Tuesday, November 20, 2007

New Uniforms for Referees

The green jersey has been released! Most of you know by now that the new jersey was featured at this past weekends MLS final. For those of you that have not seen it, I've included a picture.
Not that anyone has asked for it, but I feel obliged to share my feelings. I'm disappointed. First, I was kind of hoping the color would be a little more like a forest green. This green is a little too bright for me. Secondly, I don't see any reason to change the actual design of the uniform. Why not leave the stripes alone? What's done is done and we have to live with it. The first question I had in my mind was "when do I have to invest in new uniforms?" It turns out that does not have to happen anytime soon. A recent memo from the USSF says:
In the future, OSI will only sell the new uniforms, but the old striping pattern is still USSF-approved and acceptable to wear during games. In youth and adult amateur games, it is also acceptable for the crew to wear a combination of new and old uniforms. Referees are encouraged to purchase the new uniform when replacing their old version as the updated stripe pattern will be grandfathered into becoming the official referee uniforms of U.S. Soccer.

That seems reasonable. My yellow uniform is the OSI version, but my alternatives came from Score Sports. They are much cheaper and seem to look nice and wear well. As I replace (upgrade) them, I'll be ordering the new uniforms.
Did you notice the new socks? Yes, there is a new sock to go with the new uniform. The stripes have been moved down to about mid-shin. I guess I don't mind the new socks as much as the redesigned uniform. On the other hand, I don't have nearly as much money invested in socks! The above mentioned memo says the 3-stripe socks are acceptable as well as the newer designs.
I've had my say. What do you think?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

First Fall Tournament

This past weekend was spent at a large, highly competitive tournament in my area. I did 11 games in 2 days ranging from U-11 to U-15. It was a good tournament, with some great soccer played.
Well, I guess it was bound to happen. I had my first dismissal today. It was a coach, and there is no doubt in my mind that he deserved it. He started with me on a perceived bad call. I gave him a "that's enough coach." Later, I put the opponent on the penalty mark for an ugly trip in the penalty area. The defender's body actually slid into the legs of the attacker with the ball. It was a pretty easy call. After dealing with the goalkeeper losing her cool over the cool, I had to deal with the coach. He earned a place in my book on this one. 2 minutes later, he completely lost it on a throw in call. That was it. I pointed to the parking lot.
In my mind, I was trying to figure out why I felt like I was having some problems early on with this game. One team seemed content to play the game and was quite calm. The other team seemed upset with every call I made. There was noticeable decent from this team. I found out later, the team giving me problems was in second place in the tournament. The other team was in first. I wish I had known that going in.
Before the first half was over, I ended up issuing 2 more cards. The first was for a cheap elbow thrown as two players were fighting for the ball at the touch line. Naturally, it was right in front of the troublesome team's bench. Apparently, they felt it to be an unfair call. The 2nd was for a Failure to Respect Required distance on a free kick. The player stood right at the ball after the opponent put the ball down. I felt this to be a match-control type of card. I wanted to make sure they were getting the message that I was having none of the nonsense. At U-15, they should know they must give up the 10 yards right away.
The thing that surprised me is that both of the players cautioned in the first half engaged in pretty serious dissent in the 2nd half, even after me reminding them they were already under a caution. I could have easily been justified in sending both of them off. A few of the outbursts were purely emotional and I managed to get through them without too much of a problem.
This was a tough game, but as always, I learned a few things. First, you must expect the unexpected. I went into this game thinking it would be the same as all of the other games. I was sadly mistaken and would have been better prepared if I had known the importance of the game to the teams. In tournaments, we often get caught up in getting through the games on time because the tournament administrators do not want games to run late. This is understandable, but one thing you don't want to skimp on is being sure you have all the cards necessary if misconduct should arise. In particular, be sure you have a card for each of the coaches on the sideline. In this case, I did, but I had not checked before the start of the game.
Now that I've done a few tournaments and a fair share of league games, I have come to a realization. In general, player and coach behavior is better in league games than tournament games. Perhaps it is the perception that the repercussions of poor behavior in a tournament are less than a league game.
I had my first real experience with gamesmanship. Perhaps I've experienced it before and just didn't notice. We had the same team in 3 of our games at this tournament. The coach of this team had 2 interesting tactics she used to try and get a little advantage for her team. First, every time there was a close ball in/out of play call on the touch line, she would noticeably throw her arm up in favor of her team and shout "blue ball!" I don't think it influenced any of us much, but it was distracting for sure. I had a senior referee point this out to me a while ago as being "irresponsible behavior." His thought was it undermines the referees authority, because if you call the throw-in in favor of this team, people think you are influenced by this practice. If you don't, you might be perceived as favoring the other team because of the gamesmanship. This practice needs to be dealt with.
The more serious practice of this coach took me by surprise. There were a few times the ball went out of play near this team's bench. The coach would toss the ball to one of her players that was positioned much further down the touch line than where the ball went out! At first, I thought maybe she was just confused, but she did it several times. Be aware of these subtle forms of cheating.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Give the Young Guys a Chance

Often times, I find myself working games with a crew that has at least 1 member under the age of 18. My son is now a grade 8 referee, and he works games with me on a regular basis. Also, there are quite a few young guys working for my league assignor. Our assignor does not specify which team members are to be the referee for games. He leaves that up to the crew to decide on game day, with the exception of critical games, like state cup. We get a list of games and a list of referees that will be there.
So when we arrive at our first game, I often suggest we flip coins, or pick coins from a pile to determine who will do what games. I have heard senior referees suggest it is unwise to have a younger referee do a game where the players are less than 2 years younger. So, for example, we might have a 14 year old referee do a U-11 game, but U-12 or above is probably a bad idea. I tend to agree with this idea as it might be hard for the younger referee to garner the respect from the players required for effective match control. Other than the age difference, however, I cannot think of other reasons why I, as an adult referee, would try to restrict a younger referee from getting a particular game.
Lately, I've noticed some referees take advantage of younger referees on their crew. They show up, see they are with 2 young officials, and immediately take charge. I suppose this could be a good thing sometimes, but it seems to me that adult referees have an obligation to bring along younger referees and help them get the experience they need to become confident as game officials. It is unfair for an adult to take the center position for all of the days games just by virtue of being the only adult referee present. I'd venture to say most of us would not try to do that with another adult referee, so why would we do that when we are assigned with younger referees?
The next time you are assigned with a minor, consider their need for experience as well as your own. You can learn as much about the game assisting a young referee as you can being in the center. It's only fair, and as referees, we should be all about being fair!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Interesting Weekend - More Lessons

