By Randy Vogt
If a tree falls in the forest and your favorite newspaper does not cover it, does it make a sound? That was the question facing American soccer fans in a previous era as many were perplexed why some media outlets did not give soccer as much publicity as its popularity warranted. So soccer fans were encouraged to phone sports editors demanding more and better coverage.
Fast forward to today and it’s somewhat of a mute point because if your newspaper does not cover soccer, you can still find plenty of coverage on the World Wide Web. The number of newspapers and magazines have decreased while Internet use has increased exponentially. As one example, Soccer America started as a newspaper in 1971 and eventually became a color magazine. Although four magazine issues are published every year, most subscribers know Soccer America today because of its e-letters, such as the one you are reading right now.
Soccer fans can find all sorts of interesting information on their favorite teams on the Internet. Some referees, too, have culled info, but also to help prepare for a game while other refs do not research teams at all. In preparing this article, Soccer America’s Mike Woitalla commented to me, “I've been stunned by referees saying they don't want background on teams or players they’re going to referee. Imagine hearing in any other profession someone advocating ignorance before going on the job.”
Taking Mike’s comment a step further, imagine a surgeon not wanting to know about the patient before the operation or the pilot not wanting to have a background on the plane or the airport where the plane will be landing. The question is which type of information the referees should be searching for and how they should use it.
Refs can find all sorts of info on professional teams as well as Division 1 college teams such as who the team’s top goalscorers are, how many fouls have been committed and suffered, who is in danger of getting suspended for another yellow card, etc. As you move on to Division 2 and 3 college teams, the info tends to become more limited. Some of these colleges simply have the team’s photo, roster (no bios of players), coach’s bio and schedule so it is challenging for the ref to find any useful info for officiating the match from these sites.
If high school teams have websites, they generally have little or no info that would be helpful to referees. Some senior teams have websites and some do not.
I hope that we have not “advanced” to the point that websites of youth soccer teams have as many stats as pro and Division 1 college teams. It would be best that youth soccer websites just simply have fun info, some photos and a nice message from the coach. Yet some people take youth soccer way too seriously and one unfortunate consequence of this is many refs quickly realize officiating is not for them with verbal abuse by kids’ parents being the No. 1 reason for quitting. Understand that this verbal abuse leads to the referees remaining often being overworked on weekends.
Regarding teams with much info on their websites, I have seen referees use the info in different ways. A very small number of refs memorize the player’s first name with their number and speak to the player by name during the game, believing the player becomes very impressed that the ref took the time to learn the players’ names before the game. That seems like an awful amount of work to me for limited results.
I have seen another ref, after he researched the college teams, become very intimidated knowing exactly the implications of an important regular season game. That ref officiated the game as if he did not want to make any important decisions that would affect the result. Which of course is a very bad strategy because if a goal has to be disallowed, a player needs to be sent off or a penalty kick needs to be whistled, the ref should always make those calls regardless of the implications.
Probably a better way of researching teams rather than relying on the Internet is to speak to an official who had the same team previously that season. Better yet is to get a tape of a previous game and watch it.
But however refs research a team -- whether it’s through the Internet, by speaking to colleagues or watching tapes of games -- they are not to pre-judge a player or coach before a game. This is probably why some refs do not want any info on teams as it’s rather challenging to cull info but not to pre-judge.
So if No. 8 red has committed the most fouls in the league, the officials are aware of this but not concentrating on No. 8 red during the game. If the ref has heard that this coach is a referee-baiter or that player dissents way too much, they do not pre-judge but certainly control any situation that might develop and treat everybody equally.
I’ve learned through the years that the teams sometimes provide a clue as to who the problem players are anyway. For the player who often dissents, as soon as that player dissents, it’s often his/her teammates who tell the problem player to calm down before the ref has a chance to do so. For the player who’s too physical, the teammates yell at that player after he/she commits a bad foul. Perhaps the team has already played down a player because of this and they are trying to police their teammate so it does not happen again. Research is great but the teams can give subtle hints as well and sometimes will even police their teammates.
(Randy Vogt has officiated over 8,000 games during the past three decades, from professional matches in front of thousands to six-year-olds being cheered on by very enthusiastic parents. In Preventive Officiating, he shares his wisdom gleaned from thousands of games and hundreds of clinics to help referees not only survive but thrive on the soccer field. You can visit the book’s website at www.preventiveofficiating.com/)