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-= What Flips Your Switch? =-
What Flips Your Switch?
by Brian Goodlander - (published in Referee Magazine) - 07/00
A Referee for Soccer Association for Youth (SAY), USSF, college and high school in Cincinnati.
He is a USSF Assessor and Instructor. Additionally, he is a board member of the...
South West Ohio Soccer Officials Association (SWOSOA).

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“Hey Ref! Call it both ways!”, “Aaa, Come on!”, “Buy some glasses!”, “You got a whistle. Use it!” You don’t have to be a referee very long before you hear everyone of these exclamations. Every referee has a varying level of tolerance for this kind of questioning. More mature referees learn to know the difference between an emotional outburst and a premeditated attack with offensive or abusive language. Any referee has one phrase, one act, or one look that sets him/her off. It flips your switch! It pushes your buttons! It sets you off! Anytime this event occurs, you see red and the offender may even see yellow (card). I propose that you need to know what flips your switch and be aware of how to control your response and when that response is being used to take you out of your game.

I know referees that get taken out of a game by a look. You know the look. The coach stands at the touchline with his hands on his hips and slowly shakes his head with his eyes to the sky. I know other referees that can take endless tirades by coaches but react instantly and with extreme emotion when their decisions are questioned by a player. Today’s players and coaches are smarter and more resourceful. They watch tapes, the scout referees, the listen to referee’s reaction to dissent or to questioning. They discover if they can give him the look that flips his switch, he will get so upset that he will lose his focus on the game and they can gain a tactical advantage. The wily player may know how far to push before he has pushed too far. He walks the line not so far as to be admonished or cautioned but enough to disrupts your thoughts and focus.

The beauty of soccer is that it is a game of passion and emotion. Referees are only human and they clearly have passion and emotion. No one can check their emotions in the locker room but a good referee learns to control their emotions and funnel that emotion to focus further on the match. Late in the second half in a long ball attacking match, your energy reserves are low and the score is a draw. The winning team will claim first place and the losing team takes a long drive home. The intensity of the match increases. You push through the fatigue and manage to maintain your positioning and foul recognition, aware that at any moment the game’s moment of truth could occur. One team is making a strong run for a go-ahead goal. The attacker avoids both defenders and is one-on-one with the keeper. The keeper comes out and with a brilliant slide tackles the ball from the attacker clearing into touch. Your energy reserves tapped, you still manage to be with 10 yards of the play and signal for a throw-in at the point where the ball left the field of play. You turn just in time to see the attacking coach throw up his hands in the air, shake his head vigorously, mutter to himself and his assistant like a madman. As you turn to watch the ball return to play, the coach screams “How can that NOT be a foul! Come on!”. The comment upsets you greatly and you replay the event in your mind twice in super-slow motion and never see any foul play. I was right there! You are awaken from this video clip by a roaring crowd and re-focus just in time to see the ball hit the net. You look to your assistant referee and he looks at you. He doesn’t sprint up the line. He just stands there! You know that that momentary loss in concentration just cost you big. What did you miss? What did you not see? What is your next move and how well can you sell the right call?

I contend that situations like this can be avoided by having the self-awareness to know what kind of events, comments, gestures, and/or actions flip your switch. In this case, the switch was flipped that caused the referee to lose his focus and re-run the event in his mind to be sure of the call. All done while the ball is in play. This was compounded by Murphy’s Law and the end result, whether ultimately right or wrong, was going to put his officiating skills in question. Physical fatigue is a huge factor towards mental fatigue and the referee needs to be more aware of his weaknesses and more versant in how to control them.

The next time your switch gets flipped, make a note (preferably written) on what caused it and what was the result. Did you lose focus? Did you caution a player or coach too quickly? Did it effect your ability to officiate the game? Think about it after the match and make some scenarios on how you could have handled it better or what you will do next time. Talk with a fellow referee or your mentor and brainstorm on the best ways to manage the issue in the future. Refereeing is thinking but it is thinking about the right things at the right time.

Don’t let some player or coach flip your switch and shut you down. Be self-aware and keep the focus!

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