Mike, an adult pro fan, asks:
Misconduct, feigning an injury. We all watch higher level soccer, pro, world cup, etc. Like most sports, rules, play, calls, behavior, etc begin at these levels and filter down. I cannot believe how many times a player at the higher level writhes on the ground after any contact, then stays in the game as if nothing happened. To me, this is wrong for so many reasons, (time, momentum, working the referee for a call-dissent, and assuredly in most cases misconduct). Yet you rarely see a card given. I know this is a very subjective area but it is getting out of hand and negatively affecting the game. Also seeing more of it at HS and older club ages.
We don’t normally publish replies to queries that apparently don’t directly involve a question but we are going to make an exception in this case because what you are describing is a common gripe among Referees.
The game changes as the competitive level changes. We have officiated up to the semi-pro level, plus we have numerous friends and acquaintances who have gone even higher, so we can relate to your frustrations. We have felt them also at times.
Yes, the “demonstration effect” can get very bothersome. When refereeing at a lower level and seeing a player trying something out that we’re sure he or she picked up watching WC games, or MLS games, or adult amateur games, or NCAA games, etc., it’s easy to think that our refereeing life down here would be so much easier if those referees “up there” just called the game “the way they should” and not provide bad examples of player behavior to go publicly unpunished. All this does is give younger players the notion that such behavior is acceptable … so why not do it themselves? And they either get away with it or, worse, get called for it because the Referee is an idiot and doesn’t understand how the game is played. After all, the WC referee let it go. QED.
The point, though, is that if Referee A were to officiate, say, an MLS match the way Referee B would referee a U16 game, Referee A would be doing the MLS players a disservice — just like Referee B would be doing the U16 players a disservice if Referee B officiated them the way Referee A would an MLS match.
You might express shock at this and say, for example, “but the offenses are the same, shouldn’t they be treated the same?” And the answer is that, with some exceptions, the offenses may be the same but how you handle them can differ greatly. The games are different, the players are different, the incentives are different, and the entertainment aspects are different. In an MLS match, for example, there might be “writhing on the ground” and some of it may be a serious attempt to gain a beneficial but unearned call from a distracted Referee, while at other times it’s merely for show and all parties know it and act accordingly. A caution for such simulation or fakery is unnecessary because no benefit was gained and no participant (player or referee) was fooled. What the casual observer is missing is the brief eye contact, the Referee smirk, and a silently mouthed “not this time.”
This is one of the sorts of things that a Referee learns as his or her assignments transition from one competitive level to another. These things change over time as the sport changes and the contexts in which the sport is played change. Go back, say, 50 years to the early days of US professional soccer and realize that it hung by a thread for a long time. Spectators (ticket-buyers) and sponsors (ad-buyers) were desperately needed. There were some premier European and Latin American players who could see the light at the end of their professional tunnels and were interested in coming to the US for significant salaries. Were they “protected” by the referees so that spectators wouldn’t lose the opportunity to see the players (and the plays) that made attending a game an “event”? Is it the same today? No.
At the same time, referee training in this country (which is all we can confidently speak about, as opposed to what happens elsewhere) follows the same pattern. The higher the level of the match, the more the emphasis is on “managing the game” rather than whistling for all the fouls, offenses, mistakes, blow-ups, etc. that might be called. We assume, as a referee approaches this competitive level, that the fundamentals have been well learned – the referee recognizes what the players have done, what they are doing, and what they are attempting to achieve, and the objective is to let them do their job within certain acceptable bounds of safety, fairness, and the enjoyment of all. Does that sometimes make the job of officiating a local recreational U16 or weekend adult amateur match difficult when the players are trying out things they learned from “the big boys”?