By Esse Baharmast, Director of Advanced & International Referee Development
Player management is the wonderful art of handling a match in such a way that the majority of players and coaches wish to see this referee over and over again. A referee who is capable of managing the players is always in demand and is sought after for the most crucial matches by teams and assignors alike.
How does a referee acquire such a great gift? Where can we look to find several possible ways of accomplishing this difficult yet rewarding task? We will give you some basic tools to experiment with and with your own ingenuity you will find ways to build upon these elements and create an art form of player management that is unique to you.
The first step is to recognize and believe with all your heart, that the game IS ALL ABOUT THE PLAYERS. This is the most fundamental yet crucial piece of this puzzle. As referees, we must know and accept that the game is not about us. Our job is to provide a service to our customers (the players). Our function is to provide a safe environment where players can show their energy, creativity and skills. We do this by making sure that the Laws of the Game are applied in a fair and consistent manner with the Spirit of the Law as our guiding light. When a referee uses this approach to the players and respects them as the essential elements of our beautiful game, this positive and service-oriented attitude comes across clearly and becomes the building block of a good relationship.
The second step is to become A STUDENT OF THE GAME. That means so much more than just taking a referee course. It means playing the game, watching as many high level games as possible, taking a coaching course, reading soccer publications and keeping up with newest developments in our game. It also means spending some time with referees who have been successful in their careers to find out what type of advice they can pass on. The more we study the game, the easier it becomes to understand the nuances of the game and why players and coaches do what they do.
The next step is to learn to be a GOOD COMMUNICATOR. To be a good communicator, means that you have to learn to listen and filter through what you hear. During games, players will talk to you and if you can sift through what is being said, you can get good information that will help you prevent problems. It also means that you can be friendly when needed and stern and somber when the situation calls for it. A good communicator establishes what is acceptable in the game very quickly and applies it consistently and even handedly. Most referees think that their only forms of communication with players are whistles and cards but, they could not be farther from truth as the whistle and cards are reactive tools. A preventive and proactive referee uses body language, tone of voice, eye contact, or a quiet word to let the players know that they need to settle down. This type of referee recognizes a problem before it becomes too big and diffuses it by good communication.
Finally it is the RESPECT, CARING FOR OTHERS and PASSION FOR THE GAME that shows everyone that this referee is in the game for all the right reasons. The referee who shows respect for others will get their respect back in the long term. A referee who cares for others is recognized as such by the players and even when there is a genuine, human mistake (which believe it or not, does happen!), the players will give the benefit of doubt to the referee and move on without making their life more difficult. Passion for the game is the fire that burns within and a referee who has this will never tire of giving service to the game and the players. This referee looks forward to every assignment and every opportunity to be around the game, because they love what they do. This is the secret of those who succeed.
Each game, remember the key elements mentioned here - good communication, respect, caring for others and passion for the game - and use them to evaluate your performance. Over time, you can take these tools and use them to continually improve and develop your own art form of player management.