Friday, June 11, 2010

Referee Criticism

I came across a video of Alexi Lalas discussing the quality of referees, specifically MLS referees compared to other leagues.  It got me thinking about the position of a referee and how we are completely open to criticism by observers that, for the most part, are completely biased and are generally lacking in any understanding of the LOTG.
Most of my readers referee youth soccer matches.  I'll guess the average reader of this blog has been a referee for a fairly short amount of time (less than 2 years) and works mostly U-16 and below games.  I know there are a few of you that work much harder games as some of you have contacting me with advice as well as constructive criticism (thanks, by the way).  Undoubtedly, we've all experienced criticism from fans, coaches and players.  I think this criticism can result from three major categories:
  1. A mistake in application of the LOTG or Rules of the Competition
  2. A disagreement with a judgment call or decision
  3. Ignorance of the LOTG
The first one is easy to fix.  Know the LOTG inside, outside, backward and forward.  Regardless of what games you are doing, you have to know the Laws.  There is no excuse for not knowing.  Know your competition rules.  Don't do a game in a particular league or tournament if you are not willing to review their rules before the game.  It's easy and prevents all issues related to this problem.  If you want to be particularly knowledgeable, go to the US Soccer store and get a copy of "Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game."
The second item is interesting.  Realize early in your career that very few participants in a soccer match are unbiased.  I'd venture to say the number is usually 3.  Coaches, players, parents and other observers always have an opinion about every call you make.  When you make a call, you will usually upset about 50% of the people observing the game.  That's just the way it is.  Since that is immutable, make sure you are making the best calls you can by knowing the LOTG (see above), being fit enough to be in a good position to make the call, and by doing the best you can with foul recognition and the like.
Also related to number 2 is the idea of view point.  You are the only one on the field with your view.  That goes for your assistants as well.  Realistically, in a perfect situation, you are only going to have 3 legitimate views on a given play.  Most of the time, you'll have 1 or 2.  You have to make the call on those views since the others (coaches, parents, players) don't count.  Keep in mind, that doesn't mean they didn't see something you didn't.  That different view on a play is the basis for a lot of referee criticism. Do the best you can with what you see and don't worry about the rest.  You can only call what you see.
From personal experience I can tell you that most coaches and nearly all parents and players have never read the Laws of the Game.  Even if they have, they certainly haven't read any of the documents available to interpret the laws.  Many coaches and almost everyone else at a game rely on their understanding of the laws, developed over years of being around the game.  This understanding includes the many myths of the game (no spin on the ball during a throw in, no foul if players gets the ball first, etc.).  I've never understood why coaches don't read the laws.  I just don't get that.  Did you know there is a watered down version of the laws available?  It's called "Laws of the Game Made Easy" and is sold by the US Soccer Federation.  Would things be a little different if all parents and players had to read this book?  It's hard to guess.
So, the next time you are working a game, remember the only thing that is important is you do the best job you can.  You are not there to please the spectators and coaches.  You are there to provide a safe, fair game for the players.  That is your only role.  The other stuff is not important.