Any number of factors can affect how effectively a referee team works together, especially if one or both assistant referees are comparatively inexperienced. The center referee’s awareness of possible weaknesses and strengths can help the officiating team work together smoothly throughout the game.
For that awareness to work most productively, the center referee must use the pregame to review all that is expected from both newer ARs and from ARs the referee has worked with frequently, or not at all. A thorough pregame — complete with questions and answers — will help eliminate confusion and allow the referee to support newer or less-experienced officials. Headsets can help with ongoing communication throughout the game. When the referee shows a yellow card, for example, the AR on the bench side can be instructed to notify the coach of the infraction. Explaining disqualifications remains the center referee’s responsibility. If headsets aren’t available, use the pregame to set expectations so everyone on the referee crew starts the game at the same level of understanding. Remind your ARs to keep mental notes or questions that can be addressed at halftime.
Once the game is underway, the center referee has two tasks — control the game and monitor the performance of the ARs as needed. Three guidelines will help the referee accomplish both tasks. First, the center referee’s diagonal runs should be modified to move closer to the new or inexperienced AR to provide additional support. The center referee can run a more traditional diagonal if the newer AR seems to be effective in helping control the area near the AR’s touchline. Second, the center referee must be certain the AR isn’t being verbally abused or taken advantage of by players, coaches or fans. Newer ARs may not know what an acceptable level is or how to respond or react. The referee needs to be attuned to unacceptable comments directed at the AR from any source and immediately stop verbal confrontations involving an AR. Third, it is essential the center referee gives obvious public recognition with a vigorous nod of the head or an emphatic thumbs-up when a newer AR makes the right call or the referee agrees with what the AR has done. Positive reinforcement is essential, particularly during the run of play.
If the referee has confidence in one or both of the ARs, let them call fouls and control play as needed as play approaches the AR’s nearside touchline. It’s important for game management and AR confidence that the referee whistles fouls the AR has signaled unless there is an advantage or the referee considers the foul trifling. The AR should call fouls consistent with what the referee has called throughout the game, in addition to fouls and misconduct the referee can’t see due to positioning, off-the-ball activity or events behind the referee’s back.
If the game is becoming contentious and players are acting inappropriately in off-the-ball situations, the referee may have to delay following the ball. In that case, an AR must assist the referee more with dynamic play by signaling fouls or talking to the players and coaches. The AR can either be a second set of eyes on a developing off-the-ball situation or follow the ball while the referee continues to monitor another situation.
To support the AR, the center referee can use soft signals (a hand at waist level pointing direction, for example) if the referee has a better look at the play or if there is a deflection the AR could not see. If the AR is not sure or indecisive about a call, the referee should immediately take control and make the call, followed immediately by the AR mirroring the referee to show both referees agree.
If there is a wall near the AR, the referee must instruct the AR in the pregame to assume responsibility, especially if the referee needs to deal with the players who will be in the area where the ball will be delivered. This is the area where shenanigans, pushing and shoving, and possible fouls or misconduct can occur. If the referee is watching a wall on a ceremonial restart, the AR can look elsewhere so more of the field is covered. Additionally, during play the referee can yell or signal an instruction to the AR so the AR can watch and help with situations off the ball or in other parts of the field. The AR can watch two problematic or potentially problematic players, monitor a player who might be trying to play through an injury, or control a loud or excessively demonstrative coach. Headsets are especially useful in such situations.
Without asking an AR to make a penalty kick call, the center referee can use the AR to help determine if a foul was inside or outside the penalty area. It’s also vital to get information from an AR on DOGSO situations, which can involve a disqualification. Input from the AR may be necessary and critical to getting it right. If the AR says a player deserves a red card, the center referee has no choice: Show the red card. Don’t change it to yellow because the center referee did not see the infraction or misconduct. If an AR asks for a caution or disqualification, the referee should comply after a brief touchline discussion, except if the AR has misinterpreted or misapplied a rule. For example, if the AR asks for a yellow card for a DOGSO outside the penalty area, the center referee must show the mandatory red card. The purpose of such a brief discussion is to gather information and make the right call. Facts will be needed for the postgame report — and possibly to explain the decision to a captain or a coach.
Working with new or comparatively inexperienced officials can present significant challenges that make the center referee’s role all the more demanding. For the officiating team to be most effective, the center referee must be an official, an assessor, a teacher, a mentor, a critic and a motivator — all in the same game. Do it well. You will become a better official in the process and you will have helped your inexperienced teammates become better officials, too.
To help your newer officials, consider YEAR ONE from the Referee Training Center, it’s a complete guide to help new officials navigate their first year officiating.
Gary Stephens is an assigner, high school, club and college referee, IHSA certified clinician, Illinois 2018 Girls Referee of the Year and served as coordinator of officials for the 2019 Girls Class 1A State Soccer Tournament. He lives in Decatur, Ill.
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