Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Stop, Drop, and Roll

So last week Jr. had an indoor soccer match and I saw something that gave me a great moment to reflect that I wanted to share.

Often referees pride themselves in the use of “advantage”, as when it is applied correctly, it can be a beautiful thing. When it is applied poorly however, it can lead to horrible results. This brief escapade is about the latter.

In the second half of a match, with the score within a goal, a teammate of Jr.’s was hit with a shot in the head, and went down in a lump crying, with Jr.’s team retaining the ball. Approximately 15 seconds later, Jr.’s team scored a goal.

After the goal, the coach of Jr.’s team rushed out to tend to the player and I, as the dutiful assistant, readied a substitute. After some inspection, Jr.’s teammate was not badly hurt, but was visibly shaken and had a “mouse” under his left eye to show for his tangle with the ball.

While happy that a player was not hurt, I was also very unhappy about the referee letting the play go on with a player, any player, a U-10 player, lying in a lump holding his head from an obvious injury.

As I tended to the players injuries, I found myself in some conflict.

Early on in my career I had done the same thing on several occasions. I made the choice that a player’s injury was not severe enough to warrant stopping the match for them. After all, this is right in the LOTG in Law 5. Right?

Yes it is in the LOTG, but age and experience has taught me a couple of things.

First, allowing play to continue while a player is injured in NOT invoking the advantage clause. It is simply not stopping play. The advantage clause is specifically used when a foul is committed, and by the referee stopping play they will give an advantage to the team that committed the foul. In such a case, invoking the advantage clause is an appropriate thing to do. In fact, with somewhat recent law changes, if the advantage does not materialize, the referee can even reverse themselves and stop play to give the foul.

Second, players’ safety needs to come first always. That is for full international matches all the way down to U-10 local leagues. If the players do not believe they are safe, they will take matters into their own hands to protect themselves and their interests. Now, that pendulum swings based on things like age, competition, level of play, and referee ability.

A referee should be more apt to stop play immediately for young players that have sustained an obvious injury in a vital area, such as their head. Conversely, a referee should be more apt to allow play to continue for experienced players (not older necessarily) that have sustained a minor injury in a non-vital area, such as an ankle.

In that middle ground, this may not be so easy to judge. It is also always important to remember that generally referees are not Medical Doctors, and even if they are, they cannot effectively discharge both duties simultaneously. In all cases however, err on the side of safety, and you as referee cannot be legitimately criticized for keeping the welfare of the players first.

Without the players, there is no game, and for a referee to be as prideful as to desire a great call, over the safety of the players can, and does, lead to disaster. If there is doubt, stop the play, everyone will (eventually) thank you for it, especially the injured player who needed the help.

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