Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Tolerating Poor Behavior

We are our own worst enemies.  I realized this during a tournament this weekend.  As decent people, we desire to please others.  This often conflicts with our position as referee.  It is true that when we make a decision on the field, we disappoint about half the people involved in that particular game.  However, we are obligated to make decisions that are supported by the LOTG, without regard to the popularity of that decision.
This weekend, I worked a local tournament.  I was crewed with 3 other referees.  They all have a great deal of experience and I respect their knowledge and abilities.  We had 2 incidents that I observed that illustrate the point I made above.
First, in a U-12 game, we had a situation that instigated a conversation about Denying an Obvious Goal Scoring Opportunity by Foul.  A ball was played to a player near the top of the penalty area.  The player dribbled straight at the goal, unopposed.  in the middle of the penalty area, he beat the goalkeeper who immediately pulled the player down from behind.  The ball was at the player's feet.  He was heading directly to the goal and he had no other defenders in his way.  In this particular situation, the attacker's team mate put the ball in the net before the referee stopped play.
I was off that game.  I joined into a conversation between AR 1 and the referee as they were coming off the field.  The AR was making his point that, had the ball not gone into the net, the goal keeper clearly had denied a goal scoring opportunity and had to be sent off.  In the case of what actually happened, the goal keeper should have been cautioned.  The referee was making the case of the players only being 12 and was saying he would have a tough time sending off in this situation.  I agreed with the AR.  The player had to go had the goal not been scored.  I pointed out to the referee that had the players been, say U-17, he would clearly have no problem sending off the goal keeper.  I also pointed out the LOTG is clear and makes no reference to age.  My suspicion is the referee was uncomfortable with dishing out a severe punishment to a young player.  However, this is an obligation of our position as referees.
The other situation involved a coach behaving badly.  One of our crew had to leave early so a replacement was sent to our field.  The rotation of the crew put a relatively inexperienced referee on a U-12 game.  Having seen this referee work before, I felt he'd have no problem with the game itself.  However, we had heard that the coach of one of the teams was a notorious problem in the technical area.  AR 1 was a very experienced referee.  I was AR 2.
I observed this coach starting problems in the technical area shortly before the half.  The referee went over and spoke with him at least twice.  At half time, AR 1 commented that the coach must be dismissed if he continues.  The referee seemed to agree.  Shortly into the second half, the coach was causing problems again.  From my vantage point, I could only see the referee and AR 1 speaking with both coaches.  I could not assess the severity of the situation.  I was told later that AR 1 advised the referee to dismiss 3 times.
If a referee fails to deal with poor behavior in the technical area, it will not be long before the teams on the field start to misbehave.  That is exactly what happened in this game.  Not only was the coach a problem, his team starting acting out as well.  The cautions started.  The referee was losing control.  Fortunately, we got through the game.  However, because this coach was never dismissed, he will continue his behavior at other games and cause problems for other referees.
We must deal with irresponsible behavior firmly and quickly.  Remember, when behavior is a problem, the coaches are not your friends and your action is not a conversation or debate.  The poor behavior must cease immediately or the personnel must be dismissed.  The "Ask, Tell, Dismiss" policy has always worked for me.  See the "Ask, Tell, Dismiss" video here.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Missed Call...or not

