Teach me to be a good ref
March 17, 2014 2:41 PM   Subscribe

In a few weeks, I will be refereeing a game of [obscure sportsball] for the first time. Please give me your tips to do as good a job as possible!

(I'm being deliberately vague about the sport because google indexes AskMe, the game(s) I'm officiating are relatively high profile in the sport, and I’d rather not have my anxieties broadcast to the community at large. It has rules somewhat similar to soccer/football, played on a smaller field at a correspondingly quicker pace. I’d be happy to provide more details over memail.)

There’s not much else to this question, really – I’m going to be “head ref” (i.e. the person who actually makes calls and such, as opposed to just observing on the field) for the first time, and, as a naturally quiet, non-confrontational type who tends to default to people-pleasing in uncomfortable situations, I’m a little bit nervous. Everyone is, in general, quite civil, but heated argument/debates do arise semi-frequently. I have a copy of the official rulebook and will be reviewing it lots leading up to the first game (it's been a while). Any sort of advice is greatly appreciated!
posted by btfreek to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Can you watch some recent games to get an idea of the most common penalties made by players?
posted by luckynerd at 3:02 PM on March 17, 2014

I have been a soccer referee for many years. I have a few tips. You have to point or say whose ball it is when it goes out of bounds, (and it can be difficult especially after quarters or half time when the teams switch attacking direction), so in your head say to yourself "off blue, red ball" but out loud only say the "red ball" part. I was taught that when I took my ref class years ago and it has worked wonders for me.
Try to stay confident, and you will probably make mistakes, everyone does, if you catch yourself in a fluster where you knew the right call but pointed the wrong way or said the wrong thing, or awarded the kick to the wrong team, don't feel any shame about stopping the play and correcting it before the ball is put back in to play, and don't worry it happens to refs all the time. If you can watch another ref do the same job before you, you can learn the culture of that specific sport in that area, (sometimes more or less "fouling" is allowed, and sometimes the referees stay out of it a lot more than in other parts of USA). And even better pull a ref aside at the place where you will be reffing and ask him for a few pointers. Be ready to run a lot and try to stay near the ball. It really isn't that bad, and never listen to fans, parents coaches yelling at you, 99% of them would fail a written referee test themselves.
posted by crawltopslow at 3:04 PM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I used to be an umpire (ASA girls softball) when I was a teenager and I've recently returned to playing soccer with referees. Here's what I think works/helps:

Be confident in your calls. If it's a foul, call it a foul. If you don't think it is, don't call it. The key is to make the call and then let play resume and move on. Indecision is nearly fatal, aggravates both teams and undermines your authority.

Be consistent. It really sucks as a player when one tackle is considered a foul and then a nearly identical tackle is not. When I was umpire, I was vigilant in making sure my strike zone was the same for each batter. Consistency helps players focus on the game and not on how you're calling it.

Be calm and be unobtrusive. You are the voice of reason in the game. People are relying on it! Also you are there to facilitate the game of play, you're not the game. We had a ref this weekend who clearly liked being the center of attention (he made small talk with all the players, sort of joking, asking us to talk to him before free kicks) and it was weird and kind of annoying.
posted by kendrak at 3:07 PM on March 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

Use your assistants. Unless you're right on top of a play, subtly check with the other officials before you make a call, if the sportsball in question is one where you don't have to make the calls rightthissecond in the heat of play.

And like kendrak said, make the call, move play along. Don't be afraid to just say, "Look, coach, I'm the official. I have registered your complaint, and I'm not taking the call back."
posted by Etrigan at 3:29 PM on March 17, 2014

From the context of umpiring Australian Rules football, though not knowing anything about your sport's rules, these would be the best 'tips' for first-timers:

- player safety is the first responsibility of umpires and referees---if someone's playing unsafely, it'll be you people look to to stop it.
- Umpiring/refereeing is arbitrary a great deal of the time, everyone knows it and it has to be, but as long as you're consistent and you can explain why you made the call you did, players will respect that
- if you've previously been a player, be aware that your instinct will be to run towards the ball, rather than run alongside the play, keeping it in view. Positioning is simple, but you have to do it consciously
- be loud, and if you've got a whistle, take the best advice I've ever got about whistles, which is 'blow the f*&king pea out of it'
- a fairly umpired match doesn't mean that each team gets around the same number of calls their way; it's quite common for free kicks to be very lopsided.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 4:26 PM on March 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

I used to have to ref basketball games in my (very amateur) league and I had much the same trepidations that you do. All the advice above about being clear and confident is very good advice (one thing you'll hear professional refs saying when players complain is "I can only call what I see" which is a good philosophy--don't get into arguments with players, just say that you know what you saw and that's the ruling.

