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A critical look at the quality of our soccer officials.

The four basic components in the growth of a sport are the coaches, the players, the referees, and the spectators.

In soccer, the coaches' knowledge of the game, both in theory and application, is constantly improving. Steven Sampson, the USA's native-born national coach, is a perfect example. A product of the USSF and NSCAA educational programs, he has been leading the national team to important international victories.

In an interview with Scholastic Coach last December, Coach Sampson was asked whether the U.S. is finally starting to grow soccer players who can compete internationally.

He responded as follows: "I think we proved it first in the World Cup, then in the U.S. Cup, where we beat Nigeria and Mexico and tied Columbia, and then in the Copa America tournament, where we made it to the semi-finals and a fourth-place finish - the first time a U.S. National team won on South American soil.

"We are becoming extremely competitive. Five years ago, we were not even in the top 50. Today we are ranked 19th in the world, and our ranking climbs every year. We are making tremendous strides."


Should we be satisfied with our coaches and players performances? We should, but we have a problem with the third component - our refereeing. Its quality, I believe, is hurting soccer - adversely affecting the outcome of many games.

According to an article in the September/October issue of NSCAA (page 3), "...the 1994 intercollegiate season (produced) 1,481 red cards, up from 1,182 in 1993 (and double the number from a decade ago). The number of yellow cards issued increased from 9,060 in 1993 to 11,699 last season...49.4% of these rejections were for violent conduct and/or serious foul play."

Question: Is poor officiating causing so many serious fouls and misconduct, or are the players being influenced by what they see on television and in the mass media (professional games) - are they picking up on the unacceptable levels of behavior or aggression that they are constantly seeing?

One might argue that poor coaching may be causing these unfortunate incidents on the soccer field.

As a veteran of the game (player, coach, registered referee), I believe that most of these ugly incidents are being caused by poor officiating, including the lack of game control.

Refereeing may be defined as the art of managing human behavior through enforcement of the laws of the game. Behavior refers to any observable and measurable actions - which covers all the skills performed by the players.

For example, the speed with which a player can dribble the ball can be measured in terms of time, but I do not believe that every referee can assess the performances of 22 players in a confined area.

Officiating is made up of a sequential series of the processes and responses shown in the accompanying chart: Vision, Thinking, Decision-Making, and Value Judgment.

These processes happen very rapidly. An intelligent official is capable of responding promptly to any infringement of the laws and making a prompt value judgment of the players' actions.

According to research, 85% of the information is received through vision.

Among the sensory channels (vision, auditory, vestibule system, tactile, and kinesthetic), vision transmits the most useful information. A good referee will always put himself into the right position to see the actions of the players. This is called direct vision.

Indirect vision - provided by the linesmen - is obviously less valid than the direct vision. Any time a linesman makes a call by rising and waving his flag while the play is inside the penalty box, coaches and prayers are going to have a hard time buying the call, especially if it is one of the nine major fouls committed by the defending team, which calls for a penalty kick.

In my opinion, the center referee should make all the calls inside the penalty box, as these are considered dangerous zones for both the attacking and defending teams.


The thinking process also plays an essential role in the officiating. The good thinker can be defined as a referee who is constantly focused on the players and will respond immediately to any infringement of the laws.

The term, "perceptual motor fitness," is applied to the apparatus that interprets the information received by the sensory inputs. The information is received mainly through the eyes (vision), processed in the central nervous system (brain), and then responded to (decision), as shown in the chart.

Referees who see the action first hand (directly) and think independently (without much assistance from the linesman) will have a higher rate of consistency in managing the game. Referees who work on their perceptual fitness will function optimally during a game.


Value judgment is the end product of a precise and correct decision-making process. An objective judgment is far better than a subjective one.

During the period of decision-making and value judgement, the recognition of fouls becomes a vital concern. The referee should be able to distinguish between tackling from behind and tripping at the same time. Did the player intend to hit the ball cleanly or did he intentionally trip the player from behind in order to get to the ball?

The referee must make the correct call.


Referees fall into three groups:

First are the types who, upon seeing a foul, will say to themselves, "What happened?" These are usually the inexperienced referees who make a lot of mistakes.

