Tools for Effective Match Control | EMSA Spruce Grove

Tools for Effective Match Control

Effective match control stems from a number of tools and habits that each referee should work to develop and maintain. Some referees even refer to these skills as their “toolbox”. The more successful referee develops these tools at a faster rate and at an earlier point in their career and their progress improves as a result. Here are a number of simple reminders and some drills that can be used in various situations during a match to establish and enhance the referee’s control over the game at hand. Have a look at them and adapt them for your own style, and put them in your own referee toolbox.


One principle many referees should try using is the “Where, Where, Go” method. This basically means the referee takes a short amount of time to read the play.

  • Where will the ball go?
  • Where can I go to get the best view of that position?
  • Go!

For the standard diagonal system, the referee should remember to get on the left side of play so as to give him a clear view of both play and his Assistant. Also if play changes direction, then you need to get back to where you came from.


  • Tools for Effective Match Control was a technical session at a regular ASRA meeting in 1999. Some of the discussion from the meeting has been included here as this was probably one of the most debate producing sessions we have had.
  • Go wide.
  • See the Assistant Referee between the players who are about to challenge for the ball.
  • There are a number of signals we have seen used, for examples some referees in the World Cup appear to use a “half” advantage signal, i.e. Only one arm sweeping forward.

Advantage Signal

This is one problem that most referees have. The problem is the referee giving the advantage signal (two arms pointing forward with palms facing up) simply to indicate that an incident will not be stopping play. The most common example of this is the tackle, which borders on a foul – many referees use the advantage signal in this case simply to show that play will be continuing. In junior games it is also used commonly on the accidental handball, which causes half a dozen players to call “hand-ball ref.!” due to their inexperience with such incidents. No official signal exists for the referee to indicate that the referee has seen an incident, which has occurred, but that he judges it as insufficient for a stoppage. Some referees simply shake their head to indicate “no” when players appeal to them for a foul, although this can be interpreted as stubbornness by the players, and is difficult to see for the coaches and spectators. Some refs simply yell “Play On” to anyone who appeals, which is audible everyone at the game, but this also implies that an incident has occurred and many players and coaches will start arguing over the existence of an advantage. There are referees who give the advantage signal but only with one arm, but this can look like a hand in the air for a foul or offside from a distance. No proper instruction has been issued to referees, so what is the best thing to do?


  • Don’t signal advantage (there has been none).
  • Use the voice as well as the gestures to clearly communicate to players, coaches, and spectators that there was, in your opinion no foul associated with the play.
  • Examples would be “NO FOUL , PLAY ON” at the same time using the single arm motion, or “PLAY ON, NOT DELIBERATE” in relation to a ball hitting the arm/hand.
  • Seek out the DROP ZONE, and the area to the left / at an angle to the drop zone.

Active Zone of Play for Offside

One of the most debated parts of the offside law is the definition of “involved in active play” as it applies to the player in an offside position. Some assistant referees will flag the player who is simply standing in an offside position near another player, which is incorrect.

It is generally accepted that the player must almost get the ball, or prevent another player from getting the ball, for the offside player to be penalized. A player who simply had a “possibility of doing something” cannot be penalized, at least until he actually does something and is gaining the advantage. Of course, in certain situations, because of their positions on the field, the CR and AR would interpret “involved in active play” differently.


  • The key here is to ensure that the pre-game instructions to your ARs are clear, and encompass the situation where the AR might see the play as being in the active zone and flag.
  • The CR should make it clear to the AR that a wave off from the CR is OK, and ensure that the players and the coaches know that the AR has signaled an off side position but the final decision on the offside stays with the CR.

Arm Signals

This applies to Centre and Assistant Referees. No matter how tired you are, arm signals should always be made quickly and in the correct location. Slowly dragging the arm up to a position, which is still higher or lower than it should be, is not a correct hand signal.


  • The use of good sharp arm signals seems to deteriorate over the season.
  • There are too many times that we see referees failing to signal direction or signal direction poorly.
  • All of the referees should pay particular attention to directional signals in that period directly after the second half kick off. That’s the time when we get most of the errors in the directional signals. Need to be focused and precise in our signals at this time.
  • Stress this to the ARs during the pre-game instructions as well. As time progresses, flag signals begin to deteriorate.

Body Language

Stand tall. Your body language and appearance can largely influence the player’s attitude towards you. The referee whose shirt is out and tells a player to tuck his shirt in has lost the respect of the players. The referee who slouches and walks towards play, only to grumble when the ball is kicked to the other side of the field, has lost the respect of the players. The referee who looks smart and sprints or jogs to play as is required is the referee that players listen to and respect.


  • We have to work on this from the word go. When we are working with new referees, set the example, and use the assignments as mentoring opportunities.

When a Goal is Scored

Never use this as a break and an excuse to walk back to the centre circle. Sprint back (or at least jog) to the correct position and record the goal. The assistant referees should make sure that they are keeping an eye on their assigned zones, to make sure that no trouble is brewing, so that the field is always being monitored.


  • Get away from the area as fast as possible, to avoid having defenders in your face over perceived infringements of the Laws.
  • Should be used by more referees.
  • Remember to run backwards if necessary, to keep an eye out for trouble in the penalty area.
  • Make sure that the topic is covered in the pre-game instructions to ensure that the ARs follow their correct procedure [turn and sprint up the line toward the halfway line and take up their position].


  • Adapted from an article by Steve Fenech, an Australian level 2 Referee Inspector.
  • Also acknowledgments to Gary Power, Australian National Director of Referees.
  • Original articles downloaded from AUS.REF, the Australian Referee Website.
  • Additional material drawn from refresher course material provided by Doug Bewick, ASA Instructor / Assessor.
  • Details from the technical session have been added to reflect the discussion between the members of the Edmonton Society of ASRA on the topics.