After a few of the games I have refereed, a spectator approached me and said, “You must have done a good job as I did not notice you.”
Soccer Americans have heard it stated that the best refs are the ones you don’t notice. But is this true?
I believe that it’s true for most but certainly not all youth soccer games. Referees often talk about the “moment of truth” in the match (when you would notice the ref). An important decision needs to be made as game control is hanging in the balance. The truth regarding the moment of truth is that some games have them and some do not.
Looking back at my recent games, these games had a moment of truth:
• Boys U-19 game (penalty kick given for a trip in second-half stoppage time)
• Boys U-15 game (five cautions, particularly since the leading team was trying to delay the game)
• Girls U-15 game (penalty kick given for a trip in the first half)
So you would have noticed me if you watched those games. But a recent boys U-16 game that I refereed between two very sporting teams did not have a moment of truth. Ditto for other recent games that I have officiated in the younger age groups.
Moving from youth soccer to college matches and amateur games, the probability for a critical decision needing to be made increases. Particularly in tough games, the ref needs to be a rhino -- take charge, be unafraid and have a thick skin.
Red card offenses are send-offs, whether they occur in the third minute or the 90th minute. The 10 penal fouls, when committed by the defense inside the penalty area, are penalty kicks whether they occur at the beginning of the game or the end. Referees who lack courage and give cautions for what should be send-offs and move the ball outside the penalty area for fouls that occur just inside it will have a tough time for the rest of the game. Do not be surprised if the players, realizing that no penalty kicks are going to be called that day, turn the penalty area into a war zone.
Although each ref develops a style, he or she needs to whistle fouls corresponding to the level of play. There is some contact that is clearly a foul and other contact that is clearly a fair play. The ref also needs to understand what the players on the field and the particular game will accept in the gray area between fair or foul.
So are the best refs the ones you don’t notice? The answer is it all depends on that game.
(Randy Vogt has officiated over 9,000 games during the past three decades, from professional matches in front of thousands to 6-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.)