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2010 Referee Week in Review - Week 25

The Referee Week in Review is designed to address the issues facing referees at all levels by using video highlights from professional games as well as the U.S. National Teams. Written by U.S. Soccer Director of Referee Development Paul Tamberino and U.S. Soccer Manager of Assessment and Training Brian Hall, the Referee Week in Review will highlight specific areas of focus and current U.S. Soccer initiatives designed to improve performance and aid in the development of officials across the country.

Week In Review 2010
Week 25 – Ending September 19, 2010

Referee communication and personality (“command presence”) have been focal points of U.S. Soccer’s 2010 training. Referees have been urged to use command presence to manage games and create positive relationships with game participants (players, coaches and team staff) while maintaining positive authority. This week, the use of command presence will be explored in two separate MLS games. The examples will demonstrate how the referee’s utilization of verbal communication and body language (“visual”) were used to send messages. A red card tackle involving excessive force will be detailed, specifically the team work used to confirm the send off decision. Finally, an unusual post-goal situation will be discussed relative to preventative work the referee team can use to potentially avoid any conflicts.

Week In Review Podcast: For each “Week In Review,” U.S. Soccer produces a related podcast that covers the topics of the week.


Command Presence: Communicating with Personality

Command presence is about personality and the execution of personality through:

  • Body language (Visual)
  • Verbal communication

Simply, command presence is about presenting yourself as someone in authority who is trusted and respected. Command presence is conveyed by how you:

  • Look
  • Carry yourself
  • Act
  • Speak

All match officials (referees, assistant referees and fourth officials) need to call upon their command presence as they interact with game participants. Match officials must be able to decide upon the most appropriate method to deliver a message and, at the same time, ensure that the message matches the situation and/or player. Every situation may require and/or every player may respond to a different type of message. What works in one situation or with one player may not work in/with another.

Overall, with strong command presence comes an aura of confidence. Confidence can be felt and seen by all game participants. In fact, as a viewer of a game, you can feel the referee’s confidence based upon the way he walks, carries himself and the look in his face (“presence”).

Remember, your verbal communication is not only defined by what words you choose but also how the words are communicated. The tone, volume and inflection of the words are as – if not more – important than the words themselves. At the same time, the most effective form of communication is the non-verbal or the use of body language. As a consequence, referees must work to strengthen their visual body language messages.

Think about it, which has a broader audience: the verbal or the visual (body language)? It is of course, the visual communication that can resonate throughout the field, the stadium and even into living rooms across the world.

Clip 1: New York at Dallas (45:45)
This clip begins with a clear reckless tackle for which the fouler is correctly cautioned for unsporting behavior. However, the focus of the review is the command presence of the referee and the manner in which the referee delivers the message (the yellow card).

As you watch the clip, focus on the referee and the player. Ask yourself:

  • Does the referee convey authority?
  • Who is in charge: The referee or the player?
  • Is the referee calm, controlled and confident?
  • Does the referee’s body language convey a message? And, does that message resonate to other players and to you?

The referee’s command presence is key in this situation to ensure the player understands the seriousness of the offense without being embarrassed. The referee employs strong visual body language that matches the severity of the foul while acting as a preventative tool (a warning to the player and others regarding future behavior).

Keys to the referee’s successful presence are:

  1. Calm and positive body language and mechanics.
  2. The referee is able to get the player to stop walking away and turn around.
  3. Eye contact is made as the card is raised (it is not given to the player’s back). This conveys confidence in the decision and decisiveness.
  4. The referee utilizes his right hand to send the “calm down” or “take it easy” message.
  5. The referee’s facial expressions also convey the seriousness of his message.

In this scenario, the referee has created a positive and strong aura/appearance without the use of the verbal word. In other cases, the use of the verbal message to compliment the visual body language may enhance the overall significance of the communication.

Clip 2: Toronto at Houston (75:53)
This is another example of strong command presence through the use of the verbal word and the use of visual body language. As with the first clip, ask yourself the same questions as you watch the referee’s action and the way in which he directs the decision to merely whistle for the foul (and not issue misconduct) and direct the game with his presence.

This clip involves two interactions between the player who commits the careless foul and the referee. The first occurs at 76:10 and the second takes place 30 seconds later at the next stoppage of play.

At 76:10, the referee sends a strong message. This is a “broadcast” message in that it resonates throughout the field and to all viewers of the game. This message is intended to match the severity of the offense and act as a deterrent to future negative action on the part of the player. The referee’s command presence is much bigger during this first interaction.

