The Language of the Laws
Over the first few weeks of the season I have had the opportunity to observe or work with several dozen referees. Each had strengths as well as areas for additional development, as we all do. One of the more common areas for improvement is verbal communications. This is also one of the easiest areas to improve – but it takes a little effort!
As referees, we can be our own worst enemies by the words we choose to communicate. For example, after a coach complains that his player was pushed, having been illegally charged from behind, we should not say “It wasn’t a foul because the player did not use her hands.” If you did not see the charge to the back, simply say that, but advise the coach you will watch for it (and watch for it!).
Above is an obvious example of digging yourself a hole. There are other situations, however, that can best be avoided by using the “Language of the Laws”. Examples:
- We do not tell the coach that the player in an offside position “was not offside” because we meant that the player did not become involved in play. We say “the player was not involved in play” (and we never say “offsides” – it is “offside”).
- When the player questions the “hand ball” we did or did not call, we say “the player handled the ball” or “the player did not handle the ball, it was ball to hand” as appropriate. “Hand ball” is another sport!
- When a player in a match played under the Laws of the Game (not high school) illegally interferes with an opponent’s ability to move without making contact, our call is for “impeding” as in “impeding the progress of an opponent”. There is no foul called “obstruction” in the LOTG (and remember that it is an Indirect Free Kick!).
- When we call a direct free kick foul and it is only careless, we do not say “the player was reckless”. A reckless foul is a cautionable offense. A careless foul is not. And we never say “it was a serious foul” or “it was excessive” to explain why we issued a caution. Serious Foul Play / Excessive Force is a sending-off offense. The word to use is “reckless”. In the same light, we don’t describe a reckless foul for which we issued a caution as “dangerous”. Playing in a dangerous manner is an Indirect Free Kick offense and is not cautionable. Endangering the safety of an opponent is serious foul play and is a Send-off.
- Speaking of Playing in a Dangerous Manner, when a player kicks the ball while on the ground, or raises her foot to head height to play the ball, there is no offense! Unless, the action threatens injury to someone (including the player), AND, it is committed with an opponent nearby, AND, the opponent is adversely affected because it prevented the opponent from playing the ball for fear of injury. If those components are present, then we don’t say “she kicked the ball on the ground” or “high foot”, we say “playing in a dangerous manner” (and we adjust our opinion of potential injury and adverse affect based upon the age and skill of the players).
- This last item is my pet peeve: referees improperly say “Play on” to mean there was no offense or that it was trifling. “Play on” by itself or combined with the word “advantage” is what we say when we want everyone to know that there was a foul, but that the team that was fouled maintained a tactical advantage so we did not stop play. When we say “play on” to mean “that wasn’t handling” or “there was no foul there” we create potential confusion. Even just saying “play” may be misunderstood. I used to say “play, play, play” to mean nothing until an assessor pointed out the potential confusion. So what should we say in those situations? Some combination of “nothing there”, “no foul”, “fair charge”, “good tackle”, “we’re good”, “ball to hand”, or “keep playing” as appropriate should work. Practice using a couple of these phrases in your games to break the habit of saying “play on” (but remember to say loudly, “Play on – advantage!” when you do have an advantage situation).
Using the Language of the Laws will not avoid all communications problems, but it provides us with several benefits:
- We will have short, to the point, and consistent descriptions to give players and coaches;
- The players and coaches who know the Laws will realize that so do we;
- The players and coaches that do not know the Laws (yes, there are a few) will be left scratching their heads as if we just spoke a foreign language; and,
- This language is the exact same language we should use when writing our game reports (and if necessary, our supplemental reports).