NISOA National Clinician
The most successful referees understand the importance of
a solid pre-game meeting.
In order for the team of officials to achieve a high
level of comfort, and insure optimal feelings of preparedness and
togetherness, this meeting is a must. We know from our experience that the
quality of performance can be effected by what is covered (or left
uncovered) in our discussions prior to the first whistle. Let us explore
some of the aspects of an organized, practical approach to each game we
When does Pre-game begin?
Your pre-game should begin at least 24 hours prior to
your game with a phone call to your partners. Items that need to be
- Where and when you will meet prior the game.
- Travel arrangements. Make every effort to travel
together, since you can discuss the game duties en route.
- If traveling separately, designate a meeting place at
the competitive site. The location can be a locker room or a location away
from the field, depending on the facilities provided by the home school.
Meet at least 45 minutes to an hour before game time.
- If work schedules or travel time are a hindrance to
meeting an hour before game time, then do the bulk of your pre-game by phone
the night before, and allow some time prior to the game for an abbreviated
chat. (To then review what was covered)
- Uniform shirt color and sleeve length. This will avoid
confusion over team colors and time that is normally wasted at the field
when a member of the crew has to change. When all officials arrive wearing
the same color and shirt length, the image of effective communication and
professionalism is effectively conveyed.
What topics should be covered in the Pre-game amongst
In a thorough yet concise manner, the referee will lead
discussion on specific game situations and the corresponding duties of each
member of the officiating team. The referee will elaborate on any area in
which his/her mechanics preferences differ from standard officiating
mechanics. These specific game situations should include, but are not
- Offside responsibilities
- Set plays
- Foul recognition areas/preferences
- Coach and team tendencies
- Bench control
- Record keeping
- Unusual situations
How should the team of officials take the field?
Teams usually have their entrance or introduction to the
field well planned. The referee team should be no exception. I am not
advocating loud music and fireworks, but there are a few items that should
be considered when making an entrance.
When you arrive:
- Look the part. Come onto the field together, completely
uniformed, 3 abreast, giving a confident (not arrogant) appearance. If the
referees do not take the field together, wandering in half dressed or
otherwise, the wrong message is sent to player and spectator alike. Image is
not "everything", but it sure counts for "something".
- Store any bags or equipment at the scorers table, and
proceed will your pre-game duties. In most cases, the referee specifically
delegates what should be done and when it should be done.
After our entrance onto the field, what needs to happen
before the kickoff?
- Walk the field to check for the general safety of the
playing surface, as well as accuracy of field markings, proper security of
goals, nets, and corner flags.
- A quick inventory of potentially dangerous items
located in close proximity of the playing field can be brought to the
attention of the home school administrator, and corrected to insure safe
conduct of activity.
- Meet with the table/press box personnel. Assess the
level of dependability of each person. The scorers should at least be
familiar with the entry/re-entry portions of the rules. The relative
experience of the timer is a factor as to whether you may have problems with
accuracy on stoppages and restarts. A brief review is a good idea.
- Meet with ball personnel. In a friendly way, let them
know what is expected of them to keep the game running smoothly. Let them
know that they, too, are important.
- Meet the coaches together. Show them that together, the
team of officials is prepared to do a fine job. Be relaxed, but cordial.
Avoid lengthy discussion, but be available for a brief interpretation or a
few friendly words. Let them know when you will be conducting the pre-game
meeting with captains. Then leave- don't linger. The last impression you
want to give is that you are friendlier with one coach than another.
Perception of favoritism is to be avoided in this, and
any other situation.
You are now ready to proceed with your pre-game meeting
with the captains of each team. The thoroughness with which you have
completed your pre-game tasks as a team of officials will help determine the
initial success you experience. Once the whistle blows, you must earn the
respect of the image you have created up to that point - with hustle, good
positioning, and accurate interpretation in judging the game that day.
The Do's and Don'ts of the Pre-
Many of us are familiar with the phrase:
" You only have one chance to make a first impression"
How important are first impressions? Rightly or wrongly,
we are often judged by people based on our initial contact. The value of a
positive initial encounter cannot be underestimated.
Such is the case with the pregame conference. For the
team of officials, this conference is the first formal opportunity to
address the captains of each team, and therefore provides us with an
opportunity to give that all- important "first impression".
As a referee, ask yourself " how shall I set the tone for
this match?" My suggestion is that you establish the relationship you desire
with players in a cordial, professional manner. Address the captains with
the respect due their leadership roles. Introduce the members of the referee
team with handshakes all around. Some element of humor may help to break the
tension; if appropriate. Remember that the captains are eager to rejoin
their teams and continue their game preparation, so be mindful of the
duration of the conference. It should be brief- only be as long as it needs
to be to share the essentials.
Please be considerate of how each coach prepares their
team. Make every effort not to disrupt their pre-game warm up in choosing a
time to conduct your conference.
In discussing the pre- game essentials, let us now look
at what is required of officials by rule. Rule 5 states in A.R.6 that
several things MUST be shared with both team captains in the pre-game
- A statement warning players to not interfere with
goalkeepers in possession of the ball in their own penalty area.
- Any player who, with obvious intent, violently charges
the goalkeeper shall be ejected without being cautioned
- Explain the penalties for language abuse, and direct
captains to inform their teammates and bench personnel accordingly.
It is permissible to ask the captains if they have any
questions regarding rule interpretations or points of emphasis. This can
quickly clear up any misconceptions.
The next requirement is that a coin toss shall determine
the ends of the field and the team kicking off. These guidelines are
outlined in Rule 8.
Beware of the captain who wins the toss and makes the
statement: "We'll take the ball and go THIS way!" Whether a deliberate
attempt or not, the desire is to have BOTH choices. (the end of the field
which they would like to defend AND possession of the ball at kickoff!) As
clarified in A. R. 1 of this rule, a gentle reminder to the captain; "you
may have one choice per team, either the kickoff OR the choice of end to
defend", that is all that is permitted. The opposing team must take the
The coin toss procedure will also take place before the
start of the first overtime period.
Other items to consider in approaching your pre-game:
- Avoid the presentation of an officious attitude. The
players and the game do not need a referee who needlessly "throws their
weight around" in the pre-game. They know you are in charge, there is no
need to overly impress them with this fact. Act official, not officious!
- Acknowledge the Assistant Referees as valuable members
of the team. To ignore them completely in the presence of both captains may
convey an attitude of disrespect on the referee's part for the other two
members of the crew. The players may pick up a message that the referee may
not intend to send, inviting dissent and disrespect toward the Assistants
during the game.
- Don't show favoritism in any way. If you are more
familiar with one captain or team than the other, make every attempt NOT to
show this in the presence of the less familiar captain. Perception of
favoritism can be as real to players as actual favoritism. Take the same
approach to each captain during the pre-game conference.
- Do not allow the pre-game conference to drag on.
Depending on the game, the shorter the better. Say what needs to be said,
and very little else. In this setting, the referee does ALL the talking for
the referee team. Assistant Referees need only provide information if asked
by the referee. The referee will be as brief or lengthy as need be to set
the desired tone for that particular game.
After these items have been shared during your pre-game
conference, and related issues discussed, bring the meeting to an end with a
brief reminder of how much time is remaining until kickoff. A comment to
both captains conveying your best wishes for the match is also appropriate.
After a quick word amongst the referee team, you are
ready to start what will hopefully be a smooth and enjoyable game; one that
is off to a solid start by a well-conducted pre-game conference.