A ref's incorrect striving for perfection

Why is it that I might be a relatively average looking guy but I look very good in my photos, including the images in this space? It’s because that I’m good at Photoshop.

But at least I know when I’m retouching images in Photoshop too much. I remember working at a Manhattan ad agency at the turn of the millennium and we created a brochure to promote our agency to potential clients. There were photos of the three partners in the brochure. The partners came to the art director designing the brochure and stood over him, making sure that their skin and hair looked absolutely perfect. But human beings are not perfect and the photos were retouched so much they looked fake so I dubbed it the “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” brochure, even if one of the partners was a woman.

Nobody is perfect, including referees, and I’ve had to learn to chase excellence and not perfection as I will continuously disappoint myself if I do the latter.

When I was growing up and as a young adult in New York, I refereed nearly all games solo. I learned that although I wanted to get every decision correct, I would not be able to get many close offside decisions correct. And as long as I was trying my best, I should not beat myself up over a goal being allowed that was marginally offside. Even if I had a coach on the touchline, often with a better position than me to spot offside as I was on the field, pointing out to me about my error.

That coach needed to let it go and move on, just as I needed to do the same. I certainly needed to concentrate on the next decision, rather than thinking about possibly missing my last one.

If the coach had problems moving on, the coach needed to understand that one ref cannot get every decision correct. And if the coach did not want to move on, the referee needed to control the behavior on the touchline.

But most people on youth soccer fields, then and now, are very fair. I can remember one boys U-16 game that I refereed solo in my early days where a team pulled an offside trap but Johnny did not get the memo and he pulled up after the ball was passed. The attacker that the ball was passed to went in alone on goal and scored although it looked to nearly everyone that player was way offside. The goalkeeper and his teammates ran up to me dissenting but one of their teammates saw exactly what I saw and said, “The player was onside as Johnny pulled up too late.” It was the actions of players like that who have made officiating a pleasurable experience.

Besides having to move on in my mind when I know or think that I’ve made a mistake, I also should get play restarted quickly. If play is restarted quickly, there’s much less chance for dissent as the teams need to follow the ball instead of arguing.

I’m lucky as very few of my games are taped. Not so for pro refs who, even if they restart play quickly, will have videos of all their decisions analyzed and broken down by assessors and commentators, with the note that many of those commentators sadly never opened up a rulebook.

Besides not looking back at potential errors during the game and restarting play quickly, I’ve learned that I cannot whistle a make-up call. I lose the respect of players and coaches as well as my colleagues when I make something up. And it encourages dissent.

So, if I whistle a handling offense but the player is adamant the ball struck the chest rather than the arm, it looks ridiculous if I whistle an extremely marginal handling foul shortly thereafter on the opposing team.

(Randy Vogt, the author of "Preventive Officiating," has officiated more than 10,000 games. Go HERE for the archive of Vogt's referee Soccer America referee articles.)

10 comments about "A ref's incorrect striving for perfection".
  1. Bob Ashpole, April 27, 2018 at 3:46 p.m.

    I played in about 800 adult amateur matches with many different officials, mostly rising Grade 8s, but some higher grades too. I was amazed at how well they do. 

    A little education of parents and youth coaches goes a long way. Thanks, Randy, for another good article. 

  2. R2 Dad, April 27, 2018 at 4:25 p.m.

    Agreed. Makeup calls are the domain of refs with a weak constitution that can't see and/or won't run.

  3. Wooden Ships, April 27, 2018 at 5:01 p.m.

    Randy, always enjoy reading your articles. How do you feel about VAR and technology and is it similar to the unrealistic goal of the quest for perfection?

  4. Randy Vogt replied, April 27, 2018 at 10:37 p.m.

    Great question by Wooden Ships above, especially in this context. The concept of VAR is excellent but the execution has been so-so although MLS has been utilizing it better than most leagues that use VAR. What I don't like is games are being interrupted too much. To prevent this from continuing to occur, my suggestions  are to overturn ONLY clear and obvious errors. So if an attacker who scored was closer to the goal line by a nose or a knee, allow the goal to stand as a clear and obvious error was not committed by the officiating crew. Second, the VAR will tell the officials whan a decision needs to be changed and they wil accept and change it. No need for the ref to jog to the video, watch it for a minute or two, then come back onto the field. It's interesting that refs often accept when the VAR states the onside/offside call was wrong, generally the AR's responsibility, but going to the video to review his own foul decision. Since the VAR is also a pro ref, he should have the power to overturn decisions without any review by the ref on the field so they can get on with the game.

