How many times out on the park have you heard that cry: "What is he looking at?" That and all its variants: "You're missing a great game!" or "How could she miss that?" and "It was right in front of him, and he did nothing!" As an instructor I have dealt with this problem many, many times, and tried various themes as a way of impressing referees that knowing where and when to look is as important as knowing the laws. And after watching the Premiership these last few months, I have to say that the problem doesn't exist only in the amateur game.
So before I go on to the subject, let me ask a few questions of you . . . and then we'll have a practical demonstration from the eight-year-old daughter of two skillful soccer-playing parents, with whom I have had the great pleasure of playing.
2. Do you observe the goalkeeper taking a long goal-kick or long punt?
3. Have you ever been hit by the ball, or had to jump over the ball to avoid being hit?
Three "NO" answers tell me you're spinning tales and fibs, trying to impress me. So let's get back to the Premiership and talk about movement by the referee.
Just in the last few weeks I have watched Lee Probert several times, and he exemplifies some of the points I want to make--three particularly. 1. He gets in the way of play more often than he should given his level of experience. 2. He does not seem to be able to find his way out of situations where he is in a crowd of players. 3. And he gets ahead of the play a lot, which causes problems at the speed at which the Premiership games are played.
Given that he is not yet forty years old, presumably fit, I'm guessing that he doesn't think a great deal about his position on the field, or he has been given poor advice (other referees, assessors?) about where he should be, and where he shouldn't. Perhaps, too, I'm being harsh.
The two photographs below are of Mariel Stuart of Idaho Falls, daughter of Chuck and Heather Stuart, with whom I played indoor soccer on a mixed team in the winter of 1998, when I was doing an internship as a science-writer at the national laboratory. Both Mariel's parents are college-level players, and know what the game is about. The two pictures were taken a year apart, when Mariel was seven and eight. Look at where she is looking.
She has gathered the ball, is moving upfield under no pressure from opponents, and so what does she do? She looks ahead to see what is coming next or to make a choice among several options. Could this technique exhibited by a seven-year-old player be used by referees?
One year later, Mariel uses the same technique: head up, ball close by, she looks at what is coming next, so that she can make the best decision for her team. She is following the ball, not leading it. So it should be for referees.
But in the games I have been watching, Lee Probert does not scan the field as I believe he should. He does not react to change-in-possession in front of him, and gets hit by the ball quite often, thereby disrupting players' activities.
Here's a few suggestions to stay out of the way:
1. If possession changes in front of you, keep going forward until you cross paths with the player with the ball, and then turn and follow him upfield. You will have a wide view of the field.
2. If you happen to be near the touchline as players converge towards you, there's nothing wrong with skipping to or over the touchline to get out of the way.
3. One of the best views you can have is the one enjoyed by the player advancing with the ball. Like Mariel in the photographs, players have to make decisions based upon what is coming next. If you are behind her, you can make the same decisions and by seeing what is coming next.
And as for the questions I asked above, you can now figure out what you don't have to do!
Mariel Stuart plays the way she does because she has been taught by two good players. It's not too late for Lee Probert and others to learn to develop the vision of a player.