Commentary

Refereeing education: The present and the future (Part 2)

In the first part of this sequel, I tried to give the message to the refereeing world about the importance of educating our referees the spirit of the Laws of the Game (LOTG) and “what would football want/expect?” as well as the letter of the LOTG. At the grassroots level, the referees should learn the letter of the LOTG, but as they move up the echelon they should be introduced to the concepts of the spirit of the LOTG and ”what would football want/expect?”

Teaching the letter of the LOTG is rather easy. Although the content has increased from 80 pages (1979) to 228 pages in 2021-2022, it is relatively easy to educate the grassroots referees the letter of the LOTG. Teaching the spirit – basically answering the question why the letter – of the LOTG is challenging but still over a period of considerable time it is manageable. When it comes to teaching “what would football want/expect?”, that is a very tough job.

My little research since I wrote the first part of this sequel came up empty-handed for any written material how to understand or interpret “what would football want/expect?” “What would football want/expect?” is actually a soccer opinion just like a public opinion. “What would football want/expect?” is of interest to all major stakeholders of soccer, namely coaches, players, administrators and referees.

The more you are involved with soccer you will have a better comprehension of “What would football want/expect?” That is why it is a prevalent statement that elite referees should have played some level of competitive soccer to understand, “What would football want/expect?” I cannot envision myself umpiring baseball when all my experience in the game is some recreational level softball engagement as a player. “What would football want/expect?” is very much anecdotal in nature. Most of the time, “What would football want/expect?” is in line with both the letter and the spirit of the LOTG but rarely “What would football want/expect?” in a particular incident might be contrary to some extent to the both the letter and the spirit of the LOTG and sometimes to the letter of the LOTG.

Some of the changes in the letter of the LOTG were a direct result of “What would football want/expect?” One can only develop the sense of “What would football want/expect?” over time and with a deep knowledge of the game itself. The conclusion is that the education of “What would football want/expect?” to the elite referees is a cumbersome project which should utilize many anecdotal examples for inductive reasoning.

So even if the referee committees or organizations take on the difficult task of teaching the spirit of the LOTG and “What would football want/expect?” to the elite referees with the hope that correct interpretations of and applications of the LOTG will prevail, still I believe there are other areas where we can also concentrate our elite referee development efforts.

1. Use of data and statistics

I have recently written an article on the use of data and statistics in refereeing. The curious reader can go back and read it, but I will not go into the details of that article. Data and statistics can both be used for personal and group development. Individual referees can track and keep their own data; both to compare it to their peers and to their preset objectives in a season. The same is true for the group development: Referee committees or referee organizations can follow their referees’ performance via their data and they can tune their league’s objectives based on data with other similar leagues. Naturally both – personal and group development – rely on available data. Some could be as easy as accessing your vital information on your polar watch, like meters run in a game.  Some like the average distance in a game between the ball and the referee might be more problematic to compile. 

Recently Roberto Rosetti compared some of the data in Euro 2020 to Euro 2016. He was happy that the number of fouls per game and the number of yellow cards per game has dropped whereas effective playing time has increased. It is clear that modern referee officiating wants less fouls, less cards and more playing time. Both a referee and an organization can set their objectives and improve their values based on that trend. There are many comparisons available in leagues in Europe for fouls committed in a game as well as average effective playing time. One can also find average cards per game in various confederations. Leagues can see where they stand with respect to other leagues and set their seasonal objectives accordingly. As an example: If a league’s effective playing time is very low in comparison to others in UEFA, then a seasonal objective should be set for the league. For example, effective playing time in the past season was 51 minutes and the UEFA’s average is 57 minutes then a realistic objective like 53 minutes could be set for the league. Based on current education methodology of student centered education, referees should be involved in analyzing the reasons for the low effective time as well as the necessary steps to be taken to increase the effective playing time. Same methodology could be used for individual referees. Each referee should set his/her measurable objectives in various categories in the beginning of each season just like a salesperson setting up his/her quota for the year.

2. Preventive officiating

I watch and read many comments on a call in a game. Various pundits and referees discuss whether the player at fault should be cautioned or sent off without considering the history of that challenge. Most challenges do have a history; one cannot take the challenge out of the context of the game to decide for the correct decision. Game control is the number one issue for soccer officiating. I do not think we spend enough time in referee education in how to avoid challenges that might require a disciplinary approach. If we can spend some time with preventive officiating, then we might be able to avoid some cards. During elite referee education, showing clips and discussing the incident naturally is a very important educational process. Watching a game with serious game control issues and discussing what could have been done to avoid the mass confrontations, reckless challenges, massive dissent etc. is as important as watching individual challenges.  Using data on who fouled who might be a very useful tool to identify retaliatory fouls. Providing the referees with that data at halftime might also be considered. 

Modern-day officiating requires the use of technology, data and statistics in the educational process as much as possible. The concept of student-centered education will help the internalization process. Instead of telling a referee group what do, if they can come up on their own with what to do that will be far more effective.

Referee education for the elite group of officials has to be changed if we want to meet the objectives of contemporary refereeing.

Ahmet Guvener (ahmet@ahmetguvener.com) is the former Secretary General and the Chief Soccer Officer of Turkish FA. He was also the Head of Refereeing for the Turkish FA. He served as Panel member for the FIFA Panel of Referee Instructors and UEFA Referee Convention. He now lives and works as a soccer consultant in Georgetown, TX.

1 comment about "Refereeing education: The present and the future (Part 2)".
  1. R2 Dad, July 7, 2021 at 12:57 p.m.

    "Using data on who fouled who might be a very useful tool to identify"....the target of Persistent Infringement? Is there a rational explanation why Persistent Infringement is in the LOTG but never carded in the professional game. Why not just get rid of it if CONCACAF/UEFA/FIFA are never going to apply it?

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