, many steps will be undertaken. On the surface, they may seem to be too simple to be important ... however, I guarantee that attention to these few points will lead to a better reception by player, coaches and spectators.

Take time to relax and focus - work to eliminate any stressors. When one is concerned by events at home, at school, or at work, they cannot give their full attention to officiating. Developing focus is paramount.

Referees must be sure their uniform is first-rate - clean, in good repair, badge firmly attached and not pinned on, shoes clean and polished ... and make sure of this before you leave for the match.

When you step out of the car (whenever possible), be dressed and ready to go. No matter how good you finally look, being half-uniformed when you enter the field just doesn't cut it.

Always inspect the field of play first, and at a jog if possible. Check the appurtenances of the field carefully ... and noticeably. Remember that checking the field is more than looking along the touch lines and goal lines, and a detailed check of the goals and nets. Check the whole field; there may be glass, rocks, canine fertilizer present (bring a number of Baggies in your kit). You don't have to clean it up yourself, but you need to bring it to the attention of the home team. If you find small items, pick them up yourself and dispose of them.

Watch the players as they warm up. Are they organized? Do they give indications of being poorly disciplined in their routine? Check the shoes and ears of players as you pass; it will prepare you for the team check in.

Visit both coaches, but do it at the same time. See if they have any concerns, the referee should discuss those match management activities where their help will be useful - such as substitutes wait for a signal, all substitutions are done from midfield, etc. (This can prevent the subtle gamesmanship coaches often attempt to use on the referee).

When checking the teams in, check each player pass (and coach pass, if the league requires adult passes be checked) against the roster and the picture against the player offering the card. Mark the roster with jersey numbers if this has not already been done. (You could give the roster back for the coach to do so, but what is the gain?)

Collect your fee (where this is done on the field) from each team only after completing the above.

Gather up the game ball and confirm it is at proper pressure for the game conditions (hard ground a bit softer, soft ground a bit harder.)

By doing these few things, you prove to all watching (and they are

watching) that you are a professional behaving in a professional manner. These few things build more good will than anything else you can do -- and you have built the good will before the first whistle.

Cameron's Diamond

Nothing I have experienced has explained the most important elements of positive match management better than Cameron's Diamond. (John Cameron, well known by referees at the Dallas Cup and USA Cup, is a former FIFA referee and until recently was Director of Referee Instruction for New Zealand.)

His lecture at USA Cup forms the core of these following four points, which are interconnected so as to form a diamond - theirs is a symbiotic relationship, totally interdependent. John is adamant that each form the core of referee development; to be successful, a referee must:

* Be Knowledgeable in the Laws of the Game.

As any long-term list member is aware, there is far more to the game than the written 17 Laws of the Game. Any referee must go far beyond a mere reading of the Laws; they must seek out knowledge as to the cause of each Law, and the accepted interpretation of each Law. (We are indeed fortunate to have Jim Allen's and Dan Heldman's excellent work, "Advice to Referees ... " available to us. Many of us would have given all we had to have possessed this compendium of interpretations at the beginning of our careers.)

Book knowledge is useless on the field of play, except to establish a foundation upon which individual referees base their decisions. Players, coaches, spectators all have a right to expect their referee to have a mastery of the facts, and of how the facts should be interpreted to ensure some element of consistency.

* Practice Intelligent and Effective Mechanics.

Presence lends conviction, or, MCI (Long Distance) Calls are not accepted. This is the most important of a starting referee's tools. Until a referee develops the sixth sense required to read play and the subtle nuances that players display, presence by itself can quell most outbursts. As a test, watch a few youth or amateur matches and observe the level of cooperation or criticism engendered by the referee's mechanics. Knowing where to be (which is part of the Entry-Level Referee Course) and the importance of being there when needed is a primary skill, which all referees must develop.

The greatest difficulty in utilizing, and the greatest enemy of, good mechanics can be laid to ineffective use of "dead time," that is to say, any time when the ball is out of play. Case in point: How often does the ball cross the goal line to a point which guaranties a 15 second or more break in play? Not uncommon, but too many referees don't make good use of this "dead time," either in jogging to the landing zone, having a quick word with a player who is in need of "counsel," or checking in with the ARs? What generally results for many if not most referees in a mad dash to catch up with a rapidly-departing play instead of a calm viewing of the play as it approaches the referee's position.

