Monday, March 31, 2014

Why players don't need the referee

I'll tell you honestly folks, I genuinely believe that this statement (players don't need the referee) is true.

In fact, I'd go so far to say that The Game may be better without anyone except players. Other than my personal feeling and experience of getting the heck out of the way to let players (in a good natured way) sort things out for themselves, I offer (2) examples.

First is from our friend Dutch Referee in his blog entry "10 Rules of Football as a Kid." Pay close attention to rule #6, "No Referee."

Why not? Because no one other than players has a real interest in sorting out who the rightful winner is.

Think about how many times as a kid we were playing together, and something happened that was unfair. Who dealt with it? The players themselves.

How did they deal with it? Well it depended on what happened and to whom right?

If someone got a little hurt, we checked in and kept playing, but if really banged up, we would stop and get mom.

If someone did something outside "the rules" it would bring protests and if it continued we would say "We don't want to play any more." This very think happened yesterday to Little Ms.. She was out playing with some friends and came in when another playmate pushed her into a puddle. Game over.

It is rather incredible when we allow players to self regulate, more often than not, they can take care of it themselves. Yes, I know sometimes we have to play the role of "mom" and look in on more seriously injured players, or give cookies out when feelings are hurt. Yes, at time we play "dad" too when a stern warning is in order to make sure that does not happen again, or if it does you send the player "to their room."

All and all however, we should strive to let the players play and manage only those exceptional situations that really, REALLY, need our direct involvement.

A second example was provided to me my a friend of mine (thanks Pat!) and speaks to the fact that players will look out for each other when things get very serious.

Take a look at "WATCH: Ukrainian soccer player may have saved opponent's life."

Here we have a higher level professional match, where players are paid to compete, yet despite that there was a clear sense of compassion when an opponent was knocked out cold by a keeper and seemed to suffer respiratory distress as a result. In came a team mate of the keeper to save the life, or at the very least come to the aid of, an opponent that was in some form of distress.

When I get the opportunity to speak these about match management, to start the discussion I take a copy of the LOTG and either tear it in half, or toss it over my shoulder to make a couple of points.

First, is that you are not going to find the majority of what you face as a referee in the LOTG. Look at the 2013-14 LOTG ... the 17 laws don't even take up 50 pages of text. There is not a lot there to go over the myriad of situation you will be put through. In that way the LOTG is a guide, not a "rule book" on what to do. That is one of the beautiful things about the document and being a soccer referee, the ability to craft a unique path every time and still adhere to the spirit of what is in that book.

Second, is that ultimately the LOTG does not matter, the players are going to do what the players are going to do and nothing in that 50 page book is going to help. You as referee, once realizing this fact, should seek to unobtrusively manage those players on that day to come out with a result that they think is just.

Some may be sitting back and thinking this is refereeing by some Lord of the Flies method. Its not as there are certainly bounds. My point is the players will let you know where those bounds are well before the LOTG does ... and you as referee should be listening.


  1. On point #2 a quick question to you. First off lets all be thankful that the injured played is ok, no one wants to see anything like that happen ever. I noticed that from the video it did not appear like their was a whistle for the clear knee to the head by the GK. Is this not serious foul play? If your an assessor on this match, how does this refelct on the center that there was no whistle? Does the severity of the injury play into any part when the assessor is writing up their report on the center's performance?

    1. Good questions here Steve.

      Regarding the actual play, I do not believe this was SFP. GKs eyes were on the ball, and both were playing. It was a hard challenge with a bad result for one. I agree with the lack of a whistle in this case.

      That said, let me address the meat of your question.

      Lets say there was SFP and the referee missed it. First, I would likely fail that referee for failing to recognize such a serious event, which would have likely changed the events after the foul significantly.

      While other "lesser" fouls can be missed, to miss something as serious as SFP ... without even a caution in this case ,,, to me would mean something is really amiss.

      Here is my approach:

      Referee, in the 21' the GK and Blue #20 contacted each other in the goal area, what did you see?

      Now they may say any number of things and you go from there. If I didn't see it ... ask why. Was he tying his shoes, looking at an AR, screened ... did you ask the AR during the stoppage?

      I am a fan of the socratic method in these cases and finish by asking the referee, what would *you* have changed?

      Regarding the injury, I do not believe that there is a direct correlation between injuries and fouls. Severe injuries can happen absent fouls and no injuries can occur from wicked fouls. Severity of an injury is not itself an indicator of a foul.

      It is however an indicator of things like crisis management, communication, and general administration ... which are also all fair game in assessing the referee through the event and subsequent actions.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. Regular reader here. As I've been growing more comfortable as a referee of AYSO games, I've begun to worry less about getting touch line calls correct: Even when I'm 100% certain of the call, I now often await for the kids to sort it out themselves and then confirm it with a direction signal for the parents and sidelines to see. All part of managing the game the kids want (which also is why I no longer react when I hear a parent yelling, "hey, no pushing!")

    1. Thanks for reading Anon!

      Great comment. I also think kids want to do the right thing as well and empowering them to help manage the match with you is excellent.

      Well done!

  3. "Here we have a higher level professional match, where players are paid to compete, yet despite that there was a clear sense of compassion when an opponent was knocked out cold by a keeper and seemed to suffer respirator distress as a result."

    The sad part about this is, I've never seen such compassion from American players. Only from foreign players playing in America, or players with foreign fathers. Yeah it might sound racist but there's just not a lot of compassion against opponents from kids on up to College from what I've seen. Even in the MLS they just seem like total jerks towards eachother.

    1. Anon,

      You have a thought provoking point. I'll say that I don't believe your comment is racist as you indicated as your comment would seem to cut across US/non-US lines, and like many countries the US is composed of many races. I *think* (but don't want to put words in your mouth) it may be a national/non-national line.

      Either way your observation is interesting.

      We have seen at the professional level some very dramatic incidents where players were seriously hurt and other players come to their aid. This last post is only one example. In all of these cases a match has been outside the US for whatever reason that I can recall.

      Now I'll say from direct personal experience in MLS that some players are jerks to each other, some referees are jerks to players and vice versa. I'll also say that there are a number of folks who are genuinely caring and I believe would help in the same way that was seen here.

      Some of it is a training component. So for example, referees are told not to touch injured players ... and certainly not seriously injured ones largely for fear of a lawsuit. Same to a degree may be true for players especially when medical help is near by. Even here however, medical help was close in the match shown in this post too so that may be a null factor.

      You have certainly got me thinking about this now and I'll be watching through that lens a bit more.

      I'd like to believe (speaking as an American who has competed at the professional and internal level) that I would not act in such a way ... and indeed the whole matter may be of personal choice, not nationalism.

      It is an interesting observation however and one worth considering.

      Thanks for reading,