The Memories & Spirit of the Game, as only Ken Aston could teach it...
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-= Protecting our Young - Bulletproofing Referees =-
Protecting our... Young Referees
~ Bulletproofing Referees ~
by Mike "Skipper" Goblet
"Cogito ergo Arbitro - I think therefore Umpire"
Member of the Masters of Mayhem

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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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