While being an alternate official is multi-faceted, one aspect, especially in the collegiate game, dominates this responsibility… dealing with people and personalities in close proximity. Our main point of contact will always be the coaches and how they uniquely exist within the college soccer framework, lends to some big personalities on the benches we manage. There certainly can be some turnover in certain divisions or conferences, but conversely some institutions have employed the same coaches for decades. Further, our officials can find themselves in positions where they have not been involved with the higher-level game for anywhere near the length of time as some of these coaches. Even if you are one of the more senior officials, we all have our own set of tools, level(s) of experience, and temperament that will contribute to either success or difficulty as an alternate official. These comments aren’t meant to be judgmental or assuming of any individual or group, but there is no denying the energy and excitement that is college soccer. Are we prepared to handle all our duties in addition to passionate people in this ever emotional/intense environment? Here are some thoughts on being a good Alternate Official and some best practice (HAVE A GREAT SEASON!):
Rules, Details, and Reports – But please, no clipboards! (It’s very amateur)
Be an NCAA / Competition Rules Expert – zero tolerance for errors regarding black and white rules
The Human Back Up Clock – initiate all prevention/fixing of any timing errors
Must have a perfect record of all game details – substitutions, major injuries, bench behavior related incidents/warnings [with time(s)], all misconduct, goals, and tie breaker procedures
Knowing what and how the referee wants you to communicate both solicited and unsolicited (pregame)… this is especially important if using radio communication where timely and measured communication is even more important
Prepared to provide feedback (especially from your outside perspective), if wanted/needed during breaks
Have back up equipment handy and be ready to step into an on-field role, if necessary, at any moment
Have excellent Communication Skills – both verbal and non-verbal (body language) – Personality
Listen as much if not more than you talk… many times coaches want to simply be heard/vent a little… nothing wrong with this
When you do talk, be polite but still firm
Professional questions deserve honest answers; statements need only acknowledgement (not the same as a response) - pick your battles while never throwing your teammates under the bus; it’s easy to get sucked into every little comment… once coaches know you will react to anything and everything… good luck; it’s hard stop!
It’s okay to tell a coach they could or might be right
It’s also okay to tell the coach that you can’t talk at that moment and that you will get back to them
Don’t be overconfident… this often leads to an attitude of they can’t be right, and you (we) can’t be wrong
-It’s okay (better) to say you don’t know or aren’t sure… don’t try to (over) defend something that shouldn’t / can’t be defended, i.e. calls that are obviously close/difficult… we commonly lose credibility this way
Face to face is more confrontational than standing next to someone; what does the moment need?
Awareness of mannerisms, eye contact, volume/tone of voice, posture, and image… Public Relations 101
Know your personality; play to your strengths and adapt for / overcome your weaknesses (we all have both)
Empathy, thick skin, and composure go a long way; however, this is not a message to be passive or ignore/accept inappropriate, irresponsible, and/or unprofessional behavior
Understand and take responsibility for/own the dynamics of the whole bench area; be a good multitasker (high awareness)
Your first priority is to help the officials on the field
Be focused on the right things at the right time, both on the field and off (hard/have to be engaged every second)
Avoid distractions - no excuses for missing an on-field decision near you or when you can help contribute
Move away from between the benches with meaning, purpose, and strategy, otherwise stay out of the way but ready to act
Get table personnel/ball people organized… for that game, they are part of your (our) neutral team – give them a pre-game
Hierarchy matters – head coaches can be granted some leeway, but assistant coaches get virtually none… multiple individuals publicly disagreeing / dissenting / mobbing any official cannot be allowed… this includes both individuals protesting all at once and/or multiple individuals taking turn; there can still be interaction with assistant coaches but tightly controlled. The Head Coach is ultimately responsible for his/her whole bench/roster – do not allow any unsporting back and forth between the two benches!
Issue/document clear warnings, when possible, to prevent escalation
Get on the same page with the referee prior to the game regarding their plan for potential intervention/misconduct to bench personnel; follow their lead as well as any conference/assignor instruction
Rarely are coaches ejected after the referee is called over to issue a public warning or yellow card… if our goal is to hopefully never have to escalate to an ejection, but to also curb behavior that has a negative impact on the game, all at the same time… then why wait/hesitate to act when all we will likely have to do is professionally remind a coach, with the help of the referee (teamwork), about the expectations of their involvement with the referee team/ the game as a whole? Place/transfer all weight onto their shoulders… it’s (now) never on you to be responsible for them; (always) their choice!
Balance our inherent authority by never forgetting that our roles are not and cannot be, “US vs. THEM”… in reality, we all need to be working together towards a safe and fair contest, both played and coached, as well as officiated, with integrity and respect… this is what all actions by the referee team need to encourage! Doesn’t’ get more professional than that!