One trick that worked for me might be of use. One thing that amazed me when I first starting refereeing was that as a player I always knew exactly what was going on the court. If one of our players was the last to tip the ball as it went out I knew, if there was a close "is it charging or blocking" call, no matter what I was saying to the ref, I knew what had really happened etc. But suddenly put a whistle in my hand and it all became a blur. Hey, maybe that guy tapped it on the way out, maybe not. Maybe that was a clean block, maybe not. What I found really helped was to let one part of my mind be firmly "on" one of the two teams. I wouldn't try to think "I'm the impartial god floating above the action and judging it impartially" but look at the flow of the game as if I were part of the Red team or the Blue team. Suddenly all the action of the game would snap back into that clear focus I had as a player--because it was all "hey, that's our ball, damn it!" or "oh, damn, he just got a finger on that, didn't he." It mattered to me who would or wouldn't get the ball or who would or wouldn't get the foul, so I saw it all more clearly.

But then I would have the part of my brain that was actually making the calls be completely impartial. That is, the observing part of the brain would say "Oh, damn it, Red player 8 just grazed that ball with his finger as it was going out--I hope the ref doesn't notice" but the officiating part of my brain would just blow the whistle and call it for Blue. I found it easy enough to be simultaneously a "biased" observer and an impartial judge and I never found that the team I was mentally "against" was any more likely to accuse me of bias than the team I was mentally "for." And it really helped me be a much more decisive and alert ref.
posted by yoink at 5:36 PM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Agree with the above. I'll add two things that I don't think have been mentioned:

-If you have a chance, watch some games and think about where the ref should be (ideally) positioned in different game situations. It's true that a ref can only call what he/she sees, but a good ref thinks ahead of time about the position on the field that will allow him/her to observe everything that's going on. This usually means not standing in the center of the field the entire game.

-Although it sounds like things are pretty civil in your situation, fans and coaches can be real jerks towards refs. Prepare yourself for this. Most people aren't used to being yelled at, but it happens to refs on a regular basis.
posted by btkuhn at 6:13 PM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am soccer coach. I have previously played and refereed the sport also.
I think refereeing is different in each sport, because the things that the ref needs to watch for are different.

However, there is one extremely important general rule that I would give you:
You Are Not There To Watch The Game !! You are there to ref the game.

In soccer for example, Refs often watch the game, getting caught up in the excitement of a corner kick (or whatever), and they are not watching for off-sides. There are tons of examples of this in every sport.

Referees have specific designated things to be watching for in each sport. In a sense, that means you have to watch the game - but you do NOT watch the game like a spectator. There are critical times in every sport where all the spectators are watching the excitement, and the ref should be watching for something for something else.
posted by Flood at 4:59 AM on March 18, 2014

Don't hesitate or overthink. Just make the call. Half the crowd's gonna disagree with you no matter what.
posted by whuppy at 7:55 AM on March 18, 2014

In ice hockey, especially at the higher levels (which is sounds like you're working here ? high profile usually means higher skill ?) we are taught game-management.

Generally, if you're working those levels, you know the rules, the fouls, the interpretations of the rules, where your positioning should be on the field, and so training is more about when do you make the foul call. Was it off-play, glaringly obvious, denied a scoring opportunity ? etc. Beginner refs are taught black/white. At the higher levels, the grey area expands a lot.

How do you talk to the players, and the coaches - either during play, or at stoppages, etc. The players may or may not know the rules (you'd be surprised ...), so explain your calls if you can, but don't take shit from the players if they get abusive (or coaches).
posted by k5.user at 8:12 AM on March 18, 2014

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