  5. Wooden Ships replied, April 27, 2018 at 10:47 p.m.

    Thanks Randy. I was happy without any VAR but the genie is out of the bottle. I had never considered your suggestion, nor heard anyone else suggest it. I like it. 

  6. Randy Vogt replied, April 28, 2018 at 7:36 a.m.

    Nobody likes to be defined by their mistakes and there are a few athletes and officials in every sport who are sadly associated with an error. It's generally from a bad error that changed the outcome of a very important game. For example, the officials who missed Maradona's "Hand of God" goal probably still feel bad about it decades later. Actually, at least one does not have to worry about it as he died last year. Bogdan Dochev might have been one of Bulgaria's best refs in the 1970s and '80s but his obituary's headline was "Linesman who failed to report Maradona's Hand of God goal dies." If video review had been in use during the 1986 World Cup, the goal would have been disallowed, Maradona would have been cautioned (under today's rules) and England would have been awarded a free kick. And the officials on that game would have moved on without a cloud over their heads. Same deal with the Uruguayan officials who missed Frank Lampard's goal against Germany eight years ago. So video review will correct these clear and obvious errors. As I stated above, the concept is excellent but the execution has been so-so as games are being interrupted too much.

  7. Wooden Ships replied, April 28, 2018 at 7:58 p.m.

    Another angle on missed calls I hadn’t considered. I’ve had game changing calls against me, my team, as a player and coach and GM. I have not harbored I’ll will towards the referee(s) involved. I would like to believe I’m in the majority, perhaps naively. There are individuals, journalists too, that have a pathology about them. Knowingly, denigrating others, even the deceased. Sad. After reading your views here I believe I can come to accept this transition. The thought of allieviating this type of extremist treatment of officials through VAR sounds like it’s needed. 

  8. Randy Vogt replied, April 29, 2018 at 3:45 p.m.

    But the media is not against officials in this instance as they treat players the same way. Bill Buckner might have had a 22-year Major League Baseball career (I looked that up) but he will forever be associated with an error in a World Series game, which occurred while he was injured. MLB pitcher Ralph Branca died in 2016. He played 12 seasons in the pros but most of his obituaries stated in the headline that he gave up a historic home run (while pitching for the Brooklyn Dodgers) to Bobby Thomson of the New York Giants. Buffalo Bills' kicker Scott Norwood played in the NFL for seven seasons but will always be known by that miss at the end of the Super Bowl. At least refs now have a do-over with video review. Maybe soccer has been a little more forgiving to its players in this regard. It seems that Roberto Baggio is being mainly remembered as a prolific scorer and not for skying that PK in the shootout at the end of the 1994 World Cup final, while injured.

  9. uffe gustafsson, April 28, 2018 at 8:45 p.m., if you only knew how many coaches riding the refs to get calls in their favor. It’s like they think the more I yell at every little thing on the field sooner or later the ref will call one in his favor.
    the thing that should be implemented is every club should have zero tolerance for coaches to argue any calls that the ref does, that would also make parents stop calling out to the ref.
    what I seen is the louder the Coach is the louder the parents are and players.
    i like reffing but also don’t want my weekend love for being on the field w kids to ruin that weekend. But sadly it’s way to frequent that my weekend is ruined, and that’s why we are short of refs every weekend.
    who needs that, really.

  10. R2 Dad replied, April 30, 2018 at 4:43 p.m.

    It's odd--referees don't stick around long if they're roadkill. Most refs have an independent streak and aren't swayed by such hectoring so I don't know why this behavior has become so common since I never see it as effective. Maybe bully coaches see results with 12 YOs solo refs at the rec level and gain confidence in their bullying ways? Clubs may have a policy for coaches to follow but it never amounts to much; the leagues aren't much better. The closest I 've seen is a league threatening to blackball a club due to their violent parents, but nothing came of it. One of the reasons why I like the DA is they post match results online, and everyone sees how and how often their coaches get sent off. Here is a random example of a DA match report:
    ....I wish all leagues posted similar results. Sunlight is the best dininfectant.

    Until we have a proper vertically-integrated club from U8 to professional and true accountability, these bully coaches won't just fade away on their own.

    I'm currently struggling with how the game should be officiated from U16 to U19. I'm finding men's league officiating is dropping down to younger and younger ages and this terrifies most of the smaller 15 YO kids as it's perceived as a complete free-for-all.

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