This weekend, I had 5 league games.  Apparently, being Columbus day weekend, our assignor was running short of referees so we ended it with a ton of games.  It was a nasty weekend too, being cold and rainy.
My state has recently started offering short-sided games for U-11, similar to several other states.  This weekend was the first time I had one of those games.  My current opinion, based on only this game, is that short-sided at U-11 is a mixed bag.  I think the success of the game depends on the teams involved.  Some teams have players that are just too developed for a small field.  Some teams absolutely should be playing small-sided.  This game was played on a smaller than usual small-sided field, so this certainly influences how I feel about it.
We had one fairly major controversy during the game that I think deserves discussion and analysis.  The white teams goalkeeper gained possession of the ball.  He punted down field into blue's end.  Given the field was a little small, the ball bounced a few yards outside the penalty area.  The blue team's sweeper, who was pretty much alone in the penalty area was running back, right shoulder toward his on goal and left shoulder toward the opponents goal.  I was a few yards past halfway, basically in the middle of the field.
The ball came down just beyond the defender and hit the ground.  By my view, it looked like it bounced up and hit him on the side.  He played the ball out of his penalty area.  Naturally, a few of the parents on that end of the field were screaming "hand ball!", which I generally ignore since they scream that every time a hand gets anywhere near the ball.  I glanced over at my AR and she was not showing any flag, although I suspected she had seen something based on her expression.
As I turned to follow the ball, I again glanced over at her and saw no signal.
After the game, I asked about that particular play.  She said the ball had indeed bounced off the ground and hit the defenders palm (sort of like a basketball dribble).  We didn't really have time to discuss it further as we were preparing for the next game and already running late.
I thought about this event on the way home and came to a couple of conclusions.
  1. My position could have been better.  If I had moved a little wider, I might have seen the suspected handling.
  2. I need to improve my pre-game.  I usually make it clear that if an AR sees a "game changing event" that I missed, I want it signalled and they should hold that flag until I see it.  I wonder if this AR was absolutely sure it was deliberate handling.
  3. Based on the description by the AR, I'm not convinced it was deliberate handling in the first place.  We are talking about U-11 and a ball that may have bounced up and hit the hand, rather than being deliberately handled.
I guess this event should serve as a reminder for us all.  Things happen when you least expect them to happen!  This defender was all by himself, playing a routine goalkeeper distribution.  Also, make clear to your assistants how you want this sort of thing handled (no pun intended).  Personally, I want to make the right call and I expect my assistant referees to flag infractions that they feel I would have called had I been able to see it.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Intermediate Clinic and Season Starts

We started the Spring season this weekend.  I worked both Saturday and Sunday, having 1 12 year old game on Saturday and 3 games on Sunday.  It was great to get back on the field!
A couple of weeks ago, I attended my state's intermediate clinic.  I've always wanted to go.  We haven't had one for a couple of years, so I was pretty excited to get invited this time around.
This year's clinic instructors were Craig Lowry and Rob Fereday.  They are both MLS Assistant Referees (1 active and 1 newly retired).
The day was divided into two parts.  The first part of the day concentrated on verbal and non-verbal communication while the 2nd half of the day review foul recognition and selection.  The entire day was very useful.  Here are just a few of the "take-aways" that I used this weekend.
Be conscious of your body language the entire time you are at the field.  Be aware of the messages you are sending by the way you carry yourself.  There are the obvious things we need to think about, like showing up to the field looking professional and put together. There are also the unconscious things we do.  For example, where do you put your hands and arms when you are on the field?  Are you giving the impression that you are closed to communication?  I know I was doing that occasionally.  When you speak to players and coaches, do you look them in the eye?  One interesting thing I picked up was how to manage one's hand motions when speaking with a player.  The instructions suggested keeping your hands within the box created by your torso, rather waving them around outside that area.  The former suggests a normal tone, while going outside that area suggests anger and yelling.
During the foul recognition and selection portion of the day, we talked about man aspects of evaluating fouls to decide if they are trifling, careless, reckless or worse.  A simple tip that has helped me is to always make eye contact with the offender when you call a foul.  I tried it this weekend and it does seem to have a positive effect on match control.  The offending player seemed somewhat self conscious when I looked directly at him after whistling for the foul.  Perhaps they were wondering if I had decided the foul was also misconduct.  I'm going to continue with this technique to see how it effects match control over time.
Anyway, the season is off to a good start.  More soon.  Thanks.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Real Referee Shoes

