Throughout my referee career (and I use that term lightly) I have learned many lessons and have come to form an opinion about what it takes to become the best match official you can possibly be. The obvious thing one needs to know are the LOTG of course, but knowledge of the laws does not a good referee make. Ask any fellow referee and they will all say the same thing – “Just because you know the laws or does not mean you can referee a game…properly”. There are many other key components to being a good referee. Having played the game at a descent level is always a plus and will only help in your game and man management. Watching other referee’s and picking up on the things you like, and learning from their mistakes is also a great step in the right direction. However, over the years I have come to realize that there are 4 key components to having a successful game, and I like to call them the 4 C’s:
We have all seen those referee types who step out onto the field of play and it’s like they feel that all the power of the universe is within them; that the great soccer gods have bestowed upon them all the wisdom of all that is football. This is the referee who power trips on everyone and thinks that every foul and/or every time someone opens their mouth, not even to complain, is a cautionable offense. These are the referees who take everything personally and think that everyone is against them, and they feel that it is their job to discipline and bring the hammer down on all those participating and in attendance. Then there is the complete opposite referee who speaks really quietly and doesn’t really have any presence on the field. This is the official who is scared to get anyone angry and is intimidated by everyone around them. This is the referee who doesn’t deal with the harsh fouls accordingly and ultimately looses control of the game within the first 20 minutes. To be a good referee, you need to find the happy medium. It has to start from the very moment you accept an appointment. It is a mindset that you take with you to every game. It’s an attitude that you are going to give your best no matter the age group, or level of competition. It’s having the focus to never let your performance be influenced by who you know among the players, coaches, and even the spectators. It means always maintaining your professionalism. Never give in to the temptation to retaliate to a coach or player verbally when you are being attacked. This doesn’t mean to never raise your voice or issue cards at the appropriate times. Certainly, these are necessary elements that you need in your referee toolkit in order to be effective. Be as firm as you need to be to effectively manage the game, just never lose your professionalism – “never let them see you sweat”. Also, be yourself! You don’t need to be a hard ass every time you step onto the field. Just be yourself and treat everyone involved as you would want to be treated.
When thinking about courage in refereeing, there are 2 things that come to mind. The first is the courage to even start officiating in the first place. Refereeing football is a thankless job and one must have really tough skin and must not take things too personally. It takes real guts to step up to the plate and want to become a referee. The amount of abuse that one takes as a referee far surpasses the acceptable level and one needs to be able to accept that fact, and still have the drive and courage to overcome the bombardment of criticism and push forward. The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and in this case the pudding are the numbers. The rate of referee retention after their first year with the whistle is staggeringly low. 50% of first year referees usually call it quits because of the amount of abuse and ridicule they receive from parents and coaches at the grass-roots level. Of the remaining 50%, 1/4 of those referee’s will hang up the whistle within the next couple of years. With the amount of time, patience, money and emotions invested in refereeing, no amount of abuse is worth it which is why most people just quit as they don’t want to have to put up with it. It takes a special breed of person to be able to do what we do for as long as we do it.
The second is the courage to make the tough and hard decision, even at the worse possible time. Basically, I call this having the “Kahunas” (marbles) to make the right call, regardless of the circumstances. Case in point – I refereed a U16 boys indoor cup final and the Blue team was winning 2 – 1 with literally 30 seconds left in the match. At this point, White was pressing hard to get the equalizing goal and Blue was obviously defending just as hard to protect their win. Just outside the Blue penalty area (to the right side) a White player had turned with the ball in order to shield it from his opponent. A second Blue player same charging in to challenge for the ball however, he came in from behind with an elbow to the White player’s back. With only 30 seconds left I could have taken the easy way out and just let play continue and allow the time to run out however, I had no choice but to make the CORRECT call regardless of how tough it would have been, or how much abuse was about to come my way. I blew my whistle, pointed for an indirect free kick to the White team (all free kicks in indoor are IDFKs) and I also signaled for the White player to go into the penalty box for a 2 minute penalty (we also have “sin bins” in indoor soccer) instead of cautioning because I have that luxury. Once everything settled down, White took their indirect free kick, played the ball across the top of the penalty area to a team-mate, who took the shot and scored. The game then ended 2 – 2 and we went to kicks from the penalty mark to determine the winner of the match. So, what’s the point? The point is that I had a decision to make and although it was a tough decision, I had no choice but to make it because it was the CORRECT decision…You have to have the balls to make that call regardless of what crap is going to come your way at the end of it all; and believe me…the Blue coach was not happy – I almost had to dismiss him from the FOP before the kicks.
