Managing Players

Rod Kenney

by Rodney Kenney, NISOA National Clinician and NISOA National Assessor.

March 12th, 2007

To referee a successful game a referee must be able to manage people who are under both physical and mental stress. It takes a mindful and resolute individual to deal with players under these conditions for 90 minutes.

First of all you must not be influenced by the emotional state of the players. I will admit it can sometimes be contagious, but remember do not be drawn into the same emotional trap as the players. It helps if you can separate your personal feelings from your professional decisions.

Next you must understand what the players will accept as trivial fouls. This will differ with the level of play. The player’s level of acceptance will also be affected by playing conditions, score, the players’ physical condition, or even the outcome of the previous meetings with an opponent. You must train yourself to be aware of these ever-changing conditions throughout the game and be able to modify the way you referee the game to best control the play.

Some simple signs you can use as a guide including the following: Listen to what players are saying to each other and you. Retaliation is a sure sign of the need for tighter control. Look for signs of frustration and react in a positive way to it, perhaps by calling what you had thought to be a trivial foul earlier in the game, but now has become a game control foul that if called, will relieve some of the frustration.

Next, always remember the purpose for discipline is only a means to get players to do what you want them to do. Use the minimum amount of discipline to get what you want, and understand no amount of discipline will undo the act that the player has done, only what the player will do in the future. So, unless the player has perpetrated serious misconduct, sending him off may not be the best action for the good of the game, or for you. Too much to soon could have a backlash effect. Consider all the stages of discipline you have: a good word, a warning, a caution, and lastly, if you have not been able to control the player with the other forms of discipline, a send-off.

Another key to game control is not to reacting as much to what players say but what they do. Too many referees’ caution players for dissent when the real problem lies in the referees’ inability to recognize fouls and deal with misconduct properly.

There are two types of dissent and each requires a different measure of action. The first is what I call “emotional dissent.” This is when a player reacts to a call or lack of a call, with an emotional outburst, then continues to play with no further comment. We, as referees must accept the fact that the player on the end of the tackle may have judged what we consider a good tackle differently. Be tolerant of that type of dissent. The second and more dangerous type of dissent is what I call “premeditated dissent.” This occurs when a player continually complains about your calls, even when he is not involved. This form of complaining can be varied. Such as a player questioning your every call, inciting other players to dissent, kicking the ball away, or clapping when a call is made in favor of his team. This type of dissent must be dealt with as soon as possible.

Referees make mistakes. Properly correcting your mistakes will add to your credibility, not make you look foolish. When you do make a mistake and fail to realize it until after play has resumed, do not make up a call to benefit the team that was penalized by your first error.

Being there in a literal sense is undoubtedly your best advantage in controlling the game. By being there I mean being at the field early enough to do a good pre-game, being close to play so you see the first foul, or being there when you see trouble developing between players.

As the commercial says, “never let them see you sweat.” Keep your emotional cool. Players sense your emotional state and will use that to their advantage. Also remember that what you say especially when you are not in control of your emotions will be used against you later in the game or even after the game. The more emotional you become the less you should say. At this time the whistle should do all the talking for you.

Properly managing players is what separates lower level referees from upper level referees. Player management is half art and half science, so part can be learned from clinics, articles and experience. And because the other half of player management is and art, we cannot all use the same techniques with equal success. Part of player management must be developed through your personality. By experimenting with different methods, and accepting advice from more experienced referees and assessors, you can become a better player manager and thus a better referee.

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