Well, I knew things were going too well. I haven't had a problem with a coach in a long time, so I'm due.
Let me describe the scenario. We are in the 2nd half of a U-14 boys game. To give you an idea of the entire picture, I had a very minor dissent issue with one of the red team's coaches. My assistant made a solid offside call on a defender's deflection to an offside red player. This coach had a few things to say about it. I pointed out a defender deflection does not reset offside and the call would stand. He went on about it, but I ignored him.
About mid way through the half, a ball goes out of touch right in front of red's bench. This is on my half of the touch line. My assistant signals a throw in for red, but I overruled him as I was 10 feet from the play and saw the ball touch red on the way out. The same coach as above starts debating me on the call, pointing out the assistant pointed the other way. I responded that I was overruling him and the call would stand. That wasn't enough to satisfy the coach, so I booked him for behaving irresponsibly in the technical area. I showed him the card (yes, we show cards to coaches in NJ) and we played on.
About 7 minutes later, the red goalkeeper made a save. While he was on the ground in possession of the ball, the white team kicked at him, causing me to stop play for dangerous play. While getting off the ground, the goalkeeper taunted the white team about the call. I immediately showed him the yellow card for unsporting behavior.
Now that you have the background, I'll describe what happened. At the end of the game, both coaches confronted me coming off the field. The first coach continued the debate of whether or not I could overrule my assistant. He said I couldn't do that and he also identified himself as a referee. I pointed out that, as the referee, I had final say on all decisions on the field and he didn't have to agree with me. Then the other coach starts in on me about the caution of their goalkeeper. Apparently, he didn't agree that what I heard was taunting. I pointed out that it's my opinion that counts in relation to facts on the field. I also said the conversation was over as we were not going to arrive at any useful conclusions. Here's the part that bothered me. As I walked away, these guys followed me and persisted with their arguments! In thinking about this later, I could not come to any conclusions as to what these guys thought they were going to accomplish. It really doesn't make any sense. Thing about it: One issue boiled down to a ball in or out of play call. The other was misconduct, but only a caution and probably wouldn't amount to much when reported to the league. I've taken to trying to put myself in the coaches shoes to at least understand their motivations when debating calls. This one I don't understand. What do you think of this?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

More Good Games

I had 2 games today. I was the referee for a U-10 game and an Assistant for a U-14 game. They were both pretty good games and fairly uneventful, although I did make some observations as usual.
In the younger kids game, the emphasis was on teaching. Realize going in that the short-sided game always requires more teaching than usual, but today's game required more than the typical game. In the local league, you basically get 2 chances to get throw-ins correct. The referee is expected to point out the mistake the player made in the first throw-in. For whatever reason, we had an inordinate amount of bad throws. Also, both goalkeepers committed deliberate handling fouls. We warned the first keeper 5 or 6 times about coming out of the penalty area when he was distributing the ball. After these warnings, up went the Assistants flag. I had a short chat with the keeper about what went wrong. Later in the game, the other keeper just walked out of the penalty area with the ball in his hands. He forgot about the line! That is one of the reasons I enjoy the short-sided game. The unexpected is always happening.
The U-14 game was some kind of big rivalry. At least that's what we we're told. The actual game turned out to be kind of lopsided. There wasn't much in the way of notable events for this game. I am trying to figure out why coaches insist on standing in the way of the Assistant Referee. They know we're there. They know we need to move up and down the line. Hey, it's an exciting game. I don't blame them wanting to get a good view of the action. I had one trainer that insisted on standing with the touch line right between his feet. Yes, he had one foot on the field! Oddly enough, it's the same trainer I had a hard time with a few weeks ago. I politely asked him to step back, and this time he did. I guess the nice approach works sometimes!
I did notice today that one of the guys I work with regularly seems to want to find fault in every game. For example, after a coach came over to us, at the end of a game, and said we had done a good job, he commented that one of the coach's players need to be careful about his habitual pushing. This may be true, but call it in the game. This game was over. We didn't have a problem. Why start trouble? I'm going to observe this referee in the Spring season with the older players. I wonder if he has any game control problems?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Refreshing Game

As I mentioned in a previous post, I ended up with only 1 game last weekend through an honest mistake on my assignors part. It wasn't that big of deal, although reserving a large portion of ones day for a single game is problematic.
As is my pratice, I got to the field 30 minutes before the schedule game time. The home team coach arrived around the same time and his players arrived shortly after. Noticeably, the visiting team was absent.
One member of the crew pointed out that he had no interest in being the referee for the game, so the remaining referee and I flipped a coin and I ended up as the assigned center.
The appointed game time arrived without the visiting team. They arrived at the field 15 minutes into their 30 minute grace period. Apparently, they had played one day tournament elsewhere and did their best to get to the field.
It turned out to be a really good game. Both teams were skilled (for U-10) and played very well. The interesting thing about this game was there were very few fouls, and those that I did call were fairly minor. Not only that, but, after the game, it occurred to me that neither coach said a negative word to the referee crew, nor did any of the parents. How refreshing! We did the entire game and only had to concentrate on the play on the field. In fact, the coaches were nothing but polite and friendly. I guess it does happen on occasion. So if you are having some problematic games, try to relax. Your next game could be just like the one I had.

