3. Pre-Match Instructions

For any particular match, the assigned referee shares the responsibility of getting good performances from the assistant referees. One of the most important duties of a referee is to provide pre-match instructions to his or her assistant referees (and fourth official where one is used). If you are looking to upgrade, your pre-match discussion is one of the areas an Assessor will be evaluating.

A good time to provide these instructions is when the crew together walks the field to inspect field conditions. If you do not have a comprehensive list of instructions committed to memory, then make sure you have a written guide to follow. National Emeritus Referee Gil Weber, a contributor to the USSF Advice to Referees, posted his pre-match instructions many years ago. I have taken those as an outline and modified them into the instructions below.

  • ALWAYS
    • Focus on Off-side Line
    • Focus on Goal Line
    • Focus on Touchline
    • Focus on Misconduct away from/not seen by the me
    • Focus on Fouls not seen by me
    • Consider Advantage for fouls against Attackers and wait a moment
    • Read the game, the players and me for what needs to be called
    • Make eye contact regularly with me, especially at stoppages
    • Mirror flag held by the other Assistant when not seen by me
  • NEVER
    • Allow a restart to occur if you have information for me – especially kick-offs
    • Allow the wrong restart to occur – especially a kick-off after a “goal”
    • Signal for Offside until PIOSP touches ball, interferes, or gains advantage
    • Rush – Wait to make sure of Offside involvement, Advantage, Restart direction
    • Signal for trifling throw-in violations, kick placements, goalkeeper violations
    • Signal for handling for “Ball to Hand” – mirror my judgment
    • Get distracted by what is happening off the field – watch the players at stoppages
    • Ball watch when your responsibility is off-side
    • Lower flag if not seen by me unless play has restarted/moved to other half
  • When necessary
    • Lower your flag immediately if you realize it is in error
    • Advise me of misconduct by players, coaches, substitutes, spectators
    • Provide subtle hand signals to indicate nature of foul, need for booking
    • Use your voice to assist with Game Management – “Keep your hands down #5”
    • Yell “FLAG! FLAG! FLAG!” to get my attention if I ignore a flag (names can be confusing)
    • Make directional calls for balls over “Referee Lines”
    • Look to me if unsure of direction on balls over “Assistant Referee Lines”
    • Stay on the Goal Line at the PA line after a PK and only retreat when play is away
    • Signal a foul against defense in PA if you are sure I was screened/distracted
    • Signal for true handling in PA by Attackers or Defenders that scores/prevents goal
    • Come on to field to assist with wall, manage misconduct, prevent escalation
    • Make sure ball is “kicked and moved” for restarts and second-touch violations
    • (Older Teams) In the event of a mass confrontation, the closest Assistant Referee will respond quickly to the perimeter of the area of altercation. The other Assistant Referee will monitor that bench personnel stay off the field, and will then also approach the perimeter of the altercation. We as a crew will remain on the outside, forming a triangle around the confrontation and taking notes on any player misconduct until order is restored.
  • At Check-in:
    • No Pass, No Play, No Exceptions
    • Verify name on roster to name on pass
    • Advise players to play to the whistle except when opponent goalkeeper has ball
    • Advise players that ball must be kicked and moved to be “in play” on restart
    • Advise players not to protect body with arms and then move to the ball and make contact with them
  • Remember…
    • The signal for a ball over boundary and back onto field is flag straight up, wait for whistle
    • To raise the flag in the hand of the direction you will be pointing after whistle
    • To stop and stay square to the field before signaling
    • The signal for a foul against attackers inside PA is flag held across waist
    • After good goal, to make eye contact with me, trot towards half-line
    • If not a goal because of Offside Player involvement, flag straight up
    • If not goal for other reason, stand at attention, wave me over to discuss
    • To monitor the other Assistant Referee to assist with communications
    • If I disagree with you, it is not personal
    • We are a team – the most important thing is to get it right!
  • Now, any questions on things I covered, or are there things I did not cover that you’d like to discuss?

If you will be working as a referee with a crew, please feel free to use these instructions as a starting point for instruction to your assistants. If you will be working as an assistant referee on a crew, use these as a guideline unless provided with different instructions by your referee. As you develop your confidence, understanding, and feel for the game, you will evolve a set of instructions that is a reflection of yourself.

Link to US Soccer Video on the Pre-Game Conference

  1. Based upon a recent clinic presentation on crew teamwork by Barry Towbin, I will be updating my core pre-match instructions in the near future… Dan

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