John Pranjic has had a range roles within soccer and has been a referee for almost 20 years. He shares his tips for pre-match preparation and making efforts to prevent problems from occurring during matches as a referee. You can follow his updates on Twitter or check out his website.
What do you see as the most consistent challenges faced by referees?
Learning from my experience as a coach, you need challenging experiences to get better and improve. It can be hard to get the right experience to allow you to progress. Every weekend, I’m hoping for the highest assignment I can get to allow me to be challenged and improve all of the aspects of the way I officiate.
Do you have a pre-game routine?
Yes, I spend a lot of time thinking about what type of game I’m officiating and spend more time preparing if I have a hard game. I always try to think, what can I do to keep the game going in the right direction? Have a plan before you get to the field for communication and dealing with different types of situations. I think many referees suffer from not having a pre-game routine and being adequately prepared for matches. You can see this when referee teams officiate together without knowing each others habit or communication styles. This can lead to situations getting more hostile. I have a checklist of things to run through before every match.
What’s the most important part of your pre-game checklist?
I always meet with the coaches and team managers pre-game to discuss the basic expectations and things like correct procedure for making substitutions. I’ll go and introduce myself by name and have a quick conversation. Pregame communication helps a lot to reinforce the expectations. Little things like substitution procedures can have a big impact, for example, if the coach lets players enter the field of play before a player has come off, that can cause a lot of confusion, particularly if a player is red carded while the team has 12 players on the pitch. Having a preventative mindset is very important.
Do you have any tips for younger referees who aren’t confident enough to approach a coach and introduce themselves?
It’s tough and a takes practice. Sometimes I still find it tough but I force myself to do it but it is the best preventative measure to ensure sideline behaviour is most appropriate. Even if you just introduce yourself and shake hands, it can make an unknown environment much less daunting. It takes you from being a stranger, which as we have seen on social media can make you an easy target for abuse, into someone recognisable to them. It takes time and practice to get comfortable with it.
Is there a lack of accountability for poorly behaved teams?
It’s very important to report abusive incidents every time they happen. There is also a responsibility from coaches to monitor the sideline behavior of parents and fans at community level games. I’ve seen instances where coaches have simply refused to take any responsibility for the behavior of parents which ends with unfortunate instances of abuse. Coaches don’t necessarily understand the risks to referees from parents and supporters, so education for coaches and parents definitely helps. It’s unfortunate that frustration is directed at the referees. I can safely say that I or no one I’ve officiated with have ever conspired to make bad decisions against any teams, despite being consistently accused of such behaviour.
How do you reflect on your performance after a game?
There is no formal self-assessment process, but I definitely spend a lot of time running the difference match events and scenarios through my head to reflect on my decisions. A lot of referees sometime leave straight after a game and don’t spend that time reflecting. I recommend staying after a game and talking to your officiating crew about the game. Spend some time analysing key decisions with your team and ask what their view was for different decisions. Everyone should be trying to get better, and the more you reflect after a game and discuss the key moments of a game the better it prepares you for your next match.