Youth soccer coaches have to be careful not to allow matches to go ahead on unsuitable pitches.
There can often be pressure to allow the game to go ahead from your own team (who are usually keen to play no matter what the conditions) and the opposition (who may have travelled a considerable distance). However, this must be resisted. The health and safety of the players has to come first.
It is the Referee’s responsibility to make the decision and nobody else’s.
The whole of the field of play surface MUST be safe. There is a great danger that if 99 percent of the field of play surface is OK, and the game is allowed to be played, players will assume that 100 percent is OK, and play normally, and not compensate for any hard surface areas. In other words, playing on a hard field of play, which is partially 99% OK, is just as dangerous (if not more so) than on a field of play, which is totally hard. Neither game should be played.
The Referee should not be influenced by the teams’ opinion. If an accident happens, it is the Referee who cops it.
The teams will deny any responsibility! Therefore, when a field of play inspection is carried out, the Referee should not do so in company of team managers or Club Officials, as they will try to influence the Referee’s decision.
When the weather is doubtful, the Referee should aim to arrive at the ground as early as he can to make an inspection. This may allow time for travelling teams to be warned of a cancellation.
When the weather is doubtful, a check on the local weather forecast can help. For example, although a field of play may be frozen in the early hours of the morning, a prediction of sunshine, will give the Referee a good idea of the possibility that the field may become playable later in the day. If the forecast is for snow or frost or freezing temperatures, then the chances are, that the game will not proceed.
At lower level football, it can be useful for a local Referee to be contacted, to make an early inspection on behalf of the match Referee who lives some distance away from the ground. This can prevent unnecessary travelling.
When completing the field of play inspection, a good indicator of the suitability of the surface, can be ascertained by inspecting the goalmouth areas and the centre circle area first. These are the areas that get more use, and are more likely to be rutted and hard due to frost.
When completing the field of play inspection, other areas for close inspection, are places covered in shadow from buildings or trees. They are more likely to be frost bound, rather than those areas basked in sunshine.
When completing the field of play inspection, if it is not immediately clear that the game cannot be played (i.e. the goalmouth areas are completely solid with frost and the game is definitely cancelled), the whole of the field of play surface MUST must be inspected to eliminate any hidden areas of danger.
A referee, who is seen to be completing a thorough field of play inspection, will have greater credibility when he decides to call off the game, than a Referee who only spends a few minutes making his inspection.
The position of the sun and its path as the game progresses must also be taken into consideration. For example, if a field of play is ‘just about playable’, but the path of the sun means that its rays will disappear behind the trees or over the horizon, then the field of play surface on a cold frosty day, will get worse, not better.
At local level, if it is clear, that waiting an extra 30 minutes or possibly up to an hour, will allow the sun to melt the frost, then play could be delayed with the agreement of both teams. But this depends very much on the weather forecast, the time of day and the team’s agreement. Generally, it is better to make a decision quickly, based on the surface suitability at the time of the scheduled kick-off.
The referee should wear a set of studded boots when inspecting the field of play, as this will give the best indication of the suitability of the playing surface.
A surface which does not yield any purchase to studded boots, is dangerous, and the game should not be sanctioned. This includes, any part of the surface that does not yield, no matter how small an area.
A field of play with hard deep frosted ruts and divots (a legacy of a muddy game played the day before) is less likely to be playable than a completely flat field with only crusty surface-frost to contend with.
When the Referee has made his decision, it should be communicated to the teams as soon as possible. When a Referee is communicating his decision to the teams, that in his opinion, the field of play is not safe, the decision should be made confidently. If teams suspect any doubt in the Referee’s decision, they will try and persuade the Referee to change his mind. In short, when a Referee makes his decision, he should not back down, and he should make it abundantly clear that the decision is his to make, and the game will not be played under his authority.
The inspection of a field of play covered in frost, and whether to sanction a game or not, is not a difficult decision to make for a Referee. It is fairly obvious to identify dangerous area that could potentially cause an injury. Common sense should be used.
Young players are more likely to get injured on hard surfaces. Therefore, even greater care must be taken when making a decision to allow the game to be played or not.
If there is any doubt (no matter how small), then the game must not be played.