Thirty seconds later, the referee chooses a different message and a different approach. In this case, the referee is “following up” with the player to ensure the original message was received. The player provides the referee with a clue that he understands the message as he puts both his hands up as to say “I’m good. Don’t worry.”

Note: Referees can use downtime to open lines of communication with players or to follow up with them after having previously communicated with them. Use of downtime to connect with players or send positive, preventative messages is an effective tool. Downtime represents the moments in the game when the ball is out-of-play like during injuries, throw-ins, goal kicks and substitutions or even as you wait for the kickoff prior to the start of a half.

The initial interaction (76:10) between the player and the referee is effective because the referee “feels” and “reads” the situation and the player which ensures his actions match the circumstances as they unfold. The referee initiates communication first through a verbal exchange and, then, as the player attempts to move away prior to the completion of the message delivery, the referee raises the volume of his communication with his whistle (gets the player’s attention in a more direct and forceful audible manner).

Once the whistle has engaged the player for the second time, the referee “meets the player halfway.” In other words, the referee takes a few steps to the player who is walking away. This shows the referee is confident and not dictatorial. By moving toward the player, the referee makes a statement that this is not about “the referee” or winning the situation or power but it is about finding the most reasonable method to communicate and deliver a message with a frustrated player who may resist listening. By holding his ground in this situation, the referee would merely “add fuel to the fire” and inflame the situation. The player would not be open to the message and any effort would be lost.

The referee’s in-control body language, posture and hand/arm gestures help to deliver the message. Watch as the referee looks the player in the eyes and then points to his head as to say to the player, “think, think before you act.” So, without saying a word, the referee has communicated to the player and all other watching that the referee is taking preventative action with the hopes of influencing the player’s future decisions.

Note: Referees must be aware of situations where the verbal word may overly engage a player and solicit a negative response. In these situations, the utilization of strong body language messages may be more appropriate and not promote further discussion or dissent.

Excessive Force Tackle and Assistant Referee Teamwork

Multiple prior “Week In Reviews” have addressed the topic of red card tackles and have provided criteria for deciphering the various levels of challenges. SIAPOA as well as “mode and area of contact” have been presented to provide guidelines to enhance the consistency of decision making.

For further examination of the SIAPOA criteria, review the following “Week In Reviews:”

Assistant referees (ARs) need to be involved in game critical situations that occur in their “zone of control” or the area in close proximity when they have a clear view of the situation and their involvement would benefit the game and the referee. Involvement can take many forms:

  • Utilization of approved flag techniques/mechanics like raising the flag to call a foul or offside.
  • Visual exchange of information like silent signals to indicate misconduct.
  • Verbal exchange of information like face-to-face communication between the referee and AR.
  • Entering the field, with the referee’s acknowledgment, to manage a wall during a free kick.

Clip 3: New York at Dallas (28:25)
This clip involves a series of events that indicate that a player’s (who is eventually red carded) frustration level is increasing and the aggressiveness of his actions may lead to an eventual misconduct situation.

As the clip unfolds, identify the flash points or warning signs that indicate that the player’s frustration level or aggression is on the rise. These signs include:

  • The fact that the player in the red/white stripped jersey feels he was unfairly disposed of the ball on the first challenge (in the center circle) despite the referee’s close proximity and clear sightlines to the event.
  • The player communicates his displeasure to the referee as he gets up off the ground.
  • Not getting the call, the player picks up speed and displaces the ball from the opponent but the ball ends up with another opponent.
  • At this point, the player has reached his maximum frustration and it is displayed in further increase in his aggression level and speed.

The tackle committed is a clear red card tackle as excessive force and brutality are used to endanger the safety of the opponent. The fact that the ball is played does not diminish the fact that the tackler has placed the opponent at a high risk of injury and has far exceeded the use of force necessary to make a fair play for the ball. The tackler goes through both legs of the opponent, directly from behind, with his entire body. Hence, a red card for serious foul play is mandated.

Watch the clip carefully and, at 28:42, you will see the AR providing appropriate confirmation (by patting the back pocket) to the referee that the tackle should be punished with a red card. Concurrently, after assisting with flagging the foul, the AR moves up the touchline to be in closer proximity to play in the event his presence was needed to monitor or prevent any escalation or retaliation.