Friday, October 12, 2007


It was bound to happen. I've read, and been told, that assignors will occasionally make a mistake with assignments. It finally happened to me. I had 3 games assigned this weekend. I received a mildly frantic phone call from my assignor. That is unusual just from the fact that we never communicate by phone. Turns out he read the schedule wrong and 2 of the 3 games I have for the weekend are actually on Saturday. Unfortunately, I can't work on Saturday. The good news is I still have one game for Sunday. I don't blame the assignor. Everyone makes mistakes and that is just the way it is.
The lesson in this is that everyone associated with soccer does the best they can. Sometimes mistakes are made and you just have to go with it. It's disappointing to only have 1 game for the weekend, but working with this assignor has been very good for me.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Long Weekend

On Saturday, I was assigned 3 games. the first was a league game for U-8 boys. Me and another adult referee were Assistant Referees for a younger guy. The younger guy seemed a little, well, awkward. He was very tentative in the way he approached the game. Even the coaches commented a few times. They speculated that perhaps this was his first match at the center. I started to think the same thing. The guy really didn't call much in the way of fouls. I know how that feels. Sometimes, after thinking back over a game, I find myself wishing I had called a few more things. Anyway, there were indications this might be the guys first game in the center. At half-time, I was making some small-talk with him. I asked how long he'd been a referee. He said "3 years." I was shocked. I really believed this had to be, if not his first, one of his first games. It proves the theory another experienced referee had given me. He said that some referees have years of experience. Some referees do their first year, over and over again. I believe that now.
Other than the U-8 game, we had 2 NJ State Cup games. I was assigned to the center for the 3rd game of the day, and the other adult on the crew that day had the 2nd game. The 2nd game turned out to be a more competitive game than the 3rd, but I'm not complaining. I got to do a state cup game, after all! The great thing about this day of games was I got to work with a guy that I feel is a genuinely good, quality referee. Even when working as my assistant, he was impressive. He made good calls and had proper mechanics. It was refreshing and made me realize how much easier it is to do the center when you have good assistants.
In my state cup game, there was really only one play that was notable. For some reason, the coaches on one of the teams thought it was a good idea to waste a corner kick trying a little trick play. They had one of their girls put the ball down and put a tap on the top of the ball. Then another player went over and kicked the ball out of the corner circle. She followed the ball out of the corner and kicked it again. Tweet! Double touch. The coaches were not happy. The thing is, law 17 says "the ball is in play when it is kicked and moves." Advice to the Referee says the ball cannot be just tapped on the top. I think I got this one right. From my viewpoint, the ball did not move.
On Sunday, I had 4 games. We tend to get the same 4 teams when assigned to this particular club. There are 11, 12 and 13 year old boys as well as a U-9 boys team. I was an Assistant for 3 of the games and assigned to referee the 13 year old boys. I've worked with one of the other referees a couple of times. It seems we do a better job when we've worked with another official a few times. I guess you start to get used to each others style.
One observation I made this weekend is related to the experience of coaches, relative to their teams. It seems to me there is a correlation between the age and experience of a team, and the experience and knowledge of the team's coaches. It is probably obvious if you think about it. During the U-9 game, I had to ask the coaches of both teams to step back from the touch line several times. I can see the players being in the way. They are only 8 year olds, so that doesn't really bother me. I got a little exasperated toward the end of the game when I had to strongly insist that one of the coaches stay away from the line. This guy was actually standing on the touch line for much of the game. At this point, the coach says to me "I wasn't on the line!" The situation brings up quite a dilemma. Do you make a big deal out of it? After all, it's a U-9 game. On the other hand, if I miss a ball in/out or I'm not on my offside line, these same coaches will be sure to let me know about it. I discussed the matter after the game with the other referees. They pointed out it becomes a non-issue if the local club would paint a "spectator line" on the field. Perhaps that is the right answer.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

New Season, New Assignor and a State Cup Game

I decided on the assignor I want to use for the next season or so. He assigns for the same league I was working last season, but he has clubs that are closer to my home. Another referee made me aware of him at a tournament I worked in the late summer. Coincidentally, the assignor was working a tournament that my son played in, so I got a chance to meet him face-to-face. He seemed delighted to have a referee from my area because one of the clubs that is close to me has very few referees.
It appears I made a good decision. My first weekend of availability saw me working 4 games. I was the referee in 2 of the games and an Assistant Referee in the others. This is a big improvement over my previous assignor where I was getting 1 or 2 games (if I was lucky). Almost all of those games were as Assistant Referee.
This coming weekend, I put in availability for both Saturday and Sunday. Between the 2 days, I have 7 games assigned. 2 of them are State Cup games! The assignor specified that I do one of the State Cup games as the Referee. I'm really excited about this, as it seems to be an acknowledgment that he trusts I'm experienced enough to do a good job in this game. State Cup in NJ is taken pretty seriously, so it should be a great game! I'm really looking forward to it!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Looks Like Green is In

I was just reviewing one of the many referee related websites that I visit. I noticed a reference to a new green jersey for 2007. I've been reading about the possible addition of a green jersey for some time now, but this time is different. Check out the 2007 administrative handbook. On page 34, where it describes the referee uniform, a green uniform is referred to as having "BOD approval." Looks like green is in!

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Can You Ever Get It Right?

Even though I worked a tournament 2 weeks ago, I consider today's game to be my opening game of the Fall season. It was a U-12 game from a local premier girls league. I have to admit, when I received the assignment, I was a little intimidated because it was being played at a local ethnic club. I have had other referees tell me games can be tough at this site as the club members take their soccer very seriously. Not only that, but I was by myself on this one. That's right. No assistant referees!
The game turned out to be pretty uneventful. It was well played. There were very few fouls, although I did end up awarding a penalty kick for a pretty obvious deliberate handling foul. It was so obvious, the offending side didn't even complain about it!
We made it to within 2 minutes of the end of the game with everything going smoothly. The home team stripped the ball from the visitors around the halfway line, made a couple of good passes and put the ball in the net. Suddenly, I had the visiting team yelling about an "obvious offside" and a "handball" by the home team. The possible offside just wasn't there. Since I was by myself, I was watching that carefully. It just didn't happen. The last pass before the goal was a chip over the receiving player. It came down over her shoulder and landed in front of her. It is possible she handled it, but I certainly didn't see it and I was a lot closer than any of the coaches, so I don't believe it happened.
The lesson I learned from this game is you will always have someone complain about something you did, or didn't call, in your games. I don't think it is possible to get through a game without complaining from one side, the other, or both. The next game referee was there when I came off the field. I asked him if he noticed anything and he said he did not. He's far more experienced than me so I trust his input. He said you cannot call things you do not see. He pointed out you cannot look at everything on the field at one time, so it is possible, in fact likely, that you will miss things on the field. You can't worry about it. I think that's good advice.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Tournament Schedules: What has been your experience?