All too often referees plant themselves in the precise location where play is likely to pass through. They miss a good bit of important play action; being in the center of a play almost by definition puts a good number of players out of the view of the referee, and normally out of the view of the AR. While too many assessors may shun the suggestion of "go deep and wide," the suggestion has quite a lot of merit, and should be considered by the referee that desires to develop proper and useful mechanics.

Beyond the mechanics of field positioning, the mechanics of signaling have great importance. If the whistle sounds and players turn to see the referee close at hand, and that referee is displaying a firm and confident signal, such as a direct free kick, little is likely to be heard. Without firm and confident signals, the players begin to suspect that the referee is not all that sharp, or is uncertain. Both lead to trouble ... It isn't enough to know what one should do, one must give evidence through correct, prompt, and defining action. When a referee is close to play and demonstrates confidence, players will comply.

One of the greatest causes of failing in this is simple laziness, and that can't be corrected with words or a pack of yellow or red cards.

* Give Total Concentration

Any one of us can become distracted, be it by dog, passing plane, loud sound, interestingly packaged person, or hyper-sensitive and unwise attention to the chant of the touchline choirs. Such distractions can and must be ignored. The greatest threat to concentration comes from complacency bred from supposed familiarity with the teams playing, the division they are playing in, or the referee's self-assumed capacity to deal with "anything this age group can give me." Distractions and complacency are mortal enemies of concentration. Also, do not forget one of the first thoughts found in this message - home, school, or work problems. It's hard to concentrate when worrying, pondering, or fuming over persons and events in your life.

Even after ridding one's self of every distraction, complacency, and problems, unfocused concentration is almost useless. Unfocused concentration would be similar to standing on a given street corner and waiting for an auto accident to occur; statistically accidents will happen

- and one corner may have more accidents than another, but an overall view of traffic patterns would give far more useful guide where accidents are likely to happen.

With knowledge of the Laws, and intelligent and effective mechanics, one can be where play is moving in time to become the observer. Any given play has at three basic elements; development, action, and aftermath. Referees should be able to focus on the general area of the ball, or where it is going. With that space in mind, the ball becomes secondary. One must then look for the likely suspects, generally one or more attacker and a similar number of defenders. By watching the approach of both parties, the following thought pattern is possible:

"... Okay, there's the ball, and here comes Red #10. He's strong with his left foot, and coming up the left wing like this he's a threat. Now, who is going to challenge him. Blue #7? No, he's 10 yards behind, no threat. Ah, there's Blue #3, coming in from the right side. What can happen here? He could charge him off the ball, may tackle ... Blue #3 likes to come in hard I better watch this one closely. Okay, it's a charge, looks fair. Red #10 is keeping control --- Hey, there it is, Blue #3 has him by the shirt, we got holding. Now, let me see what happens ... Good cross! It's in the air, let me swing a little out to keep Red #10 and Blue #3 in vision for a second. A push by Blue #3 ... . Should I deal with this? No, good play developing, let it go, but let's have a word with Blue #3 at the next stoppage."

All of the above paragraph takes far less time in actuality than in print, but it indicates one possible thought process - and the one I use. This continues throughout the dozens or hundreds of plays in a typical match; after all, a game is nothing more than a more or less loosely-jointed plays ... . It is an illustration of the sort of concentration which is a must for referees who respond to, rather than react to, player actions.

Knowledge of the Laws, Intelligent and Effective Mechanics, Total Concentration ... this seems like a recipe for a White Badge, or at least National Badge. Unfortunately, no, unless the last of the four points of Cameron's Diamond is as strong as the first three.

* Courage

How to define courage? Integrity? The harder right over the easier wrong? I suspect it is displayed in all of the prior points, and all of the prior points depend upon it's presence. To apply the Laws of the Game and their proper interpretation demands that the referee expose himself to criticism from the uninformed. Courage results from sure knowledge, yet sure knowledge cannot be displayed without courage. Mechanics require courage when the referee inserts himself into the thick of play (and sometimes the courage to put out effort when the tank is empty), yet without knowledge of intelligent and effective mechanics all courage is of little use. Concentration is almost a study of courage, wherein one fights impulses to respond to distractions or unknowing criticism, yet courage alone cannot provide the insight gained through fierce concentration.

