Referee Crew Teamwork

El Hadji Diouf ..complains to the Assistant Re...

El Hadji Diouf complains to the Assistant Referee! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At the November meeting of the SRANJ, National Referee Coach Barry Towbin provided a presentation on referee crew teamwork. He led a discussion of the referees in the room around several topics critical to successful referee teamwork. Barry challenged referees in the room with questions and used their answers as well as their comments and questions to augment his presentation.


The referee crew must present a unified and professional appearance. From the moment the crew arrives, spectators, players and coaches are forming judgments based upon on its appearance and initial interaction. This continues until the match is over and the referee crew leaves the pitch. Perception is reality, and each member of the referee crew is responsible for helping to project a professional image.


This includes knowledge of the laws of the game but it also includes awareness of what is expected by the level of the competition. The referee team should be prepared to discuss the factors about the competition in the pre-game conference.


Ultimately, successful referee teamwork requires effective communications. This begins with the pre-game conference. It is at this time that the referee team members begin to build a rapport with each other. The pre-game conference is where crew members discuss what is expected of each of them. They should also discuss match-specific factors, such as local rules of competition, team tactics, styles of play, and who are the play makers, enforcers, and leaders on the teams.

The pre-game conference should confirm how each member of the crew should communicate when they are looking for assistance for a call, and the referee should indicate how he or she will indicate awareness and control. This can include things like eye contact (deer in the headlights = “I need help” versus shaking of head “I have it”) and the “professional point” whereby the referee provides guidance to the assistant referee when the AR is unsure of last touch.

For credibility, crew members must be able to indicate a change of a call (such as throw-in direction) without throwing a crew member under the bus. The referee can signal a deflection with his or her hands to make it clear to everyone why we are going the other way. When the assistant referee gets the attention of the referee to change direction (when appropriate) the referee can reinforce the call with a thumbs-up or thank you for the additional information provided.

Referee teamwork does not exist if the referee and ARs are not on the same page. The ARs contribute to game management and referee credibility for incidents off the ball, fouls out of view of the referee, correct offside and goal line decisions, and response to mass confrontation incidents. The ARs also back up the referee on time, score, and misconduct tracking. ARs are involved in the match based upon their areas of influence.

The AR’s ability to influence is strongest in the triangle formed by a line extending from the intersection of the halfway line and touchline to the goal post nearest the AR, especially when play is closer to the AR than the referee. The AR’s ability to influence is weakest in the far half of the attacking third. In all other areas, the AR’s ability to influence will depend on multiple factors. When a referee is caught deep and there is a fast counterattack, the now lead AR must “become the referee” for a few seconds and become more involved until the referee recovers. When a referee is having a bad game, ARs may need to become more involved by expanding their area of influence.

Besides having a pre-game conference, it is important to have a halftime conference. It is during the halftime conference that adjustments can be made. These adjustments may be to change the level of match control. They can be an opportunity to correct the mechanics of a new AR. They can be an opportunity for the ARs to provide feedback to a referee having a bad game.

Game Critical Decisions

All of the communications and teamwork discussed up to this point is intended to prepare the referee crew for game critical decisions. These include:

  • Penalty Kick/No PK decisions
  • Goal/no goal
  • Send-offs
  • Other forms of misconduct.

The referee crew must be prepared to communicate information in these situations so that the proper decisions are made.

While not always recognized (unfortunately), a game critical incident can occur when a player publicly, personally, and/or provocatively dissents with the offside/no offside decision of the assistant referee. If the referee does not deal with this immediately, it can have a lasting negative effect on the rest of the match. The referee needs to support the other team members and Caution a player who attempts to undermine the AR.

Game Credibility

In addition to responding to dissent against ARs, there are other game credibility opportunities that require good teamwork. These include:

  • The need for a Caution associated with a foul: the AR should use the agreed upon signal or call the referee over for a conference.
  • A delayed Caution scenario (when advantage is played): the trail AR should note the number of the player who fouled but advantage was played (one reason why the advantage signal should be both displayed and verbalized loudly)
  • An attacker in offside position when a goal is scored and AR unsure of last touch or whether attacker interfering: the AR should stand at attention and call the referee over
  • Persistent infringement: the AR should be helping the referee keep track of persistent infringement (one player, multiple fouls; or one team targeting an opponent)
  • Injury restarts: the AR closest to the restart should make note of the position and direction and the referee should verbalize the restart when the coach is beckoned
  • After a goal: after the goal is awarded, the referee should monitor retrieval of the ball from the net, and after the lead AR jogs up field, he or she should stop and monitor the players as they return to kickoff positions
  • While not mentioned by Barry, I would include tracking who received Cautions to avoid a Graham Poll moment (2006 World Cup where he gave a second Caution to Croatia’s Simunic but did not send him off, and actually ended up giving him a third Caution and a Send-off after the match ended!)

As a result of Barry’s presentation, I will be adding a few more items to my pre-game conference instructions.

  1. Proactively point out the AR’s primary area of influence (the triangle mentioned above) and to empower the AR to help manage the game in this area (subject to the usual requirements to make good eye contact, note where I am relative to the incident and what I could have seen, call what I would have called, and consider advantage).
  2. Identify the eye contact to indicate “I need help” and to indicate “I got it” or “nothing there”.
  3. Ask the AR closest to the restart after an injury to take charge of the ball and to remember the restart and direction while I deal with the injury. This is something I do routinely as an AR but have not instructed ARs to do for me.

About Dan Paolini

Soccer & Futsal Referee Assignor

Posted on November 15, 2013, in Advice Posts and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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