I really want your feedback on this post. How are tournaments done where you live?
I asked to be assigned to a tournament in my area, scheduled for this coming weekend. I received word that I would be working both Saturday and Sunday. Some assignors will ask what days you want to work, others won't. After doing a 2-day tournament in the Spring, I would have liked to avoid the back-to-back days. 2 days in a row is just brutal. Naturally, the forecast for this weekend is HOT!
As is typical, I'll be with a 4-person crew. We will work a single field, all day. Each person will end up doing 6 or 7 games, per day. Usually, the crew members will rotate through being referee and assistant referee. You end up getting every 4th game off to rest or eat and drink. Sometimes, you'll have a member of the crew that does not want to be the referee, so you might end up changing the rotation somewhat.
In examining the schedule, I've also noted the tight scheduling of our field. We have 1 hour slots for each game. Reading the rules, I find that the games are to be 60 minutes. You'll immediately note this allows no time for half-time or the switching of teams between games. We are guaranteed, no matter how we manage our field, to be seriously behind by the afternoon.
All of this leaves me wondering what tournaments are like in other parts of the world. Is everyone working this many games on a tournament weekend? What about game scheduling? Do you normally have enough time for the game or are all tournaments this hectic? Add your comments to this post and let us know! Thanks.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Preparing for the Coming Season

Getting Assigned
Well, let me start with the obvious. You need to get games. As I write this, the Fall season will be starting in about 3 or 4 weeks. Of course, there are always tournaments before the season starts, so plan now what kind of games you want and get your name in with the appropriate assignor. Don't be afraid to send a quick email to a tournament organizer and get your name on their list. As I've said in other articles, you have to get your name on the assignors lists before you can expect to get games.
Mental Preparation
Being pretty new, I'm still not completely comfortable with making decisions on the field quickly, without hesitation. My concern is that some obscure, bizarre play will happen and I won't know exactly that to do. So, coming off of the summer break, I've been reviewing the various materials I keep on my laptop. First thing I do is re-read the Laws of the Game. The 2007 version is posted on the FIFA site. I've downloaded and reviewed it. It's really worthwhile to review the "Additional Instructions" portion of the Laws of the Game as well. It gets you thinking about the game.
Physical Preparation
If you read my posts often, you are aware I take the referee thing pretty seriously. I want to do the best job I can. Hey, we're getting paid for this! Also, the players prepared all week for the game so I should be prepared as well. In my mind, one of the most important things one can do to become a better referee is have good conditioning in order to keep up with play. I may not make perfect calls, but I don't want anyone to be able to say I'm a "center circle official" or I'm making calls while 40 yards from the play.
So how do I prepare? I run...often. That's all I can say. I was asked a few times last season how I stay in shape and keep my weight down. I even had one referee compliment my conditioning. In my mind, there isn't a substitute for going out and running on a regular basis. During a given week, I'll probably run about 4 or 5 times. Each run is between 2 and 3 miles. Every other week, I try to get in a long run of about 5 miles. My pace varies too. For the 3 mile runs, I usually go at about 8 1/2 minute miles. The longer runs are done at about 9 1/2 minute miles. Every so often, I throw in some speed work. I head to the local high school track. The workout starts with a 1 mile warm-up (4 laps on a standard track). After the warm up, I'll do some sprints. I usually do 200 meters off/200 meters on. That's 1/2 a lap at about a 7 minute mile pace and 1/2 a lap at about a 9 minute mile pace. Typically, I'll do 4 laps this way. After the sprints, I'll do another 2-4 laps at a slow pace to cool down.
I've seen plenty of referees that keep up with play and don't do the running that I do. I've also seen plenty of referees that really are not keeping up with play. It seems to me they consistently have more problems with selling their calls as the players and coaches notice.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Reflecting on My First Season

Having completed my first season, I've started to think about many of the things I've observed and learned. After 39 games, I've learned quite a lot. My skills have improved significantly and I'm feeling more confident in my ability. I've started to observe various behaviors by others involved in the sport, and that has contributed to my successful season. This entry contains a summary of my thoughts and observations that didn't fit neatly into any other post.
Parents routinely embarrass themselves during games. It really is amazing to me that seemingly sane, educated people routinely make themselves look like fools during a youth sporting event. Most of the time, these parents really have no knowledge of the game and are merely venting emotion and frustration. Other times, I believe these people have some level of an abusive or controlling personality. I believe, for the most part, parents can be controlled by 2 techniques. Depending on the situation, a stern look/word toward the parent will often work to eliminate or at least control the situation. If that doesn't work, remember, it is the coaches responsibility to control their parents. If there is no cooperation in this matter, the match can be terminated.
I find myself wondering why coaches seem to think its a good idea to yell at, and otherwise abuse, soccer officials. Can they possibly think they have some influence over our decisions? My advice for dealing with unhappy coaches is to set the limits early in the match. The minute they cross your limits for irresponsible behavior, they need to receive a stern talking to and perhaps a caution. Do not let coaches abuse you. That behavior is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated.
Some skills improve with your game count. Thinking back to my first few games, my biggest problem seemed to be signaling the correct direction for a restart! It was a struggle to remember which team was attacking in which direction. I remember being horrified at how slow my decision making ability felt. Now, I don't really worry about those things. They went away pretty quickly.
Evaluate each piece of advice you are offered by more experienced referees. Some of this advice is either not wise, or just plain wrong. There seems to be quite a few myths out there that are often propagated by officials. Realize that a more experienced referee is not correct by virtue of them having more experience. There are some very knowledgeable referees out there. Seek them out. Befriend them. Learn from them.
Think about and ensure your mechanics, especially as an assistant referee, are correct. Maybe I'm too conservative, but there was more than once this season that I noticed poor mechanics from an assistant and it bothered me. At first, I thought it was limited to younger referees, but I realized the problem comes from elsewhere. Assistant referee mechanics are not reinforced through the certification process. In fact, there is little in the US Soccer teaching materials that demonstrates assistant referee mechanics. Take a look at your "Guidelines and Procedures" manual and brush up on those skills. Good mechanics make selling your decisions easier and it makes the referee team look far more professional
On a positive note, it seems there is at least one positive interaction with a game participant for every negative one. We often emphasize the negative when we talk about being a youth soccer referee, but there are many opportunities to have good interactions as well. Try saying hello to a few of the players while they are warming up. Often, you'll find some very nice young men and women on the field!
There are some things I'd personally like to improve. Here they are, in no particular order:
  • Get better at positioning so I'm not interfering with play - there were times this past season, especially with the older players, where I felt like I was getting in the way once in a while. I need to work on this.
  • Be more careful about watching the Assistant Referees - There were a couple of times I missed offside flags. Concentrating on your assistants is a must.
  • Work toward getting more center assignments so I can think about upgrading - In looking up the upgrade requirements to go to grade 7, one has to work 75 games as a referee and 25 games as an assistant referee. At the rate I'm going, it will take an awful long time to get to 75. I need to speak with my assignor about this and figure out how to best make that happen.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Total Exhaustion

