Chapter 4: Blowing the Whistle
Although the assistant referees are vital to any competitive match, the official who draws the most attention will be the one in the middle of the field. The center referee is the official who bears the ultimate responsibility for controlling the match, and at all levels of play it is the referee who makes all final decisions about the manner and conduct of play. This responsibility starts upon arrival at the field and does not end until the match is over and the officials leave.
Before the Match Begins—Setting the Tone
As we saw in Chapter 2, there is much to do before a game can start, and it is the referee's job to make sure that everything is done properly, promptly, and professionally so that the match can begin on time. There will be paperwork to collect, players to check in, equipment and grounds to inspect, and the officiating team to organize. It can be a time-consuming and frustrating job, especially if players or colleagues are late arriving, or if the field or nets are in need of repair. When assigned as the center referee for a match, you can help things go smoothly by setting an appropriate tone for the day by arriving early at the field, and handling all pre-game activities in a thorough and professional manner.
A referee's game does not begin at the field; it begins in the privacy of home, and in the mental and emotional attitudes that accompany the trip to the game. Like any athlete, a referee who is psychologically unprepared is unlikely to be in top form, particularly if distracted by other problems at work or home.
Before leaving for an assignment, or at the field before you begin your pre-game preparations, you should probably take a few moments to relax, focus your mind on the upcoming match, and start getting your emotions and mind ready for the exertions to follow. Not only will you find your efforts more concentrated and effective; you will probably discover that it makes the game more enjoyable, as well.
Setting the Tone The heart a referee's job is managing people...up to twenty-two of them on the field, two colleagues along the sidelines, and whoever else shows up for the game. For the match to go smoothly, you must be able to convince everyone at the field—the coaches, the players, the crowd, and the two assistant referees—to do your bidding. To accomplish this, the game arms you with only three things: a badge, a whistle, and a set of cards. Each of these is a tool for you to use: the badge, representing your authority under the Laws of the Game; the whistle, representing your power to stop the game in the name of fair play; and the cards, granting the authority to deal with any incidents that exceed the bounds of sportsmanship. None of these tools will be effective, however, without a fourth tool that you must supply for yourself: the force of your own personality.
The Importance of Body Language
People can often tell a lot about us simply by watching: the way we walk or shake hands, our facial expressions, our tone of voice—even whether we make eye contact with others—says a lot about our moods, our personalities, and our level of confidence. Along with our clothing, our body language will be the first thing that people will notice about us when we arrive at the field, and may be the single most important aspect of our pre-game behavior that people will use to begin their assessment or form their first impressions.
Most humans instinctively recognize signs of strength and confidence: good posture, a firm voice, crisp body movements, and a calm, even-tempered demeanor all announce to the world that a person is confident of his ability to handle any challenges the world has to offer. On the other hand, slumped shoulders, a slow or half-hearted stride, a whispered voice, and eyes that look haunted by ghosts all convey uncertainty and a lack of confidence. Throughout your games, people will be watching and evaluating you based on what they see and hear. If they see strength and confidence, they will usually relax; if they see weakness, they often become worried and, on occasion, loudly agitated.
A self-assured demeanor, a strong handshake, a face that radiates good humor and quiet confidence will all contribute to a good first impression, and can help us begin the game with the trust of the participants at the field. By contrast, posture that suggests weakness or timidity, nervous eyes, or a vacant, shell-shocked expression on the face will probably make everyone worry about the referee, which may lead to problems from the opening whistle. Once the game begins, of course, you still must maintain an air of assurance and authority to retain everyone's confidence in you, and trust in your judgment. But all the self-assurance in the world will not help you, if you fail to control the match once the game begins.
While you can only practice foul recognition at the soccer field, you can and should practice your mechanics on your own, in front of a mirror if possible. You may be surprised to see yourself as others see you; but at the very least, you will be able to see if your on-field persona conveys authority or self-doubt. As with everything, practice may not lead to perfection, but it always leads to improvement, and that is all anyone can ask.
Attitudes of the Successful Referee
There is a thin line between confidence and arrogance. All the positive body language in the world will be little help to the referee who offends people through an air of superiority or indifference, and most successful referees take pains to avoid insulting people needlessly, or conveying the subliminal message that they are doing everyone a favor just by showing up at the field. Though we need confidence and a healthy ego in order to succeed on the pitch, arrogant or self-centered officials often succeed in doing nothing but digging holes for themselves, and dragging everyone else at the field down with them.
By contrast, most successful referees understand the benefits of a a healthy ego as well as the pitfalls of being egotistical, and manage to avoid displays of arrogance or officiousness. They do this by cultivating a healthier perspective about themselves and their responsibilities, and by keeping their focus precisely on what they want the players to concentrate on as well: the game. As you gain experience, you will notice that most successful referees have adopted similar sentiments about the game, as well as about their own responsibilities:
Successful referees recognize that the game is not about the officials...it is about playing soccer.
Successful referees approach the game, and their duties, with an attitude of cooperation, trying to nurture the three elements that make for a successful match: safety, equality, and enjoyment for all participants.
Successful referees have, and project, an attitude of respect for the game, and for the players.
Successful referees avoid taking actions designed to make themselves feel important, preferring to take whatever steps are needed to ensure that the players play fairly.
Successful referees are willing to set aside their own egos for the duration of the match.
Successful referees display patience as well as firmness in dealing with problems that arise during a game.
Successful referees share an appreciation for skill, as well as a determination not to let foul play succeed.
Successful referees hold and project a sense of trust in their own judgment, as well as that of their colleagues.
Unfortunately, these attitudes are easier to describe than to acquire; and even the best referees occasionally forget them, during the stress of a difficult match.
Website ©2007 by Jeffrey Caminsky
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