As the last replay ends notice that the AR does well to move back down the touchline to defuse any potential interaction with the red carded player who believes the AR is responsible for his being sent off. Instead of holding his ground, the AR takes preventative action and creates space between himself and the player receiving the red card as the player moves toward him.

The referee can enhance his presence and view by reading the flash points and by following the play more closely even to the point of verbalizing. In the replay view of the foul, notice the referee’s position – too static almost hiding behind a player. As the tackler is moving from one flash point to another, the referee must also pick up his intensity and ensure that his presence is felt and he has an optimal line of sight to the player at all times. In similar cases of clear red card offenses (without other complications), it is vital that the referee indicate the decision by showing the red card as quickly as possible. Such action should act as a deterrent for any potential negative reaction.

Post-Goal Awareness and Concentration

Celebrations and exuberance are often a standard part of player reactions after scoring a goal. These celebrations can be done individually or as a group. On some occasions the celebrations can involve props like the corner flag, runs up to the crowd or the ball. No matter what form the players use to demonstrate their joy, the referee team must not use this time to lose concentration or awareness.

All match officials must keep their eyes on the field and celebrations. This includes the trail or far side AR and fourth official. Additionally, the referee must anticipate issues or problems. For example, if a goal is scored and an attacker moves toward the ball, this is a warning sign of potential conflict. The attacker does not need the ball and the referee should immediately intervene to prevent any potential conflict. Intervention can start immediately with a loud and authoritative whistle and quick movement toward the attacker thereby lending the referee’s presence in a preventative manner.

Immediately following the scoring of a goal, it is vital that officials keep their heads up and eyes focused on the field of play and the area around the celebration. It is not important to write the scoring information immediately. The referee and lead AR should focus on the celebration, the goal area and the ball while the fourth official and trail AR should scan behind the referee’s back and assist with identifying and visually monitoring potential hot spots (areas and players of likely conflict). When officials write, their eyes are focused downward and not on the field and, as a consequence, it is easy to miss scenarios requiring their intervention.

Note: Watching and monitoring are the first priorities. Writing or recording information is secondary. The game cannot be restarted without the referee’s whistle. Hence, when the hot spots or danger zones have been cleared and players are in safe areas along with the ball, match officials can record the necessary information. Do not all write at the same time as this will also leave the field unsupervised. The referee should not whistle the restart until the referee team has had the opportunity to take note of the goal scorer and time. Key: VISUAL OBSERVATION.

The Laws of the Game provide guidance relative to goal celebrations:

“While it is possible for a player to demonstrate his joy when a goal has been scored, the celebration must not be excessive. Reasonable celebrations are allowed but the practice of choreographed celebrations is not to be encouraged when it results in excessive time-wasting and referees are instructed to intervene in such cases.”

Overall, when dealing with goal celebrations, referees should exercise common sense but must act in a preventative manner. Prevention begins with focus, concentration and attentiveness. Anticipate problems based upon the warning signs (time, score, location of the ball, location of the celebration).

For a more detailed discussion and examination of this situation, listen to the “Week In Review Podcast.”

Clip 4: New York at Dallas (47:06+)
Immediately following the scoring of a goal, the team celebrates in the area near the lead AR. The ball, however, remains in the goal area. While the team is celebrating, another attacker moves in and kicks the loose ball. The defending goalkeeper is immediately in front of the ball and contact is made with the ball that is kicked by the opponent. As a result of this contact, the goalkeeper is injured. With the use of preventative action on the part of the referee, it is hoped that this type of action can be prevented.

When evaluating the situation, the referee must consider whether the attacker’s action was fair, careless (not misconduct but a verbal admonition), reckless (a caution is warranted) or whether the player delayed the restart of play (a caution is warranted) because he played/interfered with a ball that did not belong to his team. In the event preventative officiating did not work, the referee must use common sense and “feel” or read the situation and make the best determination for the game at that moment.

Looking Forward – Week 26
The ability to convey confidence and positive authority through the use of command presence will provide the foundation for game management and control. As the season winds down and the playoffs approach, match officials must be thinking preventative refereeing and how they can manage the game with personality and communication. The ability to steer the direction of the game and the actions of players through one’s command presence is never more important. By communicating both verbally and visually through body language, referees can send valuable messages to players, coaches, administrative personnel as well as the media and spectators. These “broadcast” messages can help draw the line in the sand and set the tone as the game develops.