I put my availability in for a large, local tournament some time ago. I was assigned to a 4-person crew for both days of the tournament. Our field was scheduled for 18 games in two days! This would be a big test for me.
For the most part, we used what apparently is a standard rotation of having the person coming off a break take the referee position. Once you are done in the center, you move one touch line, then the other and then to break again. When it was all over, I ended up in the center 5 times and did 8 games as an AR. I really enjoy officiating games, but I'm not sure I'll be putting availability in for more than 1 day of a tournament. 2 days is just brutal, particularly if it is hot. Day 1 of this tournament was 90 degrees. Day 2 was much better, but it rained for the 2nd half of the day.

This tournament offered a huge number of experiences and observations. I'm not sure where to begin and suspect I will edit this particular post many times.

Shoes Make the Man

I'll start with something very basic, and that would be footwear. If you've been reading my blog, you remember that I have some problems with shoes in the past. I recently changed to the Spot Bilt studded shoe. The shoe is actually made by Saucony and features a running shoe upper and a turf tread. It works much better (for me) than a turf shoe designed for players as it provides additional support and is generally a sturdier shoe. These shoes have worked really well for me on a typical weekend where I'm assigned 1 to 3 games. They worked pretty well for the tournament too, but I still ended up with a couple of very ugly blisters. I cannot tell if it is the shoes, the socks I'm wearing, or some other variable. If someone can suggest a possible remedy, I'd sure appreciate it.

Match Control

Of the 18 games we worked over the weekend, we had several that had parents or coaches that "cared too much." In fact, we had one coach go ballistic over a "ball out of play" call in the first minute of a game. The call was made about 60 yards from his position. That one was bizarre. We also terminated a game that had 4 minutes left. A parent was harassing one of the ARs. When the referee confronted the parent, they became abusive. Game over. I bring these things up because there seemed to be a correlation between the person in the center, and these match control issues. Do not misunderstand what I'm saying, these are good referees, but I did notice a couple of things that I think might contribute to the issues they were confronting.

One of the referees seemed to have a noticeably introverted personality. In fact, when I first met him, I walked up and offered my hand as a greeting. He almost seemed to not know how to react. I barely heard his "hello." He is a really nice guy, but quiet and perhaps lacks some social skills. I found myself wondering if this resulted in some issues for him as he didn't strike me as authoritative on the field. His decisions seemed weak. I think this was a personality issue, not necessarily a confidence or knowledge problem.

The other fellow seemed to have problems resulting from his habit of wearing a hat and dark sunglasses on the field. Personally, if it is really hot and sunny, I am not going to criticize you for wanting to get a little relief by wearing a cap and the glasses. I will not do it because it is not part of the uniform and that would bother me. It seemed the glasses came up several times when parents were complaining about calls. Clearly, the glasses did not have an effect on this persons ability to make a proper call, but it does invite the criticism, doesn't it? I say lose the glasses and hat and give everyone one less thing they can use to criticize.

More Experience

Through the luck of our rotation, I did get a few more challenging games. In particular, I had a fairly high-level U-15 boys game that went real well. One of the other referees on the crew even complimented my match control after the game. I felt good about the entire game. I had a 2 other games around the same age level, although they were girls games. They weren't quite as challenging as the skill and aggression levels were a little lower, but clearly they were great experience.

I did have one minor issue that bothered me. I missed an offside flag in a later game on day 2. The defense recovered the ball. As I turned to head up field, I noticed the trailing AR with his flag up and blew the whistle before he could get the flag down. We had to bring a ball back 40 yards, essentially removing the advantage from the attacking team. Fortunately, they were up by several goals and did not make a big deal about it. The coach asked me about it after the game and I admitted I missed a flag. In hindsight, I should have probably called it an inadvertent whistle and given a dropped ball. At least that would have kept the ball in the attacking end of the field. To be honest, I am pleased that, even after all those games, I did not make any terrible mistakes. I managed to keep my senses keen and do a good job, so I guess that's something.

Problematic Player

In one of our games, there was a player who was problematic from the start. He had a knack for dissent and was giving the referee some problems early on. Not surprisingly, he earned himself a card about half way through the first half. I did not think he would make it to end of the game. He had several more fouls called on him in the first half. At the break, the opposite AR mentioned to the referee that this player made a insulting comment, with racial overtones, as he was coming off the field during a substitution. The first thing I thought of was she really should have pointed that out when it happened. Once the restart happened, I think it would be tough to sell a send-off for this player.

I had met this player's coach back in March at a tournament with my son. After the game, I waked over and asked to have a word with him. I related the story as I wanted him to be aware of the problem, especially the racial part of the comment. His reaction bothered me. He didn't really seem bothered by the comment and he said his boys are "just starting to learn," whatever that means. Some people's priorities seemed to be out of order.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

