Not Even as a Scribe

One comment I have gotten on my refereeing over the Spring - as I move on to the bigger and better world of high school games - is that I lack "confidence".  It has taken me quite a while to figure out exactly what this (probably) means, because in one sense confidence is not a problem for me.  I am, for the most part, quite capable of carrying on in my opinions regardless of what anyone thinks.  So, confidence as such is not exactly the problem.

It would be more accurate, I think, to say what is lacking is presence, in the stage sense.  I came to this conclusion following a sequence of two games, at the same school, dealing with the same coach.  The first I centered; the second I was on the line.  The comments the assessor gave me at the end of my game were generally positive but focused on this lack of confidence and some problems with what we call mechanics - the signals used to communicate fouls, goals, restarts, and so forth.  The coach was not happy with me in general - but then, he lost.

Then in the second game I noticed the center was, probably, worse than me in some ways mechanically.  His positioning was better than mine; but his signals were largely muted and occasionally inaccurate.  What he did have, though, which I find hard to hold on to, was control of the game - a parent said afterwards it was the best refereeing he'd ever seen, which almost certainly is not true but speaks volumes for the game control he did have.

There are, I think, three ways to referee a soccer match and still maintain control.  From worst to best, you can enforce The Rules, you can call "Your Game", or you can call The Game.  Learning and enforcing the rules is where anyone has to start, of course; without the rules - at least in essence - anything higher is impossible.  This is where I find myself most of the time, still - and it is problematic for two reasons.  If you make mistakes (as I do with some regularity) you call your understanding and judgment into question.  Or, if your understanding does not match the expectations the spectators, or worse, the coaches' - or worse yet, the players' - you can lose their goodwill: especially dangerous if your expectation has let the game become too "loose", that is, violent.  But the second problem is that, even when done right to exacting standards, you run the danger of coming off as, for lack of a better term, a legalistic jerk.  But at least you have the game under control.

It is therefore necessary to move on at least to the stage of being able to call "Your Game".  I would say - as an observer - that this is where the other ref I mentioned is.  The central hallmark at this stage is that the referee has internalized the rules and more importantly the flow of the game, so that the result is a consistent standard resulting in clarity and control.  The important word there is "consistent".  Many stupid mistakes are forgiven if you make the same stupid mistake for everyone.  Lack of precision is okay if you are consistently imprecise, and do not miss anything big.  For myself, the diagnosis to get here is, I think, either to watch many more games or start playing again - probably both - and of course to continue to referee, and more carefully.

Finally I suppose a referee can call The Game.  The rules are known; consistency is achieved; the mechanics are there; and the game is allowed to play out as it should.  A well-called match on the premier or international level will, I think, reach to this ideal (though poor decisions may reduce a crew to trying to call "Their Game" or even "This One Game That How Did We Get Here?")


  1. I think you are right. I never got past the level of calling "The Rules", and I was very diffident about my ability to do even that... which is probably why I am no longer refereeing.

  2. From what I've seen, the best games are where the referee is, seemingly magically, omnipresent yet at the same time invisible. How so? There are no extraneous whistles. The players know (or quickly learn) how the ref's going to call the game - really tight, very lax, or in between - and play to those standards. Anything over the line, the ref's there, IMMEDIATELY signaling which way the kick is going, admitting no arguments. "No, boys, that was a foul" he says with body language, maybe in words if there's a glance in his direction. I've heard "That's enough" as well - simple statement that he's seen a few fouls, was letting play go on, but now it's time to pull back because the odd foul's becoming the norm and none of us want a brawl developing. Players get upset if they think the center doesn't know what a foul is, won't call a foul for fear of coach or crowd, or calls only in one direction. Oh, perhaps the biggest - missing a flagrant foul and then calling the other side for a piddling offense.

    How to get there? Practice. Get the positioning right, and listen to the players talk to each other. You'll get better, and as you do the players will trust you more and make you better.

    I still have a lot to learn.