Pre-Match Instructions

Youíve been assigned to do the middle Ė you arrive at the field, and your assistant referees are eagerly awaiting your leadership. What to do? The very first thing you must attend to is the condition of the playing field. Ask your assistants to walk one half of the field if they havenít already done so. Itís very important to have looked for hazards. You may not spot anything dangerous, but from a liability standpoint, you were not negligent in your duties.

Before the kickoff, ask your assistants to each take a team and do equipment checks and collect passes if necessary. By so doing, you are immediately delegating responsibility and giving your assistants a chance to communicate with the players and coaches. It gets them involved and interested.

With some time left before the kickoff, take your assistants aside and begin your pre-game brief. You should know the playing time and inform them of the duration of the halves and how much time you expect to take for a halftime interval. Make sure that you expect them to back you up with their clocks. Ask them how they found the field, what the players are like, if they know anything about the teams and coaches, and anything else that may make your game management more successful. Encourage their opinions.

One of the best ways to cover pre-game instructions is a method that I learned while taking the referee assessor course (a formal assessment always includes an evaluation of your pre-game). You can generally break a game down into types of kicks that take place during a match, and your assistantís mechanics often hinge on these restarts. So cover each type of kick and where you expect them to be positioned and what they should do.

  1. Kickoff Ė Your assistants should position themselves either in line with the last defender or somewhere in the vicinity of the 18-yard line of the penalty area.
  2. Goal Kicks Ė Ask your assistants to position themselves in the vicinity of the 18-yard line of the penalty area and to note that the ball passes fully out of the penalty area on the kick. If it is touched by another player before it leaves the penalty area instruct them to simply raise their flag and hold it up.
  3. Corner Kick Ė Your assistant at the goal line where the kick is being taken should position him/herself on the goal line to watch the flight of the ball and indicate if it goes out of play. If the kick is from the opposite side of the field, the assistant should move in on the goal line closer to the penalty area to help look for infractions during the kick. This also places the assistant in a good position to act as a goal judge in case
  4. Penalty Kicks Ė Ask the assistant on that goal line to take up a position on the goal line and move into the vicinity of the penalty area to act as a goal judge to ensure whether the ball completely crosses or does not cross the goal line. The assistant should also observe the position of the players to ensure that they donít encroach on the 10-yard circle before the kick is taken.
  5. Free Kicks Taken near the Defendersí Penalty Area Ė A free kick taken near the penalty area is a situation where the referee may chose to line up on the last defender to judge offside. Inform your assistants that they should look to you for their position and that you may signal them to line up on the goal line to act as a goal judge, similar to the position on a penalty kick.

If your referee assistants know where to go in these situations, you can work much more smoothly as a team and eliminate potential sources of confusion.

As the referee, you should know what instructions you wish to give prior to a match. Even if your assistant(s) are more experienced than you are, they canít help you to do your best if you donít tell them what you expect of them. Donít be too shy to lay it out for them. There may be many more things you wish to cover, such as how to handle offside, what to signal if a foul occurs inside or outside the penalty area, what assistance you want in calling fouls or other misconduct. Halftime is another good time to discuss things that you see occurring. Ask for opinions regarding the teamsí play and encourage your assistants to "exchange notes" on how defenders are lining up during play.

Remember: get your assistants involved, give them clear guidance before the kickoff on what you expect them to do in certain situations, and look to them for assistance if you arenít sure. Donít be afraid to stop play and confer privately with an assistant referee in order to get it right. The match may have been dull and boring, but the spectators will be treated to some good officiating.

Phil Houk