Referee thoughts

The pre-season for fall soccer in the US is winding down and my regular season starts tomorrow night with a great high school game between last year’s Big School Division girls state champion versus the Big School/nationally Top-10 team from two states over.  I’m looking forward to that game as it should be one of the better games of the year.  Good chance there will be fourteen or fifteen players with current full D-1 scholarship offers on the field at a time.  Seldom see that many full scholarship players on the field in a college game. 

Here are a couple of things that have been on my mind for the past couple of weeks:

Card policy in the preseason:

Is the preseason the time to be lenient as the games don’t count for anything more than breaking a good sweat, working on mechanics, and getting some good game tape for the coaches to pore over?  Or is it the time to issue ticky-tack yellow cards to deal with issues early and in a fairly cost free manner as cards don’t accumulate.  Should we be carding for uniform violations when during the season, the appropriate course of action is “Hey #23, take care of it at the next whistle….” or should we be carding for that foul that could be, if we squint the right way, a tactical foul, or just award a simple direct free kick?  I’ve worked with refs who go in all directions on this.  What do you think?

My assignors love/hate me.

This weekend I’m working my first game in a new college conference.  This conference is significantly higher in quality of play than the other college conferences I’ve worked in the past.  Traditionally, the way a ref is broken into a new conference is they get a couple of games on the line to acclimate to the style and expectations of play, and then an easy center.  I just received a game from my assignor between two teams who, in the past five matches, have had a combined 15 red cards.  I’m in the middle.  And, I’m being assessed.  I’m not sure if my assignor loves me, and wants to give me a chance to shine, or hates me. 

How to tell a friend that it is time to step back

I was working a girls high school varsity scrimmage last night in a double dual/three whistle system.  Good game between two quality teams.  My center segment goes fine.  A fellow ref who has been reffing for thirty five years has the middle segment in the center.  Blue was pushing a high offside line and an aggressive big ball counter-attack strategy. I  was the side official for the Blue defensive end.  I noticed half a dozen times that I was the defacto center as the true center was fifteen yards behind Blue’s second to last defender and the ball was rapidly advancing up field on a Blue counterattack. 

He was not doing himself any good, he was not doing the players any good, and he was not doing his crew any good.  How does one tell a colleague that maybe it is time to shift down to very small school varsity games, and middle school where the running requirements are miniscule?  He just can’t cover ground anymore and he can’t sell a good call from 50 yards away. 

Damn the World Cup

Every World Cup year sees moderately skilled players try to do what they saw on TV.  And the coaches reanchor their expectations of physicality in one direction only as they saw the arm bars the Germans were using without getting called for it, so they want their players to lock out, and then scream bloody murder when there is minor hand fighting. 

Time to run

Soccer refereeing fitness is always a different beast than general running fitness.  A good general fitness level is a necessary precondition, but a few weeks of the stop, go, walk, haul ass, backpedal, slide step, spin, haul ass routine is needed to get the legs in good shape again.  I took six weeks off this summer for family time, and I was feeling the reconditioning process in the first two weeks of preseason.

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21 replies
  1. 1
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    Those clouds don’t seem to be paying too much attention to you, Richard.

    Still, I appreciate your thoughtful posts on refereeing.

    Or is it the time to issue ticky-tack yellow cards to deal with issues early and in a fairly cost free manner as cards don’t accumulate.

    We officers in a position to hand out non-judicial (Art 15) punishment had a saying. “When in doubt, max ’em out!”

    It was a joke, but it gave the troops pause.

  2. 2
    Roger Moore says:

    Card policy in the preseason:

    I would follow the same policy that you do during the regular season, especially if you expect to be reffing the same conference again. There are two reasons for this:

    1) You’re still getting yourself dialed in. Calling the same way you would during the regular season will help you get a chance to do that.
    2) You’re setting the players’ expectations for the regular season. You’d be doing them a disservice by giving them a wrong impression about how things are likely to be called when the games count.

    If you are going to call differently from the way you would in the regular season, you at the very least owe it to the teams to tell them in advance what you’re planning on so they know what to expect in both this game and the regular season.

  3. 3
    Rommie says:

    I’m not liking the ticky-tack calls in the NFL preseason, so I wouldn’t like it for any sport.

    I’ve always liked the soccer ref who a) will let minor things go, BUT will also warn and card a Beavis if they keep doing it, and b) will card the blatant foul and NOT warn the player. It’s the guy/gal who books everything, or seems to need a NFL tackle to pull out a card, that makes me go hmmm. IOW, be the ref that no one really notices, like most officials.

