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Officiating non-sanctioned matches: A Good Idea or Bad?

It is not unusual for a licensed official to be asked to work a non-sanctioned match.  Whether someone has already been asked to officiate one or will in the future, anyone who is contacted needs to consider some things prior to accepting an assignment.

With a referee license, an official working a sanctioned game has a certain amount of help and protection available from the licensing association.  When working a non-sanctioned match with or without a current license, the official is working on his/her own, unprotected.

Prior to accepting, an official should understand what he/she is being recruited for.  Is it a sanctioned contest?  What age group is involved?  Is it a scrimmage, an official match, or a “friendly”?  What are the ground rules?  What Laws will be enforced?  How will substitutions, red cards, fights, etc.. be handled?  How will payment, if included, be made?

Scrimmages and “friendlies” may be sanctioned games and can offer opportunities and challenges not found in a regular sanctioned match.  They may have a more relaxed format in the form of no formal player dress code, no player IDs or passes, no age limits within the teams, and mixed genders (co-ed) teams for example but challenges may present themselves when it comes to game management.

Some of these games may lead one to believe that because they have a more relaxed atmosphere they will be rather easy to officiate.  The score may not count in those types of contests but the players may have something to prove.  Some players are naturally overly competitive and they are off to the races as soon as the initial whistle blows.  Others may want to show off their skills while for some this may be the chance to prove themselves to a coach or recruiter who is using this game to finalize a team’s roster. 

Anyone who accepts those assignments must be prepared to deal with many issues.

Working scrimmages and “friendlies” are valuable resources to help officials prepare themselves for an upcoming season.  Without the pressures of large crowds, game scores, league standings, rivalries, and the like they are great opportunities for officials to test their physical skills, refresh their knowledge of the Laws, practice positioning and mechanics, and work on game management and teamwork with the other official(s).

Pat Ferre

US YOUTH SOCCER (2021 Volunteer of the Year) USSF Referee Grade 15 Emeritus USSF Referee Instructor USSF Referee Assessor USSF Referee Assignor District-7 Youth Referee Administrator (DYRA)