Pre-Game with Your Partner

By Noah Yannie
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 work.
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 discussed include:
- 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 officials?
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 limited to:
- Offside responsibilities
- Set plays
- Substitutions
- Restarts
- 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- Game Conference
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 conference:
- 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 remaining option.
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.
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