  4. 4
    Amir Khalid says:

    I find the Guardian’s You Are The Ref weekly feature (part of its football page) very useful as a football fan’s education into how referees define and enforce the laws of the game. Three questions a week, dealing with (mostly) plausible situations a referee might encounter in the real world. Are you familiar with it?

    Also, the new season has begun in Europe. But alas, and also a lack-a-day, for it seems that our friend in football Randinho hasn’t been able to join us for a weekly post. Could you conceivably fil in? There is so much to discuss, not least Louis van Gaal’s rather unexpected transformation into David Moyes.

  5. 5
    Anoniminous says:

    You need to get your skills and head ready for the regular season too so call ’em as you see ’em.

  6. 6
    lol chikinburd says:

    Marquette University Law School will be releasing their depressing WI-Gov poll results in the next half hour. They’ll be depressing even if they show Burke having somehow opened a lead, because what with the myriad structural advantages the GOP has even inside the normal boundaries of fair play, plus their boundless capacities outside those boundaries, Burke would probably have to be up close to double digits for Walker to be in any real trouble.

  7. 7
    jake the antisoshul soshulist says:

    I probably should not comment since A: I know almost nothing about futbol. B. know very little more about reffing.
    However, you might take the route that seems to be most common in basketball, referee in the style that most advantages
    the favorite.

  8. 8
    drkrick says:

    In the absence of some kind of (NFL-style) guidance to the contrary I’d call them pretty much as you expect to call them in the regular season. Gives you, the players and the coaches that much more time to get dialed in, and also helps get the WC problem under control. Good luck with #3, it’s a tough one.

  9. 9
    🚸 Martin says:

    I liked more aggressive calls in friendlies when I was playing. For one, nobody likes taking injuries in a friendly, but also early in the season is when you test how aggressive you can be and I’d rather draw the yellow early rather than be surprised by it in regular games when refs are more strict.

    Early season you also make a lot of legitimate mistakes, so perhaps when you see those make it a very clear warning instead ‘That would earn you a yellow for that in a regular game – be more careful’. But if what I did was dangerous to the other player, then by all means, drop the yellow. If it was clearly intentional by me, then definitely drop the yellow.

    I accidentally gave a teammate a compound fracture in an early scrimmage game when I was in HS. I was charging hard for a forward pass put a bit too far ahead of me, he was determined to reach it before me, we met it at the same time and the ball popped out between our feet (I hit the ball high) and my foot glanced off and went straight into his tibia with all my weight and momentum behind it while his foot planted the ground. I still have occasional nightmares about it and wake up from that sound. There was no penalty there, but it was completely unnecessary for a scrimmage and I felt like shit for putting a guy in a cast for 6 months and it could just as easily gone the other way around.

    Everyone needs to back off just a little in the preseason.

  10. 10
    lol chikinburd says:

    And here’s those MULaw results now: Walker up 3 among registered voters (47.5-44.1); Burke up 2 among “likely” voters (48.6-46.5).

    Slightly better news: Happ (D) leads Schimel (R) in the AG race 40-33 and 42-32, though 80-plus percents don’t think they have enough information about either candidate for an opinion.

    Still awaiting a link to a full report; info comes from @MULawPoll.

  11. 11
    Richard Mayhew says:

    @Roger Moore: Completely agree with actual fouls that are 100% cautions or 100% send-offs.

    The question are the gray area violations where a quiet word would work or a Yellow is justifiable. For instance, the trash talking limit. I know I am more tolerant of trash talking and mild dissent directed at me in higher stakes games. I don’t want to deal with that crap from a 14 year in his first JV game but I will take a bit from a 22 year old in a semi-pro game. More obviously, the Orange Card situations where a yellow is justifiable and a red is defensible is where my head is stuck.

    An easy example is an odd man rush on goal where the center back cynically takes down the attacker with the ball forty five yards from goal. The keeper is back, and there is another defender rotating into play. A shot was not imminent. You can go for a straight red for DOGSO (the 4 Ds are there if you strain a bit (Defender, Distance to goal, Distance to ball by fouled attacker, Direction of attacker at point of foul) or you can go for an ass-chewing and yellow for a tactical foul. Either card is a defensible choice at 45 yards (23 yards, it is an easy red), So on those calls where it could go either way and at least 20 people on the field will accept either decision as legitimate, what way should a preseason call go? A bit harsh as a cheap warning for future in-season behavior, or a bit light to get people back up to speed?

