Spirit of the Game & Gamesmanship


Don’t be confused with gamesmanship and sportsmanship.  They’re just about exact opposites. 


Sportsmanship would be letting the referee know that you touched the ball last before it went out of play, if the referee could not see it.


Sportsmanship would be admitting that the ball was truthfully out of play even if it benefits the opposing team.


It’s leaving the ball rather than kicking it away.  It’s chasing it after it goes out of bounds and returning it to the player for the restart.


It’s kicking the ball out when a player becomes injured.


Gamesmanship, on the other hand, occurs when a player attempts to profit from an unfair advantage, or when he disguises an unjust act done on purpose, or when he commits any unsporting act executed in a sly way contrary to 'the spirit of the game'; or when he resorts to psychological intimidation against his opponent.


To succeed in any profession today, it inevitably means bending the rules from time to time. Players who resort to gamesmanship, and are penalized by the Referee, should never bemoan that they have taken their chance, but have been caught out by an astute Referee.


Some examples:


and many more untold methods, some of which can be punished by the Referee by Law, and some which can't!


These are just a few of our modern gamesmanship warts. How can the Referee decide what is unsporting behavior (gamesmanship), and what is not?

What can the Referee do? Is it gamesmanship that can be punished, or is it genuine?

More examples:

·        The Penalty Kick. How many times have we seen the goalkeeper distract the penalty taker (and then go unpunished) by walking out of his goal to query the exact positioning of the ball on the penalty spot? Many times. This is an act of defiant gamesmanship that should always be punished with an instant yellow card for unsporting behavior. Or the keeper who wants to come out and shake the kicker’s hand.  Tell him to get back in his goal.


The referees' task is to first identify possible gamesmanship, and then decide whether it is ‘legal’ Gamesmanship or whether it is cheating?


·        On arriving at the field, the Referee has to accept any offers of hospitality at face value. If the Referee is treated like a 'King' by the Home team when he arrives - is this part gamesmanship on the Home team's part, or is it just good manners?


·        Parents! The bane of many Referees! How should the Referee perform when one youth team's parents make a point of shaking his hand and being 'jolly' before the game and the opposing team parents can only offer open abuse? Will this influence decision making by the Referee on the field of play? How can it not affect him? How many Referees can honestly say that they have never made a decision influenced by the abuse being received by parents?

The Referee must distance himself from these types of very strong influences - it would almost be better if he could turn off his hearing, or restrict its limits to the field of play area (and that is abuse enough the Referee to contend with)!


·        The (so-called) injured player makes a miraculous recovery.


I was once officiating a semi final game in the Open Division Latino league when a player, untouched, covered his face with both his hands, fell straight down on the ground and began moaning and writhing.  Unfortunately for him, I was watching the entire time and went up to the player, while still on the ground, told him to get up, and I cautioned him, his second caution resulting in his being sent off.


While I expected an outcry from the players and spectators alike, especially during a 0-0 tie midway through the second half, one of the teammates of the sent off player came up to him, kissed him on the cheek and said, “good-bye!”  Earlier in the game, I had publicly admonished another player, telling him to “get up and knock it off,” sending the message that I wouldn’t tolerate such behavior.


The sent off player left the field of play to the scorn of his teammates and fans, and a few snickers, too.  The team playing short eventually won, 1-0, but the fact that this was dealt with and my reputation made this situation quickly resolved and we then just moved on.  A few moments later, a foul that a player wanted to exaggerate went unexaggerated and play continued.


The Referee is the decider in all cases of Law, and should not be influenced by opinions from lesser knowledgeable bodies! Moaning players should be asked to refrain from such outbursts. In other words, they should be told (not figuratively) "to get back inside their box.”


Game reports


A Referee who does not send in discipline reports is creating a very difficult scenario for the colleague who officiates the same team the following week. Referees MUST send in reports if they have disciplined players during a game.

 Referees very often receive a host of unpleasant comments after games. Most of the comments should just be ignored. But do not ignore all the comments at your peril. Any indiscipline that exceeds the bounds of normality should be reported accordingly.

Although Referees should accept any apologies from players' who have committed offenses in the game - they must be accepted in the manner in which they should be offered. Beware the hypocritical player who was a monster on the field of play, but who after the game transforms into a 'groveling toad' by trying to 'suck up' and lessen the impact of his sending-off in the eyes of the Referee. A sending off is a sending off and nothing less - and the report should not be influenced by comments made after the game has finished.


Having decided that an incident was an act of gamesmanship, the Referee can:

1. Apply a simple gesture such as a shake of the head towards the perpetrator.

2. Ignore the fact completely and allow play to continue as normal.

3. Stand upright with hands behind the back thus showing by using body language that play is being allowed to continue.

4. Have a quiet word with the offending player.

5. Stop play and publicly rebuke the player.

6. Caution the player for unsporting behavior.


Blatant (obvious) acts of gamesmanship are easy for the Referee to identify and deal with - and need no advice here. It is those acts that border between a real foul and an act of gamesmanship that are the most difficult to distinguish and punish. Being in close proximity and having a clear view will help of course.


The Referee is advised not to ponder about the decision. It is either gamesmanship - or it is not. Referees are only human, and when deciding difficult decisions, Referees will normally give the benefit of the doubt to the perpetrator. In other words, humans are generally expected to behave in a civilized way - so the automatic reactions of the (human) Referee in a dubious situation, is to err on the safe side.


For example, a player who may be feigning injury will be more likely to be seen as genuine by the Referee than otherwise. But the Referee should also be aware of those incidents where a player has claimed that he has been elbowed in the face, when in reality nothing of the sort has happened.

The greatest danger is when the Referee is unsure of what decision to make during gamesmanship scenarios. Players will hone in on any weaknesses displayed by the Referee. The Referee must not falter when deciding gamesmanship issues. You either give it or you don't. Do not waiver in the middle.