More Experience = More Confidence

I got myself scheduled for one day of a local tournament. This particular assignor that I work with has been a little more conservative with my assignments. I often get line assignments from him. In fact, I get very few center assignments.
He called me for the tournament. I was assigned 4 short sided games in the morning. He also told me that he would like me to come by referee headquarters to "pick up the slack" for officials that might be injured or sick.
The thing about tournaments that makes them tough is the super-tight scheduling. This particular tournament allowed for 5 minutes between games and 5 minute half times. Since I was scheduled for short sided games in the morning, by myself, I knew it would be a real struggle to get food and water as required. Also, its a little stressful because you only have those 5 minutes to deal with the administrative part of the job. Since there are so many games scheduled, it is critical games start on time. A few delayed games, and you could have a field that is 40 minutes behind by the end of the day. I think I've probably stated this before, but one must be persistent with coaches to have them get their teams on the field when the match is supposed to start. I had an experienced referee tell me to just start my watch at the appointed time, whether the teams are on the field or not.
As I worked through my first four games, something occurred to me. I'm getting better at this! I feel more confident! The experience I've been getting has been paying off. I actually had a coach tell me I called a really good game...and his team had lost!
On a side note, I actually had a parent say something kind of nasty to me during the game. I should clarify, it was a U-8 game. Unbelievable! There are all kinds. Interestingly enough, one of the coaches walked over to the parents side of the field and made it clear the parents were not to say anything to me! Way to go coach! Also, the club representative for the parent with the mouth apologized to me after the game on behalf of his club. Classy. I have additional respect for that club.
Something occurred to me while I was working the small side games. I love being a referee for the little ones. I've had some opportunities to do some older kids games. Most of them go well, but some games are tough. The players can be difficult and the coaches and parents can be worse. For the most part, the little ones just want to have fun. They want to learn the game. They count on the referee to teach, as well as officiate. If the older games get you down, schedule yourself for a few small sided games.
I reported to referee headquarters as requested. I had a couple of cold drinks and spoke with my assignor for 10 minutes or so. A call came in from one of the tournament locations that a referee needed a replacement (It was very hot today, over 90 degrees). Off I went to the new location. I subbed in immediately for the ill official and completed that game. I did one more game with this crew as an assistant, and then they asked me to be the referee for the last game. Apparently, the referee in the center when I arrived had been in the center almost all day! I ended up doing a U-13 girls game. It was a great game and I think I did a real good job. I effectively dealt with a few nasty parents and called a very good game. OK, it wasn't the most challenging game ever, but the experience is paying off and I'm getting better with every game.
Next week, I'm scheduled to do a large, 2-day tournament in the area. I'm looking forward to it!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Courage with the Important Call

I didn't get much in the way of assignments this weekend. I had two AR assignments. One is on Saturday while the other is on Sunday. Saturday's game was a real nail-biter. The game ended 0-0, and it was well played. There was lots of physical play, emotion and some dissent that drew a caution from the center. Both of the games I did were U-16 boys. These games were definitely faster than I'm use to and I had to pick it up to keep up with play.
In today's game, with only about 1 minute left. I made what I thought was going to be a controversial call. The ball was played through the defense, about 10 feet inside the touch line. The keeper came out and followed the ball toward the goal line. A striker chased the ball as well. As the ball approached the goal line, the keeper turned away from the ball and put his shoulder into the chest of the striker, rather than shield the ball and have it go out of bounds. I put up my flag immediately, much to the dismay of the keeper's team. The center came over and asked me what I saw. I explained it to him by merely presenting the facts. He confirmed the direct kick without question.
I think it's important to make the tough calls, regardless of the screaming and yelling that might result. You make the calls based on what you see. By the way, the strikers team failed to take advantage of the close-in free kick.
The 2nd game of the weekend, which was also a U-16 boys game, had some controversy in it. During our pre-game inspection, we noticed one of the goals had a net that was not tied down at the bottom along one side. That came back to bite us later. About 30 minutes into the 1st half, the center signaled for a penalty kick. I immediately moved to the prescribed position on the goal line. The center set up the kick, then positioned himself right in front of me on the goal line! The kick was taken. It was a low shot, very close to the post, opposite our positions. The center called for a goal kick, apparently ruling the ball went wide of the net. The shooting team screamed that it was clearly a goal and the ball had merely gone through the hole in the net. The center asked me what I saw. All I could tell him was it did not look like a goal to me, but I was screened from seeing the posts. I could only tell him that I did not see the net move at all. I think this is why following the contents of the "Guidelines and Procedures" manual is so critical. Proper positioning is so important and is specified in the document for a reason.
As I get more games, I've come to notice something important. Many referees make things up as they go. I'm not sure if this results from misinformation, ignorance of changes in the law, or some other reason. I hear more experienced referees say things that I absolutely know to not be true. Be wary of this if you are a new referee. It's very easy to be mislead.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Safety Checks are Critical

10 year old killed by goal post

All of you check the field for safety problems before every game, right? Don't let something like this happen at one of your games. At one time or another, we have all neglected to check for goal anchors. Perhaps there is a game going on before yours, so you assume the referee on the field checked the goals. Maybe your previous game ran late and you're arriving at the field just before game time. Always check the goals before a game, no matter the circumstances. We are taught this in our certification classes. It's drilled into us. Let's make sure we are going each and every game.

Monday, May 7, 2007

On the Hot Seat

This was a weekend for gaining experience, for sure. Through a different assignor, I was put on a field for 3 games with 2 other officials. This was the kind of weekend I wanted for some time. It is a chance to work with others AND to have several games in a row in order to hone my skills. We had a U-14 state cup match, and U-10 and U-12 league games. The night before, my thoughts were the two more experienced (my assumption) guys would want the U-14 and U-12 games and I would get the U-10s. Of course, I'm pretty new so I was OK with that idea and had prepared myself with this thought in mind.
As is my usual practice, I arrived at the field 30 minutes in advance of game time. The other officials arrived around the same time and we made our way to the field. We start discussing our games for the day. They both decide I should do the first game, which is the U-14 state cup game! I would later think they must have know what I was getting into.
The state cup match started and all went well through the 1st half. The game was physical so there were some fouls, including a few that approached being "reckless." I felt we called a decent 1st half by not allowing too much to go without a whistle, but still letting the game be played. There was one problematic player that I had a chat with. He would get a caution later in the game.
The 2nd half started out and was heated right off. The game was getting hot and I started to clamp down a little on the physical play. In hindsight, I probably could have clamped down even harder.
I've read that, in a post-game analysis, you can usually point to one incident in a game that caused things to get difficult. In this instance, it was an offside call wanted by the parents and coaches. The blue team played a ball from about 40 yards out up the right side of the field. I was just behind and to the left of the blue player with the ball and a white defender. When the blue player hit the ball forward, I kept my eyes on the 2 players for a second to make sure there were no fouls after the ball left. The pass went onto the foot of a blue forward and, simultaneously, I could hear the parental screams for an "offsides" call. I glanced at my AR and confirmed he had his flag down as blue put the ball into the net. Having had my eye on the players closer to mid field, I did not see any offside infraction and did not see any reason to disallow the goal. There was quite a bit of complaining coming from a particular group on the sidelines. Again, in my mind's analysis, I should have taken action right then to assert my authority.
A few minutes later, a white defender obviously pushed a blue striker in the penalty area. Great! My first penalty kick. When I pointed to the spot, that same troublesome group really got loud. At this point, before the kick, I walked to within about 20 yards of the sideline and told the parents I had enough and they were to be silent. I felt I need to do this in order to protect my AR, who was taken the brunt of the complaining. The penalty kick was taken and missed. Before the resulting goal kick, I walked to the white team's bench and asked the coach to get his parents under control. Unbelievably, he told me they were my problem and I should do whatever I needed to do!
We played the last 10 minutes or so of the 2nd half tied, 1-1. This match need a winner, so there was the possibility of extra time and kicks from the penalty mark. I found myself hoping for another goal as I really didn't want to get into any of the tie breaking procedures. Fortunately, white scored with about 4 minutes left and then game ended 2-1.
There are a few things I took away from this particular match. Deal with obnoxious parents early, and sternly. One needs to make it clear that things will escalate to an empty sideline quickly. It seems that if you don't deal with the one or two problem parents, you end up dealing with a mob mentality as others start to chime in with their opinion. It also seems to affect the players. The complaining on the field escalates along with the parental complaining. Also, for every game you officiate, know the responsibility of the coaching staff as it relates to their parents. Some leagues make the coaches responsible for the parents behavior and have specific actions the referee can take to deal with the problem.
The good news for the day was the next 2 matches, for which I was an AR, went rather well. We had the U-10 game after the U-14's. That was a little bit of stress relief. The U-12 game came off without a hitch as well. I worked with 2 good guys, and I learned valuable lessons in match control.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Small Breakthrough

