Did You Hear What I didn’t Say? By Pat Ferre
It can safely be said that as soccer referees, 85% or more of our communication with players, coaches, and spectators is non-verbal. Non-verbal communication is the transmission of relevant information without using words.
As officials we are scrutinized from the time we arrive at a site. Our decisions and how we relay them during a match are often judged on our non-verbal communication skills. Referees must become experts of the unspoken signals in the rulebook.
Our appearance is very important to our presentation. We must adhere to the expected dress code. Our grooming and clean uniform must showcase a professional appearance. In addition, good posture, looking people in the eye and speaking clearly will send the message that we are knowledgeable, confident and comfortable in our role.
Starting with pre-game activities, doing our job professionally by paying attention to details and starting the match on time will go a long way to set a positive tone for the match.
The whistle is an important tool of communication. The tone needs to be sharp, crisp and loud. A weak, late and barely audible whistle indicates a lack of confidence, knowledge and decisiveness. Approved hand signals properly and consistently executed will send the correct message without confusion.
We must remain focused and professional throughout the match including during stoppages. Anticipating substitutions, “reading the game”, and staying engaged at all times can eliminate unforeseen problems.
Always support your partners. Our body language can send positive messages which will boost our partners’ confidence or negative ones which show our unprofessional attitude and can also ultimately put our partners’ credibility into question. Good eye contact, a smile or thumbs up will go a long way in supporting your partners.
We must be approachable without allowing ourselves to be manipulated or influenced by coaches, players or fans comments. Where we stand, how we speak, what we do with our hands during discussions can also be an issue. Not making eye contact can be a sign of lying or show a lack of interest. Using the hand as a “stop sign” or pointing a finger can be offensive.
Non-verbal communication with players, coaches and fans is a very big part of each match and a necessary part of each referee’s toolbox.
How we are perceived as officials is definitely judged not only by what we say but by how we officiate and use our non-verbal communication.
- USSF Referee Grade 15 Emeritus
- USSF Referee Instructor
- USSF Referee Assessor
- USSF Referee Assignor
- District-7 Youth Referee Administrator (DYRA)