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2009 Referee Week in Review - Week 24

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
Week 24 – ending August 30, 2009
The trend of close games continued this week, with only one of eight games decided by more than a single goal.

Referees used personality and presence to manage and control games this past week – a positive sign as both attributes act as a deterrent and are proactive tools that should be used to prevent future negative actions by players and coaches. The correct mix of personality and application of U.S. Soccer’s 2009 Directive, “100% Misconduct – Tactical and Red Card Tackles,” ensures that player safety and the entertainment value of games are maintained through preventative refereeing.


Personality and Presence of the Referee: Law 5
Successful referees manage the game with more than the whistle and cards using their personality and presence to influence players and to send appropriate messages as a preventative tool before fouls or misconduct occur. Personality can be the most effective tool a referee has at his disposal because it can be used before the game, during down time, while the ball is in play and immediately following a foul. In every situation, the referee is using his body language, his voice, his stature, his visual gestures and/or his physical presence to send messages.

The referee must choose the best way to communicate the message given the player, the situation and/or the “big picture” (including the atmosphere of the game). The referee may choose a “quiet word” or a more stern verbal and visual approach. In any case, the approach or solution should match the “moment” and the player.

Many times the referee must send messages tat are intended for a larger audience. These are so-called “broadcast” messages and are meant to be felt and seen by not only the player to whom the message is intended but to the other players, coaches, spectators and media covering the game. Intended to be public in nature (as opposed to a quiet word or one-on-one solutions), broadcast messages help the referee identify, not only for the player, where the “line in the sand” has been established. Generally speaking, these kinds of messages are the most effective because they resonate beyond the player(s) for whom they are directly intended and have a positive lasting effect for the remainder of the game.

Key phrases, involving the utilization of personality and presence, that have been used in previous “Weeks In Review” include:

  • Personality should match the game situation and/or the moment.
  • Referees should influence the future with actions in the present.
  • Referee for the future, not just the moment.
  • Send appropriate messages in the appropriate manner.
  • Make the first hard foul seem “bigger” through personality.
  • For each message sent, the referee must get something in return like compliance or behavior modification.
  • “Set-up” the next decision or the next card through the use of personality.

As you watch match officials express their personality on the field, ask yourself, “which of the phrases above is the basis for the referee’s action?” Watch and observe the players to see if the referee’s message was received. Did the player or players modify their behavior? Did the referee choose the right mode or method (like smiling, humor, hand gestures) to convey and/or sell the message?

There is an old adage, “The best referee is the one who is never seen and never heard.” However, in the modern game, this is not reality because players seldom just play. Today, a better approach is to say: “The best referee is the one who is seen and heard when the game or situation requires him to be seen or heard.” In other words, referees should attempt to manage the game in the background. When the players are not listening or cooperating, the referee must then make his presence known and his message must be seen and/or heard as appropriate.

Following are three varying methods of sending a message via personality and presence. Each situation must be customized to the player and the situation while using the “big picture” as the foundation.

Video Clip 1: Toronto at Seattle (1:41)
The referee’s decision to utilize personality results from a borderline tactical foul. The referee has discretion in evaluating this foul given the location on the field (at the halfway line). Using his discretion, the referee correctly decides to use his personality to establish his presence in the second minute of the game. Players are positively made aware of his presence as a result of:

  • The face-to-face and eye-to-eye contact made with the player
    This conveys confidence in the decision and establishes the referee’s domain.
  • A calm and controlled, visual and verbal message
    The referee’s mannerisms and gestures convey authority in a positive way. The message is seen and felt by more than just the player himself.
  • The referee receiving a confirmation message from the player
    The player’s shaking of his head as he departs, acts as confirmation for the referee that the player (No. 20) understands or acknowledges the referee’s position.

Video Clip 2: Toronto at Seattle (37:39)
The referee is definitely sending a “broadcast” message. His actions, body language and gestures are evidence of his displeasure. The player being addressed is the same player that the referee spoke with in video clip 1. After the whistle, the player (No. 20) makes contact with the opponent’s ball. The action is not sufficient to caution the player for delaying the restart but it must be addressed. Taking into consideration the player’s behavior thus far in the game (the “big picture’), the referee should explore a more positive way of sending his message by being slightly less confrontational.

The calling of the player aside and looking him in the eye to communicate the message is good use of personality/presence. However, the referee must take a calmer, more controlled approach based upon the “big picture” or atmosphere of the game. The referee must be in control and above the players. The referee’s actions are “setting up” the next decision due to the visible nature and body language of the referee.