To my way of thought, Courage means doing what you know to be right, doing it from a position up close to play, without obvious regard to criticism (yet evaluating what criticism is heard and asking oneself if there could be any validity). Remember, doing what is right can range from no foul, to no call, to trifling, to advantage, to cautions, to send off. Each and every one can be correct, depending upon the opinion of the referee.

Knowledge, Mechanics, Concentration and Courage. Each depends upon each other for support, none can stand without the others. From this true symbiosis comes a confident and capable referee.

But does this work in with a Zero-Tolerance Policy?

Well, yes. If any referee was to employ these developed abilities, these skills, many if not most of the problems alluded to by concerned folks would be greatly lessened.

I believe most of the criticism and catcalls arise from a lack of knowledge of the Laws on the part of the players, coaches, and spectators, and an impression that the referee a) is not protecting their child; b) is only there for the money; c) is spineless and uncertain; and d) doesn't care. Each and all of these concerns are met through the judicious application of the all of the principles (the pre-game duties and Cameron's Diamond). I cannot guarantee that all problems will depart when these principals are applied, but most will - regardless of the age of the practitioner. It is the responsibility of the experienced referee to lead the way for the newer, the younger referee. Remember, practice does not make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect ...

It is not uncommon to see youth drop out in any given activity. Why should we in soccer believe we alone will have a great retention rate? What is true in Scouting is true in Little League, in Youth Soccer, and in paper routes. Young people want, need to experience many things. It is common to see them move on. While unfortunate criticism does claim victims, and such criticism may be accorded part of the cause for any new referee, youth or adult, to leave refereeing, it is but a part. Much more of the fact lies in incomplete preparation and an almost criminal abandonment of new referees, especially youth referees, once they have fledged and left the coop. One positive reinforcement can make up for much criticism. Observations from experienced referees can correct serious flaws in performance. If there is an evil cancer decimating our new ranks, it is the lack of after-certification guidance, not the amorphous evil of criticism, much of which is due to perceived failings in the referee.

As to dealing with insulting and abusive officials, what Mike Short (Director of Referee Instruction in the Albany, NY area) calls "Skipper's Mantra" approaches the Zero-Tolerance policy on the face of it, but only on the face of it. When a coach crosses the line (without, of course, going beyond the pale), a quick visit and the words "Sir, dissent is misconduct; if you continue I will report you to the league." Then, whoosh!, the referee disappears, with no discussion. Should the coach continue (and I have rarely seen it go beyond the first visit), a second quick visit and the words: "Sir, I am reporting your misconduct to the league; if you continue, you will have to leave." Whoosh! again. I have never had to reach the final stage, which is, "Sir, you must leave; if you do not do so, the match will be terminated." If the abuser is a spectator, call both coaches together and tell them the match will not continue unless the spectator displays better behavior/leaves.

Isn't that the same?

No, because a) the mantra rarely goes beyond the first stage, and b) because application of the pregame and Cameron's Diamond set a stage which, frankly, precludes such problems. As to upset if someone asks for time, a general answer of "less than ten minutes," or "less than 5 minutes" is sufficient.

Knee-jerk dismissals are not beneficial to the game, or to the referees asked to enforce them. In reality, no one is served, and the potential learning the new referee will gain from having an experienced referee observe their work is still missing. If you want to discover a far more likely reason why referees depart, look there and to the lack of the training I discussed above. Without sound training in the reality of the game and confidence in their abilities gained from positive, informed observations, it's truly amazing we keep more than we lose!

Let's deal with the disease, and not the symptoms.
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Dealing with Coaches and Spectators Improving Communications with REBAR Mechanics and Interpretation of Play Action
In the Name of the Spirit Protecting our Young - Bulletproofing Referees
Random thoughts on officiating at higher levels
by Mike "Skipper" Goblet
"Cogito ergo Arbitro - I think therefore Umpire"
Member of the Masters of Mayhem

The realities that have an effect upon officiating at the professional levels of sport exist, and whether you or I like it or don't has zero impact upon that reality. Any time money, especially great amounts of money, enters into the equation, the situation changes.

What many believe to be "pure" soccer a la American rule-driven sports exists only in theory. In reality, the application of the Laws is dynamic, that is to say that application of the Law is situationally-driven. There are no two matches alike, from Under-6 to Over-35, although they may be doubtless similar. If we accept this position, then it follows that what may be deemed a foul in a high-tension match may not be in an "easy" match. Likewise, fouls called in a Division 4 Amateur (Adult) match may not even deserve acknowledgement in a Division 1 match.

