[Special Note: For a long while, we have not been posting publically any “answers” for two reasons. First, there have been many fewer questions offered for consideration. Second, many of them have been very brief, relatively simple queries, the answers to which have been offered privately because the issues raised were narrow and/or not of significant interest. Hopefully, as soccer’s seasons nationwide are returning, questions are returning as well, including some that need considering under the current special circumstances. We consider the following question below to be clearly in that category and therefore are launching a return to more frequent public postings.]
Jeremy, a U13-U19 referee, asks:
Now more than ever with the shortage of referees available across youth soccer games, what are some tips and tricks to enforce Offside as fairly as possible with only a Center referee and no ARs?
We don’t have any “tried and true” suggestions regarding your question … because there are none. Back when we started to referee (1985), it was common for youth games to be officiated with only one, or at most two, officials (the old ”two man” system!). It didn’t take long for US Soccer to remind us that the “two man” system was not allowable under the Laws of the Game which allowed only a single referee or three officials (a referee and two ARs). Since then, of course, soccer had grown to the point that the supply of officials also increased. In games involving older youth players, it eventually became common to see 4th officials.
Your question is very pertinent now because many officials have been lost, fewer new referees have gone through training, and many of those who remained have lost their “edge” due to more than a year or more of no active officiating. Further, there have now been two cycles during which new Laws of the Game changes have been published but have not been tested in significant numbers of actual games at all levels.
The only solution to your challenge is to make it clear that players, coaches, and fans MUST accept that close calls with only one official are going to be wrong at least some of the time and must be accepted. Amusingly, this has always been the case no matter how many officials there were. The problem is that, now and for the immediate future, not only are errors going to be more common but the participants are going to be more uptight when, in the cases where they are in fact right, it simply won’t matter. The referee is always the one to make the decisions and those decisions have to be accepted even when, from the point of view of others, some of them might be clearly wrong. Remember, this is a game, not something on which life or death depends. Offside issues are only some (though often the most contentious) of the challenges faced under these circumstances.
Ironically, players who have not continuously maintained their talents for as much as a year or more, are more likely as the sport resumes to make errors that would not have occurred but for the temporary cessation of soccer at all levels.
At the same time, we can all respond meaningfully to this obvious challenge by encouraging youngsters (plus young adults, old adults, and retired referees) to acquire or reacquire their credentials to help solve this situation. The officials of all local soccer associations can also do their part by making it clear to everyone that errors are going to happen and they will need to accept them in the spirit of the game. This is when teams, their local associations, coaches, soccer organization officials, and parents need to focus on supporting officials whose job has become much more difficult across the board as the sport regains its legs and moves forward. If this doesn’t happen, the sport will be significantly harmed.…