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You Can Prevent Fires
By Reza Pazirandeh
Reza Pazirandeh, from California, USA, is a high-level Referee with an 20+ year career in youth and adult, 10+ years of high school ball and 4+ years of collegiate soccer.

This article originally appeared in the April 2011 issue of Referee
Hit Counter

Address Player Emotions Before It’s Too Late

Referee long enough and you will have a game that starts like any other but at some point you will find yourself wondering, “What did I do wrong to lose control and have a brawl on my hands?” Worse yet, recent months show an increased number of reported assaults on Referees. Below are eight changes in player behavior that may indicate the game is heating up. Those indicators are followed by measures that the Referee can take to prevent the game from reaching an explosive point:

1. Verbal Manifestations.

Players usually work at it-so should you. Everyone respects hard work. Tell yourself, "I’m going to stay with play. I’ll run with the players. I am up to this game. My effort will be worthy of this game." Earn respect. You are there to make calls that control the game. Make them!

2. Physical Manifestations.

Lack of tolerance for body contact that was acceptable earlier in the game; irritability by players toward their opponents.

3. Lack of respect for Referee’s decisions.

Dissent — Objecting to Referee’s decisions.

4. Increased Speed

Players running faster and working harder. Increased sense of urgency to the game apart from the will to win.

5. Increased Intensity and Emotions.

Players showing a sense of urgency and being edgy.

6. Increased Physicality

More rough play and body contact.

7. Implicit or Explicit Retaliation.

Players’ body language showing a lack of tolerance for physical contact. Therefore, you will see more reaction by players — from raising elbows, pushing back or outright retaliation.

8. Increase in Carelessness and Recklessness.

Slide tackling opponents carelessly (tackles may even miss the target) or charging opponents illegally.

A sporadic incidence of those signs, by itself, may not mean you are losing control. But especially when players on both teams start exhibiting a couple of those symptoms, things are heating up. As those signs increase in number and intensity, apply the following as needed:

Stay... Calm.

There are two main reasons for that...
First, you will be able to concentrate better and have a clearer head for making decisions — that way, you will not react and do something that will make matters worse.
Second, being calm yourself can be contagious.

Stay Focused.

Concentrate on the task at hand. Be aware of your surroundings, players’ body language, what is said by players, substitutes, coaches, etc. Keep a long, obvious lingering look on challenges after the ball is cleared or crossed.

Work harder.

Run faster; don’t fall behind play. That is the time to be in the right place to see the play at the proper angle. Let the players know you are there. Anticipate the play. Assess the optimum distance to the play. Too close and you may miss off-the-ball fouls. Too far and you may not be able to see fouls clearly and deal with them effectively. So, be on your toes — literally.

Get help from your assistants.

If your assistants are experienced and you know them, they probably know what they have to do in those situations. Otherwise, if you can get a few seconds to talk to them, do so. You can also use a subtle hand signal (such as a closed fist to indicate that you want to tighten the game). Assistants can also help by talking to players as they challenge for the ball close to the touchlines.

Scott McCaslin, of Arvada, Colo., is an Emeritus National Referee who spent 12 years on the list and is now retired from officiating MLS games. Since he spent most of his career as an Assistant Referee, he offered, “If the Assistant Referee has recognized the game is changing for the worse, effective communication with the Referee is paramount to preventing a mess. Early identification is key.”

One Specific Technique.

McCaslin also said, “Often in a challenging game, the Referee will get tunnel vision and start missing the ‘indicators’ that something is brewing. Good communication with the Assistant Referees can certainly help with preventing escalation. Frequently, the Assistant Referee will have a different view of what is happening on the field and can assist the Referee in identifying potential problems. As an Assistant Referee, an effective technique to assist the Referee is: After making eye contact with the Referee, point to your eye and then to the two players who are on their way to further problems. For that technique to be effective and understood, it needs to be covered in the pregame.”

Call more... Fouls.

Heinz Wolmerath, former FIFA Referee, often emphasizes calling more fouls. It is a good way to bring the game under your control. Loosen up again when the players show they can handle the increased intensity.

Be selective about giving... Advantage.

Advantage, as the great English Referee and Clinician Ken Aston used to say, is a two-edged sword. The more advantage you give, the more control you give up. So, when the game heats up, you need to gain control — that means less use of... Advantage.

Timely Cards.

You must deal wisely with dissent and reckless fouls. If you don’t, you are at a far greater risk of losing match control.

Slow down the game.

Calling more fouls (as suggested) is one way to slow down the game and gives the players a chance to cool off. Take a moment to speak with an Assistant Referee. Check the ball pressure. While the typical advice is to keep the ball in play, there are moments when everyone needs to stop for a quick “Re-Set.”

Talk to agitated players.

Be calm but firm. Talking to agitated players might soothe hurt feelings, and saying the right thing to upset players will help them get control of themselves. If a player complains about a foul you think you may have missed, be empathetic but differentiate that from dissent and questioning your judgment.

As the game heats up and the emotions rise, you and your assistants must remain calm and clear-headed to deal with emotional players (and most likely coaches and spectators, in your typical youth game). Frankly, that is very similar to how, as parents, we need to deal with our upset and emotional teenage children. Stay above it and act like an adult. Do not get caught up in the emotions. Do not take offensive behavior toward you personally (they’re yelling at the shirt, not at you); although, sometimes that is easier said than done.

Despite your best efforts, you may still lose control of the game due to various factors — some of which may be difficult to anticipate. The good news is that most Referees do well on the majority, if not all, of our games mainly because we learn how to maintain control as we grow in the sport and learn the Art of Refereeing.

Never Ever, NEVER!!! Debate a call.

Be decisive...

Avoid talking to rude, hostile coaches or players. One cannot reason with the unreasonable person. Get on with play.

Yet you can be approachable & be human:
Example: If you point the wrong way and realize your error, (before play has restarted), correct it.
‘I’m sorry, it is this way.’ or "Referee watch the pushing." ‘Thanks, I will. to... Both teams.’ Then get on with play.

A moving ball is best friend of Referee and Players alike... 

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