Video Clip 3: New England at Seattle (4:58)
Just under five minutes into the game, a hard foul is committed. In the referee’s mind, the foul is not unsporting behavior as it is merely careless in nature. A very calm and controlled referee not only whistles the foul but chooses the moment to send a message with his hand gestures and body language. The referee does well to get the player’s attention and makes eye contact with him while visually using his arms/hands to say, “Calm down. Relax.” This is efficient and appropriate use of personality and sending a message that extends beyond just the player who committed the foul.

Video Clip 4: Chivas USA at Los Angeles (6:21)
Another example of the referee imparting his presence early in the match with the objective of sending a “broadcast message” to the participants that “draws the line in the sand” not only for the offenders but for every participant.

The referee calls a foul in a very “hot” area on the field (near the team benches). The location of the foul is a warning sign to the referee that the situation has the potential to escalate. The fourth official exhibits awareness and quickly reacts to the situation and lends his physical presence to diffuse the situation and thereby ensure that the two players involved are prevented from further negative interaction. The entering of the field by the fourth official is acceptable in this case as the situation is immediately in front of him and he can be the first match official to lend presence in a preventative mode.

Once the referee arrives at the scene, his personality and presence are exhibited in a positive manner that sends an appropriate message as a result of his:

  • Calling both players together to convey his message.
  • Matching his stern yet controlled/respectful body language and mannerisms with his feeling of the “big picture” which results from the knowledge of the team rivalry and the intensity and energy of the match to that point. The knowledge of the “big picture” directs the way the referee chooses to communicate his displeasure and set an early tone.
  • Requiring the “third party” player to retreat from the area thereby eliminating any outside interference or influence.
  • Looking each player in the eye and addressing each player individually.
  • Getting confirmation or acknowledgment from the players at the end of the message.

Video Clip 5: Chivas USA at Los Angeles (52:54)
Another example of personality although this is much more subtle. The referee reads both players “friendly” reaction (helping each other up off the ground) to the foul. Hence, the referee tempers his interaction with the player who committed the foul (red jersey). The referee’s message is subtle and much less “broadcast” than exhibited in the other clips. The referee merely strolls over to the player, looks him in the eye and uses his right hand and a quiet word to convey his message. The referee’s physical closeness to the play and players is a display of presence.

Assistant Referee Involvement and Teamwork: Law 4
In “Week In Review 23,” the need for assistant referees (ARs) to be focused for the entire match was addressed. The ARs job is one of precision. ARs rely on acute angles to judge offside: slight mis-positioning relative to the offside line can skew a decision. ARs must be precise in deciding what area of the field to place their concentration: on-the-ball, off-the-ball or on the offside line. The slightest of miscalculation can lead to a poor decision.

Teamwork is established by the match officials in the pregame. Pre-match discussions should include off-the-ball situations. It is standard practice for the referee and the lead AR to track play and the ball as it advances up field while the trail AR and fourth official watch behind the referee’s back for off-the-ball incidents. The mechanics of this process must be addressed in the discussions leading up the to first whistle.

U.S. Soccer’s 2009 Directive entitled, “Assistant Referee Involvement” outlines factors that require ARs to intervene in the management of the match. One such factor is a clear (100 percent) “game critical incident.” In cases where the AR has a better view of a “game critical incident” and the AR is certain (no doubt exists) of what he has observed, he must get the referee’s attention and address the matter with him.

Video Clip 6: Chivas USA at Los Angeles (81:44)
This clip involves an off-the-ball “game critical incident.” The ARs focus and concentration are tested and he passes with flying colors. As the ball is passed up field, away from the offside line, it would be easy for the AR to follow the ball and take his focus off the defensive line and, as a result, miss any potential conflict.

In the situation that plays out in the clip, quick intervention by the AR and the referee’s quick whistle act as deterrents to the possible escalation (into mass confrontation) of an act of violent conduct – striking an opponent.

Watch the replay and look at the ARs focus and concentration. The AR has the referee’s back and is covering the area of the field not visible to the referee as the ball has been played up field approximately 30 yards. As soon as the attacker strikes the opponent, the AR raises his flag to get the referee’s attention. This is immediately followed by preventative and anticipatory work on the part of the AR as he begins to enter the field of play. This entry lends his presence to a volatile situation. In fact, the AR can verbally shout so the players know that he has witnessed the event and that he is taking action. After consulting with the AR, the referee correctly decides to red card the attacker for violent conduct.

The game is correctly restarted with a free kick for the defending team at the spot of the striking offense as the ball was in play at the time the foul was committed.

Looking Forward – Week 25
Match officials should find appropriate opportunities to convey messages using personality and presence. Opportunities to use these tools should be explored and utilized early in the game. Use presence to set the tone and “draw the line in the sand” for all participants. Use “broadcast” messages as appropriate.