This past weekend, I only had one game scheduled. That's a little frustrating, as my learning curve has been slower than expected. I guess I can't complain too much though. My game this weekend was a U-18 state cup match.
The breakthrough in the title refers to my confidence level for this game. I was an AR, but I somehow felt like I actually knew what I was doing. My signals to the center referee were confident. I learned to pause for a second before signaling. All in all, I felt I did really well. This could be a result of lessons learned from my other games, my study of refereeing through books and websites, or, most probably, a combination of those things.
Every time I have a game, there is a lesson to learn. This game was no different. In this case, the lesson related to flagging offside infractions. I had a situation where an attacker, on the far side of the field, was in an offside position by several yards. Her teammate played a ball through the defense, straight toward the goalkeeper. My reaction was to wait to see what happens before putting up the flag. The offside positioned player had not yet touched the ball, and the ball was playable by the goalkeeper. The striker did get to the ball and I immediately flagged the infraction. The center referee spoke to me later and asked that I flag offside earlier. His take was as soon as the striker made a play for the ball, the stroke became involved in active play and the flag should be raised. I asked my instructor and he agreed. He did say that, in the event another striker, coming from an onside position, was making a play for the ball, the correct action is to hold the flag to see who gets to the ball first.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Review: Jeffrey Caminsky's "The Referee's Survival Guide"

I've just finished reading The Referee's Survival Guide Practical Suggestions for Soccer Officials. This book, authored by Jeffrey Caminsky, is a fantastic resource for new referees.
Mr. Caminsky is a state referee emeritus, an assignor and an assessor from Michigan. He has the qualifications and experience to provide great tips and insight into being a soccer referee and it shows in the book.
This 223 page book contains a variety of topic to help the soccer official. Starting out slow with information about getting certified and the absolute basics are included. Next, the author tackles specifics about being an assistant referee and the mechanics of being the center referee. More general topics are tackled next including thoughts about match control, dealing with dissent and what to do when things go wrong. Finally, the book gives a wonderful overview of the variety of personalities one will encounter as a soccer official.
I've always been a big reader. I love books and often purchase several books on titles I'm interested in, including being a soccer official. There are not many books on the topic, and even fewer that have been written recently. This book is not only timely, but the topic choice is perfect for the new, and maybe not so new, soccer official. The book is very well written and provides great insight into being an official. In particular, I found the section on foul recognition very useful. If you are a new official, this book is a must read!
Finally, you can buy a signed copy from the publisher! How cool is that? Check it out at the New Alexandria Press online store.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Knowledge Can Be a Bad Thing

This weekend, I had no assignments. I did a very high-level match around mid-week. I was the Assistant Referee (AR) for my assignor. That was quite an adventure, but I'll write about that story another time. Both my sons had games this weekend, so I was fortunate to have the time to attend both. My older son's game is the one that put me in a situation to see something appalling.
We arrived at my son's away game with time to spare. We received a pleasant surprise when we realized a female friend of his was playing before his game. We don't often get to see her play, so it was a nice opportunity. She plays for a premier-level U-13 team, so most of her games are good to watch.
As I was watching the game, I could not help but look at the game officials and I noticed some really disappointing things. First, as I walked to the field, I observed that both of the ARs did not have their shirts tucked in. That really bothered me as I have been instructed to always show up to the field looking neat and professional. Coincidentally, my father taught me the same thing.
As I watched, it got worse. The 2 AR's clearly didn't even want to be there. Their demeanor on the touch line suggested they were completely bored and the teams were lucky to have them there. It was a real shame. To be honest, I was embarrassed to be a referee. The thing that pushed me over the edge happened next. The AR on my side actually flipped open his cell phone and put it to his ear for about about a minute. I could not believe what I was seeing! He proceeded to do it again about 5 minutes later. I thought I'd seen everything, until my son pointed out that the opposite AR didn't even have a badge on his uniform.
It was unfortunate to watch. It was like a train wreck where you can't look away. I'm not sure I would have noticed the poor performance of the AR's (who turned out to be the sons of the center referee, by the way) before I was certified. OK, I would have noticed the cell phone during the match.
The entire event reminded me that, in spite of what you may be thinking, people are watching the officials and they notice professionalism, or the lack of it! The little things are important, if you want to be taken seriously. Be sure your uniform is in order. Make sure your mechanics on the field are professional. Most importantly, take all your games seriously. The players worked hard to prepare for the match, so the officials should do the best job they can too!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Learning by Doing - Tournament Participation