As referees, I think it is time we get realistic about our footwear selection.  Selecting a pair of shoes to referee in is difficult as there just aren't many shoes available that meet both our cosmetic and performance requirements.
So what makes a good referee shoe?  We have to worry about two broad categories of requirements.  First, the shoe has to look appropriate for a referee.  If you refer to the Referee Administrative Handbook, you'll find a section called "Standards of Dress and Appearance Official U.S. Soccer Federation Referee Uniform."  In that section, appropriate referee shoes are described as follows:
"BLACK SHOES: (may have white manufacturers design) with black laces"
There isn't much room for interpretation in that.  Our shoes must be black, but can have some white in them.
Regarding performance, I want to address a myth here.  I think we would all agree that we are not players.  We have no reason to kick the ball.  So why do we often wear shoes designed for players?  Players don't normally run more than 1 game in a day.  I have often done 7 in a day.  Player shoes are designed for touch on the ball.  We don't kick the ball, ever.  Player shoes should be light weight, so they often don't have much in the way of comfort features.  Wearing player shoes as a referee never made much sense to me.  Yes, we require some traction on wet fields.  That said, I think a referee shoe needs to be more like a trail running shoe, supporting our primary active on the field...running. It is really tough to find a pair of shoes that meet these criteria.  There just aren't a lot of shoes that come in black anymore.  There are plenty of trail running shoes I could use for refereeing, but few come in black.  I have never found a pair of turf or soft ground shoes that had any kind of comfort features. They often have no support and no cushion.
My referee shoe
I was discussing this problem with my sons and they pointed out NikeID.com.  Nike Id is a program offered by Nike, the shoe manufacturer.  The program allows the creation of semi-custom shoes by the customer.  The website allows you to select from a subset of the various Nike products, customize the product features and then order your creation.
Pictured, you will see the referee shoe I created.  It is a Nike Air Pegasus+ running shoe.  I added a trail running outsole and a "trail mesh" upper.  I then selected black for most of the colors, with the exception of the company logo and the sock liner.  I even added my initials to the tongue, in place of the Nike logo.  I visited a local retailer to try on a similar model to confirm my size.  It seems this model sizing runs similar to other running shoes.
It took about 2-3 weeks for the shoes to be manufactured and delivered.  First, I wore them around the house and out on a few errands to break them in a little.  To be honest, they really didn't need it.  They were comfortable from the moment I put them on.
I used them for 4 games this past weekend.  I really like them.  My feet didn't hurt as much as they often do after a bunch of games.  The shoes are really light and have great arch support and cushioning (maybe a little too much for me?)  The fabric seems like it will clean up easy.  The build quality of the shoe seems excellent.
The price of this particular model was $115.  At first, I thought that was kind of expensive.  After all, you can get other "referee shoes" for $70 or $80.  Then it occurred to me that I pay about $130 for my running shoes, and I buy 2 or 3 pairs of those in  a year.  When you look at it that way, it is a pretty good deal.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Success for the Young Referees

This will be a short post and serve as a quick reminder of the obligation we have to help young referees.
This weekend, I worked 2 games (U-11 and U-12) with a couple of high school age referees.  I've worked with them both before.  One is 18 and relatively new.  The other is 15, but has been around longer and seems a more savvy referee.
When we arrived at the field, I expressed my preference for them to do the games today.  The 18 year old had never done a large side game, so it was a great opportunity for her.  I worked with her enough to know she was ready.  The 15 year could easily handle the U-12 game.  I'm happy to say they both did really well.  The older referee seemed a little uncomfortable at first, but she did a fine job.  I offered a few words of advice on positioning at the half.  She adjusted and it seemed to help with her seeing a little more contact on the field.  Her biggest problem seems to be self confidence.  It improved over the course of the game. 
The younger referee did a great job on the U-12 game.  In fact, he made a terrific non-call.  From a corner kick, the defending team clearly handled a ball close to the goal line, and he saw it.  However, the ball headed toward goal so the referee "swallowed the whistle" just long enough for the ball to cross the goal line!  I was happy for him and he seemed proud of his decision.
I believe they both left that field as better referees.  As more experienced referees, I think it is important to try to help younger referees.  I often wonder why there isn't an official role for older referees to work with younger referees.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Real Disappointment Makes Me Suspicious