What comprises the dynamic forces that create the situations that drive the application of the Laws?

Enter the human element - the relationship involving players, their teammates, their opponents, their coaches, the opposing coaches, the spectators, and the referee. Each of these entities brings their own expectations, understandings, behaviors, skills, and maturity. Each has good days and bad days. This interplay of dozens of individuals is the primary contributor in the dynamics that form each individual match.

Blend in the situational elements of the match. The importance of the match. The history between the two teams. The weather conditions - heat or cold, sun or cloud, dry or rainy/snowing. The field conditions - the markings, fixtures, team and spectator areas (team and its spectators on the same side or on opposite sides). The interplay of these elements is a secondary contributor in the dynamics that form each individual match.

Add some other elements to the mix. League rules and expectations. Social/Societal expectations. Commercial expectations (these affect both youth in tournaments and adults in leagues - some of which can involve prize money and "amateur" players who are paid to play). Professional coaches of youth teams introduce some very interesting elements of their own.

The items mentioned in the last three paragraphs (which are in no way inclusive of all elements which contribute to the dynamics of play) are dynamics which impact on every match, dynamics which must be taken into account by the referee as an important part in determining the man- and match- management strategy they will employ in that specific match.

There are many referees who have never been exposed to these concepts, and this will become more problematic as the game matures. The referee cannot be literally (Letter of the Law) driven in their application of the Laws and hope to remain competent and capable as the game grows. Right now there are referees so far behind the curve that the players are making fools of them. The future of the game depends upon referees who are growing in step with the game. The real crime in this situation is the utter paucity of real education in many areas and the unwillingness (driven by the lack of referees, I sincerely hope) of some National State Organizations to enforce re-registration qualification standards. Some NSAs at least require some referees to attend a re-registration clinic, although any educator will suggest that the brain doesn't do well after a few hours of sitting.

Each individual referee should be familiar with at least some of the factors contributing to the dynamics of a match.

Where am I going with this? I am trying to illustrate that there are certain elements that enter the game at its higher levels which appear totally inconsistent with the game most of us know.

Some additional concepts must be introduced.

Free kicks aren't free. Take a crowd of 50,000 paying an average of $15.00 per ticket. That grosses $750,000. For argument's sake, let's say that it costs each person an extra $10.00 for transportation and miscellaneous things bought at the stadium (very low estimate). That's another $500,000. To keep things simple, there is no TV or radio involved. Our total is $1,250,000, or almost $13,900 per minute. Now these 50,000 came to see their heroes play, not to see players standing around. If an average free kick takes 20 seconds from whistle to restart, that free kick has cost over $4,600. No one wants excessive stoppages for fouls that are not absolutely necessary to right a grievous wrong or to maintain control. Most referees never consider this aspect, yet through judicious foul selection at least a few more minutes of time when the ball is in play can be achieved.

Marquee players draw paying spectators. As we have seen in hoops, baseball, and many other sports, the true stars of the game do receive special treatment. An average player may get sent off, but a marquee may, and I emphasize may, receive a yellow card. A travesty, some would say. A fact of life, others would say. A matter of economics still others will say. If the star player won't be playing in the next match, be it home of away, the gate will be smaller.

Players often become very annoyed with a referee that interrupts their match for fouls that do not injure them, and exceptionally annoyed with a referee that fails to protect them from injury. At the highest level, players want to be allowed to play through fouls that commonly see cautions and even send offs in other games. Players also have a very particular sense of justice and, strangely enough, mercy. When fouls do not involve injury, it is not uncommon for a player to ask the referee not to send off the fouler.

The game at the highest levels is a very different animal from Sunday afternoon soccer. The pressures are different, the dynamics are different, the demands and concerns are different. The game is called very differently, and will always be. Referees who do not work games at that level should not model their methods and procedures on what they observe at that level, nor should they allow players to use the excuse "they don't call that on the pro level" to compel them to do so.

Referees should officiate as is appropriate for the level they serve, which means the 99.5% of matches should not be officiated as the .5% are. One may discuss the propriety of what one sees, however, one must also understand that while it is fundamentally the same game, it is considerably different in its management.

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Dealing with Coaches and Spectators Improving Communications with REBAR Mechanics and Interpretation of Play Action
In the Name of the Spirit Protecting our Young - Bulletproofing Referees Random thoughts on officiating at higher levels
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