The initial formal education, training, and testing of officials may be behind them but once any match gets underway referees are being put to a test. Players, coaches, and some fans are often eager to find out how the referee plans to orchestrate their match. The referee meanwhile is preparing for what the players may be geared up to do.
More prevalent especially in competitive matches, players will test the referee to see what his or her limits will be. From the first whistle of the match, players will push the envelope to see how the referee will act and react in certain situations.
The first throw-in of the game, for example, should let the players know how far from the spot where the ball left the field, the referee will allow throw-ins to be taken. If the official chooses to comply with the Laws of The Game and decides that the player was exceeding his/her limits, stopping the throw and a short explanation may be an option. That decision will send the message to everyone and set the tone for the rest of the match. Most players will heed the advice but in the event a player does not, then there should be no surprise when the referee renders a decision.
Within the first few minutes of play, it is important that the referee’s decisions let the players realize what will or will not be allowed. Players need to quickly become aware of what the parameters are in order to have a safe and enjoyable game. The parameters should partly be guided by the Laws of The Game, how intense and important this game is, and if it is a rivalry or just a friendly contest.
When a player does something that the referee does not approve of, let him/her know right away. If one sees the need to stop the match to make a public statement to everyone, let the player know what was called. When dealing with fouls it is important to stop the serious or potentially serious ones early in the match. The team that was fouled is concerned about getting injured and if the referee does not intervene appropriately at that moment there may be retaliation in the future.
Reliance on the yellow and red cards should be reasonable and appropriate. The Laws of the Game provide a list of instances when a card should be shown. Prior to sanctioning a player, the referee must determine if the action exceeded the limits of the Laws. Would a yellow card or a warning be enough to change the inappropriate behavior and allow the match to resume in a safe and fair fashion? If a warning does not alter the behavior then a caution or send-off may be the only option.
To pave the road for a successful future, the referees will set the tone of the matches as early as possible. Knowing the parameters of the match will allow players to adjust to the referee’s decisions. Allowing obvious breaches of the Laws to continue until enforcing the Laws becomes a necessity due to injuries or loss of control will, for the remainder of the contest, negatively impact the interactions between players, coaches, fans, and the referee.