Ask a player or coach how they judge the performance of a referee and I would bet more times than not you would hear the word consistency. So what do we need to do to be consistent? First, work hard to call fouls consistently for both teams. In other words, if a certain action is a foul for one team, make sure it’s also a foul for the other team. You don’t have to referee many games before you hear the phrase: “call it both ways”. We joke about this phrase among ourselves; however, in reality, a coach or player is usually trying to communicate the fact that they believe a foul called on them was not called on the other team, or, a foul not called for them was called for the other team. Secondly, be consistent in issuing cards. If we allow a hard tackle with cleats up and only call a foul, with no card, and then later issue a card for a play that is virtually identical to the prior play, then we have a problem with consistency. If a player tackles an opposing player from behind, with no intent to play the ball and we issue a yellow card, then we must ask ourselves, “if that’s a yellow card, then what would it take to get a red card”? You can bet the players are asking themselves the same thing. If players believe you are not consistent in how you manage a game, then they will often take matters into their own hands and certainly that can spell disaster for us and the players. Finally, be consistent in your appearance. Arrive at the field early, with your socks pulled up, shirt tail in, and shoes clean and/or polished. These may seem like small things; however, your appearance lets the players and coaches know that you take your job as a referee seriously, and that you are there to do a good job for them.
“Every match is difficult. If you ever think a match is going to be easy, you will lack concentration and your performance will suffer.” (Pierluigi Collina)
This, in my opinion, is the number one skill for being the best referee you can possibly be. There are so many variables that can affect one’s concentration on the FOP and as referees we need to be aware of them all. The first thing that referees need to conquer is learning how to clear their minds before steeping out on to the field. There are millions of things that happen in our daily lives that can spill over into our referee lives. If you are having a bad day, you need to be able to block it all out for 90 minutes and just concentrate on the game at hand. If you head is swimming with other thoughts from an earlier event, you risk not being fully present on the field which ultimately will lead to missing a very important call that needs to be made. There are plenty of times, especially in my earlier career, where I let my daily life affect my refereeing where I completely zone out and have no clue what’s happening in the match. Although my body is present and I’m running through the motions, my mind is elsewhere and the mechanical things like running, and signaling direction are happening on auto pilot, but my mind has no clue what has just happened and if it came down to a very important call, I would have probably missed it and therefore, sacrificed my control of the game.
The other side to concentration is that we, as referees, need to be aware of out surroundings and everything else that is going on around us. Too often do we focus on the ball and what is happening in its immediate surrounding, that we forget about what else is going on around the FOP. Our concentration needs to be more open to not only the ball, but also what’s happening in our peripherals. If we referee with blinders on and focus only at the ball, we will most likely missed something that may be happening above the waist (shirt pull, elbow, etc.). Another down side to being focused solely on the ball is that we will miss any AR flags that might be signalling for a foul, offside, or any other situation that potentially could be happening behind our backs. The point here is that there are plenty of things that could be happening around us that require our attention as referees, and they could be happening off the ball. To illustrate this point, have a look at this video and follow the instruction:[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gBbs2tTDs7U%5D
If you didn’t catch it the first time, don’t worry – about 50% of people don’t!
Now that you’re aware of what’s going to happen, try it again with this clip:[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGQmdoK_ZfY%5D
So, how does this relate to refereeing? The point being made is that we need to be aware of all things that are happening around us, even though our primary focus is on the ball.
The Third Blind Mouse