So far this season, I've had pretty easy games.  Generally, I will be assigned 2 or 3 games on a Sunday.  One of them is usually a U-little, short-sided game.  The others are U-11's or 12's.
This weekend, I was sent to a club in the area that is relatively new compared to some of the other clubs.  They have been around for 2 or 3 years.  It seems they are going through growing pains in that the same individuals seem to be more than one team.  Their facilities aren't great. They don't use much in the way of paid trainers and their knowledge of the game is somewhat below average.  We had a U-9 game, a U-11 game and a U-12 game.  I was assigned with two young referees.  One is a high school senior and the other is a college freshman.  The senior is a decent referee.  She needs a little more confidence, but is solid.  The college referee is very good.  He is one of the best ARs I have had.
We worked the games as usual.  Everything went very well.  In fact, the games were completely unremarkable.  The only controversy we had was finding an extra sand bag to put on the back of one of the short-sided goals.  I'm not sure any of the coaches present, on either side, said more than a dozen words to us.  It was a completely routine day of games.  The high school senior worked the U-9 game.  I did the U-11 game and the college freshman centered the U-12 game.
Later that night, I received an email from our assignor.  The coach of the U-12 game send him an email stating we were "horrible" and that we "missed 3 blatant hand balls" and there was "tons of pushing and shoving.  He actually said the club prefers a certain referee and "his crew."  More on that later.  Our assignor was looking for feedback, so I replied with comments similar to the above.
As some of you know, I work hard to try to be a quality referee as do the individuals I worked with this weekend.  We don't always get it right, but we try to do the right things for the players.  I am disturbed by this coach's actions.  It would be one thing if there was some controversial call that occurred with which he disagreed.  However, in this case, there was absolutely nothing to speak of.  I was AR1 in the game.  I didn't sense any disagreement from either team.
 2 weeks ago, I worked games at the same club.  In one of the games, the home side was completely dominating the visitors.  I was AR2 in the game.  During the half time break, AR1 made the comment that he had "encouraged" the home side coach to take a player off the field to make the match more fair.  He seemed proud that he had familiarity with the coach.  I was appalled that he had done this and expressed my concern that this was something he really shouldn't be doing.  It brings into question a referee's neutrality/impartiality.  This particular referee lives in the same town.  Going back to the email to our assignor, the referee mentioned specifically in the complaint as being preferred is also in the same town.  Perhaps I am cynical, but I am starting to wonder if perhaps this club is trying to lobby for "home" referees.  Yes, I recognize this is a tenuous connection, but it seems strange to me that a coach would express a preference for a referee that happens to live in the same town.
I really hope my assignor noticed this point.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Let's Get Going

It's been a long summer off.  I haven't done anything in the way of games as I was training for a charity bike ride with my son.  We didn't have any time for games or running.
I've spent the last 3 or 4 weeks getting my running legs going again.  I put in for a Labor Day weekend tournament and was accepted.  Unfortunately, I will doing short-side games both days.  On a side note, for those of you that are assignors:  How do you decide where to put referees in your schedule?  Do you look at grade and experience or is it based on something else?  I don't mind doing short-sided games at all, but honestly, it does make me question why I put in all the time and effort to get upgraded to 7.  It seems that assignors just don't care about grade.  I don't understand that.
Given that I want to make grade 6 some day (before I'm too old to pass the fitness test), I have asked to be assigned to some adult games.  Unfortunately, I have not figured out how to get the adult assignor to respond to me.  I tried email.  That doesn't seem to be the right communication channel for him.  More on that at another time.
Assault and Abuse
I came across this article on the web.  It describes a very disturbing incident involving the assault of a football referee in Sarasota county, Florida.  Here's another article that links to other stories of referee assault.  Do you think referee assaults are becoming more common?  Or are they just making the news more often?  I don't have an answer.  I believe there has been a decline in abuse from coaches, but I've seen an increase in problems with players.  Refer back to my 2011 State Cup post.  Those were some abusive players.  Occasionally, you will have teams that just do not want to play, but only want to instigate some sort of confrontation.  It is the referee's job to try to prevent that from happening, but through that prevention (by enforcing the LOTG), you may become the target of abuse and maybe even attacks.
Fortunately, the USSF has a policy for dealing with referee assault and abuse.  It is in the Referee Administrative Handbook.  See Policy 531-9.  It defines assault and abuse and also describes how to report it.  I encourage each and every one of you to report these issues when they occur.  It's the only way it is going to stop.