AR’s Need to Resist the Urge to Insist but be Ready to Assist!

The situations:

Many of us have been here. You are sprinting down field, ten yards behind the attacking team’s breakaway going towards goal. The attacker has the ball at his feet and has demonstrated spectacular skills, even out maneuvering one defensive player who fell to the ground. You follow play deep into the opponents defensive third of the field and make a quick scan to determine how this attack will play out.

Much to your chagrin, your scan reveals the AR out of the corner of your eye emphatically waving the flag to attract not only your but everyone in the stadium’s attention. He or she is stationary fifteen yards behind you.

Oh no, now what? Your reluctance to address the AR’s obvious observation begs you to allow play to continue. At the same time, you remember that you are part of a team, all professionals, all experienced and respected for each other’s decisions. Hesitantly, because you know what is coming, you stop play and destroy what would soon become the equalizer.

As expected, the place becomes unglued as you quickly back away noting the spot for the restart and direction of the upcoming kick.

A quick review of the time indicates that halftime is soon at hand, which cannot come quick enough. You sound the whistle and hustle off the field to the usual cacophony of displeasure from the home team fans, which was accentuated when you were publicly found guilty of an “official’s” DOGSO.

You may recognize this scenario. During the first fifteen minutes of the contest, you notice an unusually high number of calls emanating from AR2. After the fourth stoppage for what most would consider a dubious foul call, you decide to run past the AR to determine if you are really missing these calls. At the next dead ball, which graciously included a substitution, you assume a position close to your teammate. You learn very quickly that the AR wanted the game to be called closer yielding many more calls against the attacking team. As you begin to leave the area, you provide a quick but very brief admonition to allow the game to play without injecting himself into the game.

A suggested remedy:

Referees come to each game with a variety of experiences. Some as former players, others from other agencies and still others who not only played but also coached. But on game day, all of us are the same. We are card carrying, registered, licensed soccer officials and we even have the badge to prove it. So how can the game day officiating crew come together to provide the unbiased officiating players, coaches, spectators have come to expect, and more importantly, deserve. As you might expect the answer lies with the entire officiating crew and can be discussed during the pre-game conference.

The importance of the pre-game conference:

Newer officials are not always responsible for unwanted or ‘insisting’ calls from the touch However, in many cases, those calls can be traced to a lack of preparedness or experience as new officials are assigned to high intensity collegiate contests. The collegiate game requires the officiating crew to work as a team with the centered official assisted by the assistant referees. That is not to say that assistant referees are restricted in their ability to make a call, but there are acceptable protocols in place to not only make the call but when to make it.

It is particularly important for less experienced referees to get the benefit of working with experienced officials. During those games, “rookies” will obtain valuable time on the field and quickly determine “what is,” and “what is not,” considered acceptable player behavior through the lenes of fellow officials. If they are fortunate enough to work many games as assistant referees, examples of both good and bad officiating methods will help shape their style and tolerance for their future officiating assignments.

Experienced officials must provide the guidance, training, and patience to ensure that game day expectations are not only at the highest levels but are also met. To avoid situations like those described above, concentrate on game descriptions of similar scenarios, and accurately explain your expectations Some other topics to cover during your pre-game may include:

  • Area of responsibility.

    • Give guidelines for the physical area of the field for which the AR is responsible.

  • Offside

    • If play is in the center’s area of the diagonal, be sure to get that all important eye contact just in case a defensive player made a play on the ball

  • Penalty Area

    • Many center officials have their own methods for how to handle potential fouls in this area of the field.

If you are a newer official listen carefully during pre-game conferences to determine how you can assist in the management of the game. Which may be a subtle way of suggesting that trifling calls from the AR, especially outside of their quadrant, and sixty yards away are not only unnecessary but definitely unwanted.

Risk Management in Free Kick Restarts

As you read the “Referee DOGSO” scenario above, you were probably thinking, “Wow, this is a clear example of an AR being over involved and insisting versus assisting.” Maybe, but let’s play a few scenarios in our head, and in each scenario, keep the risk in mind:

  • The ball was placed a yard away from the true spot of the foul – As ARs, let’s not look for the exact blade of grass to restart the kick from. Be verbal, give guidance to the team kicking the free kick, but I would argue that in almost all scenarios, three feet is not enough to warrant stopping the game to retake the kick.

  • A free kick in the defensive penalty area is taken 5+ yards from the spot of the foul – What is the advantage gained by taking a free kick 105 yards from goal instead of 110? Little to none and the risk is low. Again, this is not a situation where an AR should insist.

  • A free kick in the attacking third is taken 5+ yards from the spot of the foul – Risk management once again: Is there an advantage taking a free kick from 25 yards out when the foul occurred 30-35 yards out? Absolutely. This is where we need our voice to be heard to back the kick up to the proper spot. Hopefully, the referee will then key-in on your management and you both have eyes on the play. If the referee’s back is turned and does not notice your voice or the incorrect spot of the kick, I would argue that most times, a flag would be warranted.

  • A free kick is taken outside of the field of play, a corner kick is taken with the ball outside the arc, or a goal kick is taken with the ball clearly outside the area – These are technical violations and AR assistance must take place.

  • A free kick is taken 20 yards from behind the spot of the foul – You are probably thinking, “Well, what is the advantage here? The team taking the free kick put themselves at a disadvantage by taking the free kick so far back!”

    • The ball is played back to the goal keeper – The risk is zero to none and there is little danger.

    • But imagine the scenario where all players are looking at a specific general area for a free kick to be taken, and a free kick is taken in their blind spot. Now imagine that free kick taken 20 yards from behind the spot of the foul is boomed 60 yards up field to an attacker in a one-on-one situation. The defender fouls the attacker, or worse, a goal is scored in the next two touches. Do we want to accept this risk? Can the AR be the one to save the crew here if the referee’s back was turned?

In all scenarios, consider risk management - does the potential AR involvement insist and is not needed? Or can AR involvement save the crew… this is the assistance that we all want and expect in college soccer from our NISOA referees. The initial situation? Probably you were thinking that the AR ruined a golden opportunity, but what she was in fact actually saving the referee crew?

A word of advice to the veterans:

Center officials, take a moment during the game to send those especially important positive visual messages to your AR’s. At the same time, your negative responses need explanation as soon as possible. Keep in mind that negative thoughts about certain calls need to be fully explained prior to leaving the locker room.

The combination of a quality pre-game conference that includes open dialog among all officials, in addition to feedback during the game will obtain more “assisting” and less “insisting” necessary for today’s collegiate contest.

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