  12. 12
    Richard Mayhew says:

    @lol chikinburd: I find the fact that Likely Voters favor Burk while Registered Votes favoring Walker intriguing — usually if there is a discrepency, the likely vote model favors the Republican as their core voter base is easier to turn out.

  13. 13
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Richard Mayhew: 2d try: I was a rugby not a soccer player, but I always appreciated consistency. I always played to the edge of what was legal, so I didn’t really care if people call a game loose or tight, as long as they did it the same way every time.

  14. 14
    Richard Mayhew says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: And that is the trouble. In-game consistency is achievable and same referee between game consistency is a goal we strive for (adjusted for level and what the teams will let us not call) but between game between referee consistency is a nightmare. Sometimes it is there, and sometimes it is not. Soccer referees are, unfortunately a lot like MLB home plate umpires with their own strike zones. The general guidance is the same for all the refs, but where that marginal call lies varies greatly. And since teams seldom see the same referee more than once or twice a season, they get varying messages.

  15. 15
    Roger Moore says:

    @Richard Mayhew:
    I would probably lean on the easy side for verbal stuff to give the players more of a chance to play but the hard side for tough physical play to protect players from injury in a meaningless game. But I’ll stand behind the general point that you should let the players and coaches (and assistant refs!) know how you’re leaning. If you’re going to lean toward tough calls to warn the players against dangerous play, you should say so verbally in advance when it’s more likely to prevent dangerous play rather than just punish it after the fact.

  16. 16
    Roger Moore says:

    @Richard Mayhew:
    I suspect that shows that Walker has worn out his welcome with more engaged voters. It’s a really good sign, especially for the down-ballot stuff, if it means Democrats are more energized than Republicans.

  17. 17
    Lee says:

    @Richard Mayhew:

    That explanation makes more sense that the post.

    I would say go with the red. Tell the coaches (and they will hopefully pass on to the team) how you are going to call this game.

    They are top tier teams and you expect them to play like it. They don’t get a couple of weeks of regular season to work the bugs out, that is what the pre-season is for.

    I don’t think your assignor loves or hates you. He is just throwing you in the deep end to make sure you can swim. If you drown…well at least he didn’t waste much time on you :)

    I’m 49 so I’m going to answer this as I would want someone to break it to me. Straight up tell them. I’m might be a bit different in that I’m prior service (USMC) so my skin might be a bit thicker than most. Go with “Hey I noticed that you were having a tough time out there staying close” and see where it goes.

  18. 18
    Omnes Omnibus (the first of his name) says:

    @Richard Mayhew: @Roger Moore: In that case, I would let team captains know, prior to the start of the game, whether you are going to call it tight or if you are “going to let people play.” I could adapt to either; I just wanted to know if I do “x” (“x” being a judgment call foul) will it get called.

  19. 19
    Richard Mayhew says:

    @Omnes Omnibus (the first of his name): Actually our instructions hvae always been to not tell the captains how we are planning to call the game and instead let the whistles and non-whistles tell the captains what we’re calling today. That way, our hands aren’t bound by previous committments, and instead, we can respond to what the game needs.

    My standard pre-season pre-game talk with captains/teams includes a bit on new rules/points of emphasis as well as the fact that I’m a talker (I’ll tell players “Good ups here, good ups right before opponents go for an ariel challenge or GREAT TACKLE after a very hard but clean challenge) but I’m not telling them what I want to see. My whistle will do that.

  20. 20
    Omnes Omnibus (the first of his name) says:

    @Richard Mayhew: That seems reasonable. As a player, I would have liked to have been told (but refs have reps, so we tended to know), but I can see where you would not want to bind yourself.

  21. 21
    Richard Mayhew says:

    @Omnes Omnibus (the first of his name): Ohh definately, refs have reps.

    Players know that I have a slow whistle as I want to see a player work through a foul and let advantage develop if it can, I’ll talk all day long, I’m slow on management cautions but very fast on tactical cautions and I’ll let a good bit of physicality go if the players are showing that they can handle it.

    My style runs me into trouble when teams don’t want to play and just want to hack, and I’ll have issues with teams that are subtle with their FIRE fouls. From a positioning point of view, I’m also in trouble with teams that play 90 yards of posession as I crowd the space where I think the ball should go next, and get caught on a fast reversal. Another weakness is that I have a bit of scaling problem as I anchor my foul recognition/level at the highest level game I’ve done recently and it takes a bit of time for me to scale to an appropriate physicality.

    (a local club team keeps scouting reports on all the refs they see more than twice. I got to read my scouting report from them eighteen months ago)

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