Second are the types who, upon seeing a foul, will say, "How did it happen?" These referees are better than the first group and make fewer mistakes, but they are not consistent in managing the game; they require more quality experience.

Third are the referees who, when a foul is committed, immediately say, "I know what happened!" These referees can manage human behavior under any circumstances. They know the game and have the experience that makes the game easy for them.

Unfortunately, we do not have enough of such referees - typified by FIFA referee for the USA, Esse Baharmast. I recommend that you tape his games and show them to your referees, especially at clinics. I particularly recommend the game between the USA and the Parma professional team. You'll see how a referee should manage human behavior on the pitch.

Our referees must stop aggression and punish the offenders by enforcing the laws. Whenever a blatant foul is committed, a good referee will immediately stop the game and deal with the offender.

This is the "moment of truth" in refereeing. If the referee ignores it, the game will get out of control and the referee will lose the respect of the players.

A good referee believes the game belongs to the players and will give them the freedom to demonstrate their skills according to the laws of the game. If, in his opinion, no one has been put at a disadvantage, the referee will allow the game to flow freely.

Every player and every coach in every sport demands one thing of the official - consistency, an official who applies the laws correctly and similarly every time he officiates.

For example, any time an intentional trip is committed, the referee must punish the offender according to the law. He cannot call it one time and ignore it the next. That's one of the better ways of losing control of the players and the coaches - which means the game.

Referees are considered guardians of the laws, and they must exercise their power intelligently and effectively.

Refereeing Styles

Referees can be classified into three groups:


1. Knows the laws

2. Authoritarian personality

3. Egocentric and conceited

4. Attempts to get involved in every incident

5. Believes the game belongs to him and not the players

6. Lectures players too long and too often during the game


1. Poor knowledge of the laws

2. Low self-esteem and confidence

3. Lacks the desire to get into tune with the game

4. Scared of the game

5. Needs constant assistance from linesmen

6. Afraid to make calls

7. Likes to make everyone happy with his officiating


1. Knowledgeable about the laws

2. Positive attitude, high self-esteem, confident

3. Good personality

4. Calls plays as he sees them

5. Always clear and to the point

6. Reads the game tactically

7. Takes charge of game

8. Rarely interferes with game and players

9. Consistent throughout the game

10. In right place at right time (mechanically)

11. Enjoys the game

12. Has common sense

13. Good communicator with coaches and players

14. Good, consistent, works with linesmen

15. Believes game belongs to players.

RELATED ARTICLE: Suggestions/Guidelines

1 Realize that coaches spend enormous amounts of time preparing their team for competition. Be ready physically, mentally, psychologically and emotionally to officiate effectively.

2 Know the 17 laws and rules inside and the 18th law, called the law of Common Sense.

3 Stay in charge and control of the game. Win the respect of the players, coaches, and spectators by calling and interpreting the laws consistently and impartially.

4 Repeated practice will make you a better referee. Aristotle once said: "When I hear, I forget; when I see, I remember, and when I do, I know." By "doing" you can become a "I know what happened" type of referee.

5 Respect what you are doing for the game. Have pride and integrity in your job. If you don't do a good job, the game will suffer.

6 Physical and mental fitness are prerequisites. Try to be in shape to run 120 minutes. Spend time on warm-up and cool-down exercises to avoid abusing your body.

7 Dedicate yourself to the laws of the game. Attend as many clinics as you can. Always discuss hypothetical situations with fellow referees.

8 Always have a detailed pre-game instruction and discussion session with your linesmen. Their duties and responsibilities must always be precisely spelled out.

9 Players will test you to the limit, do anything you allow them to do. You must remain calm and poised, always in control of your emotions.

10 Punctuality is an essential aspect of officiating. Arrive at the game site at least 30 minutes early. If you show up late, you will intensify the coaches' anxiety and frustration, which will spill over to the players.

11 Make sure to check and inspect the field, nets, balls, and players' equipment.

12 Work hard on the mechanics of your job. Always stay close to the action, and whenever you make a call, make sure to sell it to the players easily and unhesitantly.

13 Develop a good sense of anticipation from the tactical maneuvering of the players.
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Title Annotation:includes related article
Author:Rahmatpanah, Moz
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Date:May 1, 1996
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