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Things to Do When Nothing is Happening

Referees are taught to keep up with play, select positions on the field that will give the best angle of view, evaluate fouls and misconduct, monitor players’ behavior and work together as a team with the other officials.

The actual abilities of referees are not only demonstrated during play; they are seen during those times when little or nothing is happening.

Before the game:  Officials have a lot of specific things to do before the game (checking the field, players, and game balls.  Having a pre-game, holding discussions with coaches, captains, and other officials, performing coin toss, …) but miss on additional insights by not observing some pre-game activities going on around them.

For example, is one team warming up while another sits around waiting for the whistle?  Is one team practicing specific drills for set plays, long shots on goal, or corner kicks?

Who, if anyone, is in charge of a team’s warm-up activities, a player or a coach?   A coach in charge of the pre-game may be a coach who choreographs the players’ movements on the field as well.  Did the team arrive together and on time?  Are the players talking to one another as they pass the ball around?  Is there a player on the team who seems to be the leader?  How is one team reacting to the other?

Just as referees can obtain much information about a team while going about their pre-game responsibilities, players, coaches, and fans evaluate the referees by their initial appearance and performance.

During the game:  Soccer games involve continuous action and movement, but there are those times when little or nothing happens.  Stoppages when goals are scored, balls go out of play, fouls are called, injuries occur, and substitutions are requested are all times when referees need to be busy.  That is not a time to relax and lose focus.

Those are times to make eye contact with the other officials, keep an active eye on the players and bench personnel, and, if need be, talk to a player who showed good sportsmanship earlier or one who may need a quiet word about some borderline fouls.

Moving around during those times rather than standing still is a good idea.

As you move, it makes it harder for players to mark and confront you.  It allows you to position yourself for whatever will occur next.  A referee in motion can accelerate faster than a standing one and get in the correct position more quickly.

Postgame:  Just because the final whistle sounds does not mean you are done.  Officials should come together quickly and leave the field together.   The score and scorers need to be verified, game reports filled out and signed, and any information needed for misconduct or sendoffs needs to be gathered at this time.  Player passes need to be returned to the teams.  Any last-minute discussions, sharing of information, or debriefing regarding the match should be done then.

There will be times before and after a match when players, coaches, or spectators will want to speak with an official.  Although you may think that it may be a good time to explain calls or answer questions, these may, more often than not, lead to confrontations.

It is never a good idea for an official in uniform to be seen talking with players they may or may not end up refereeing or to be seen having private conversations with players or coaches after a game they just worked as it sends a negative impression to the other teams who are watching.

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)