Making the Assistants Better

by John Puglisi, NISOA Past - President, NISOA National clinician and NISOA local assessor.

December 6th, 2007

In today’s game the assistant referees have become a major part of the refereeing crew. They are no longer just required to call the ball out of play and offside but must be fully involved in managing the game with the referee. They are expected to identify fouls and misconduct, protect the referees back, intervene when there is a confrontation between players close to them, help in maintaining bench control and along with the referee keep accurate records of goals, cautions and send-offs.

The players today are more sophisticated and faster at all levels then in the past making identifying fouls and misconduct more difficult. Teams are using the offside trap as a part of their total defense, therefore depending on the attention and positioning of the assistant to make the offside trap effective. These factors are also making the assistants’ job more difficult.

Because the assistant does not always work with the same referee, they must be able to adjust to each referee’s style and methods of controlling the game. They must listen carefully at the pre-game to ensure there is clear communications throughout the game, and know exactly what signals the referee wants, and when the referee needs their assistance.

There are many situations that the assistants find themselves in that can contribute to their failure. What follows is a list of the pitfalls that can affect the assistant’s performance:

1. Watching play on the other half of the field will cause the assistant to miss the offside because when a ball is played into their half, and assistant turns their head to look, they are not sure if the attacking player who received the ball was in an offside position when the ball was played. This is one of the major problem that cause incorrect offside decisions.

2. The assistant not being fit enough to keep up with play so they are not in line with the second to last defender or the ball on a fast break.

3. Players on the field close to the assistant blocking the assistants’ view of the players on the far side of the field who could be offside.

4. Assuming the goalkeeper is going to handle balls played to them, so the assistant does not following the ball all the way to the goal line.

5. Flagging fouls in front of the referee, causing the appearance of inconsistency between the referee and assistant.

6. Giving the wrong signals or signals that were not agreed on during the pre-game.

7. Being distracted by spectators behind them.

8. Not making eye contact with the referee after the ball is out of play or at a foul, which often leads to giving opposite directions.

9. Not supporting the referee’s decisions when pressed by the bench personnel about a referees call.

10. Flagging trivial fouls that the referee is not calling on other parts of the field, which again causes the appearance of inconsistency.

11. When the referee stops play for an injury or fight, the assistant closes to the ball does not remember where the ball was when play was stopped and does not know how to restart play.

12. Does not come on the field to assist the referee in the case of a confrontation, when it was agreed on for the assistant to do so at the pre-game.

13. At the end of the game does not go directly to the referee causing the referee team to linger on the field to long after the game.

14. The assistant can sometimes get tunnel vision because of there total concentration on offside and not see a player running through, causing an incorrect offside call.

15. The assistant can be distracted by players warming up both on the opposite side of the field and behind them.

16. Often the part of the field that is in the worst shape is where the assistant must run, causing another distraction.

17. Having players, coaches and spectators block the path or view of the assistant.

The dilemma is what can we do to solve the 17 problems that we identified as situations that affect the assistant performance? Having a more effective pre-game could solve five of the problems. Too often the referee does not take the time to review some of the more basic procedures, never mind those that will be needed in a competitive game. The referee should assume that anything that could go wrong in a game will go wrong and give a pre-game that will cover all the known high-risk situations, such as fights, injuries, serious foul play, violent conduct, bench control, incidents that happen in the penalty area and bad feelings at the end of the game.

Assistants understanding their role and not trying to referee the game from the sidelines could eliminate three more situations. The assistant must fully support the referee’s decisions and understand that even though they may have managed a situation differently had they been refereeing the game, they are there to assist the referee and not to insist that the referee manage the game to their standards. This is one of those “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” situations. Ask the question. “If I were the referee would I want the assistants to take the game away from me?”

Assistants concentrating more intently on their half of the field when play is on their side, would solve six more of the problems. This is not to say that the assistant should never observe things happening on the other parts of the field. But be aware of how narrow the view is when play is on the assistant’s side of the field and they are looking up the line in contrast to watching play across the field where the view is much wider, and the assistant is able to see play on both halves of the field. If the assistant is looking up the sideline they will fail to see the action that is happening right in front of them. This causes many offside to be incorrectly called and fouls off the ball to be missed right in front of the assistant.

Although outside distractions in most games are unavoidable the assistants can train themselves to ignore most of those distractions. To help, during field inspection the referees should make sure the restraining lines for bench personnel and spectators are properly marked and there is security to protect the assistants from the bench personnel and spectators. Players should not be allowed to warm-up behind or in view of the assistant across the field. The referee should also ensure that there are no people on the bench that should not be there, and that the area the assistant must run in is clear of all obstructions and the conditions are good enough that the assistant will not have to watch where they step as they run up and down the line.

As you can see the assistant’s job has a high-risk for failure. Assistant can make or break a referee’s performance in a game. So when you find yourself assigned as an assistant do the best you can to avoid the pitfalls you will encounter in every game and be a useful part of the refereeing team.

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