If you have been reading some of my other posts, you know that I've been somewhat concerned and frustrated with getting assignments and experience. There were some communication issues on my part and the weather was not cooperating on those weekends that I did get assignments. I was happy to receive a response from an assignor for a premier level tournament in my area. I've written about actively pursuing assignments by contacting various assignors in your area. It paid off for me. You have to be proactive and persistent!
My original schedule for the tournament was for 2 days. The 4-man crew to which I was assigned was scheduled for 8 games on Saturday and 5 games on Sunday. It became apparent to me that the 4 member team is a common arrangement. The 4 members are assigned to a particular field and the members work out the schedule for the day between them. It is usual for a particular member to work the center, then each touch line, then have a game off to eat and rest. It is done this way so the person just coming off rest is assigned to the center so they are rested and fresh.
My 4 person crew assembled on the field about 40 minutes before our first match. After checking the nets, and inflating the match ball, we worked out our schedule for the day. I was to be the first center referee, and then I would work each of the touch lines before getting a game off. Oddly enough, we were given the wrong size match ball. It's a good thing we scrutinized it before the game.
We had a quick pre-game conference before my first match. I asked the other guys to make whatever calls they felt necessary, with the exception of fouls in the penalty area, of course. I also made it clear that I was pretty new and I needed them to help me from doing anything awful.
The tournament committee was very clear that all games would have 30 minute halves and a 5 minute half time. They made it clear all games would start on time. In fact, we were to end games within 5 minutes of the scheduled start time of the next game. There were to be no late games. With that in mind, my crew was adamant with teams about getting their players out on the field for the kick off on time. Take note of this. If the tournament tells you something similar, they are serious. You must get those teams on the field, on time, and start the games. You have to be stern with the coaches on this issue.
We started my first match right on time. It was an advanced U-14 match, so I was excited to be out there. All went fairly well. I made a maximum effort to keep up with play and pay attention to fouls as to maintain control of the game. I tried to strike a balance between letting the teams play and maintaining control and I think I did a pretty good job. I thought all went well in the first half.
At the half time whistle, the 2 AR's met me at the center of the field. I was shocked when they wanted to know why I was ignoring their flags! Apparently, I had missed 2 or 3 offside flags. This was incredible to me. Needless to say, I promised to pay more attention. Lesson learned. You must pay attention to your assistants, looking at them often to make sure there are no raised flags. The 2nd half of my first match went much better. I should point out however, that it can be very tough to hear a coach asking for a substitution on a windy day when you are 50 yards away. Pay attention to the technical area as well. Glance over at each stoppage if possible.
Another first for this tournament was my first misconduct. A reckless tackle in the 2nd half had me showing the yellow card. I was very careful to stop the game (it was a foul so I had stopped the game anyway). Calling the player away from the others, I quickly explained to him why he was being cautioned and I noted all his information. I showed him the card and we restarted play.
The next 2 games were on the lines for me. As I've written before, doing the lines is tougher than it looks! It is critical to maintain proper positioning, which is even with the 2nd to last defender or the ball, whichever is closest to the goal line. At this level of play, things happen quickly, so constant concentration is imperative. Personally, I find getting direction of restarts right when on the line to be tougher than when I am the center. I'm not sure why that is. Perhaps I'm thinking too hard?
Learning from Others
In your mind, be critical of what you are seeing. Even experienced referees probably have a few bad habits. Since this was my first real experience working with others, I found that to be true. Just because an experienced official does something a certain way, that does not mean you necessarily want to do it too. As an example, consider my experience with misconduct during the tournament. As I noted above, I cautioned a player for a reckless tackle. I followed the recommendations from my class very carefully. While I was working the line for a later game, the center chose to caution a player for dissent. He showed him the card, but then I noticed he did not record any of his information! Thinking that I had merely missed the recording part of the procedure, I was careful to watch the next cautionable situation, and, sure enough, the center was definitely not recording any of the cautioned player's information. Personally, I think that's bad enough for a single match, because you could miss a second caution and not send off a player. It's even worse at a tournament, where cautions can carry over to other matches. It's part of your administrative duties and you are paid to do it.
I have come to the conclusion that, as a center, I'd really like my assistants to enforce proper substitution procedure. All of the guys I worked with at the tournament seemed to be ok with substitutes running onto the field well before their player was completely off. At this level, the big risk is ending up with too many players on the field. At the higher levels, you could end up dealing with misconduct by someone who is neither a player nor a substitute. Allow sloppy substitution at your own peril!
Equipment and Preparation
My shoes are terrible! There, I've said it. My feet hurt unbelievably bad at the end of the day. I'm a newly minted referee, so I purchased shoes similar to what I see other officials wearing. They are basically turf shoes designed for players. If you think about it, that's not really a good shoe for an official. Officials and players have totally different uses and expectations for a shoe. I'm not kicking the ball (At least, not on purpose!). A player's shoe is designed to be snug and provide ball control. Comfort is an after thought. This type of shoe is fine for 1 or 2 games. Try wearing them for 8 hours! I've already ordered an "official's" shoe, manufactured by Spot Bilt. These shoes are more like a running shoe, but with a turf tread pattern. I'm hoping the extra support helps me. Lesson learned.
If you are even mildy "hair challenged," be sure you put sunscreen on your scalp. I was surprised to find that, even on a cool day, you can get a pretty bad sunburn being on the field all day. I picked up a spray-on sunscreen. It's not easy to get it on your scalp, but it's better than nothing.
This one is important. Officiating at a tournament is a long, tough day of physical exercise. Make sure you are eating and drinking enough all day. I stashed a couple of energy bars in my bag. I managed to eat about 1/2 a bar for each half of a game. Along with a couple of big sips from my water bottle, this sustained me adequately for the day. I can see that on a hot day one could deplete their water or energy reserves readily. Be sure to take water and food as you don't have any time between games to get something from the concession stands.
Well, there it is. I feel like I really learned quite a bit from my more experienced crew members. My own experience taught me some things as well. Hopefully, this article will help you learn some things from my experience too.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Getting More and More Assignments

Being a relative new referee, I'm finding things out in regards to the administrative part of the job all the time. For example, it pays to throw your "please assign me" net far and wide. When I passed my certification test, I searched the web for all the local tournaments I could find. Most of the web sites for tournaments have a "Referees" link on the home page. This link will either start an email addressed to the assignor for the tournament, or it will take your web browser to a web page that will have said assignors email address on it. I took the time to send a handful of "I'd like to work your tournament" emails. Some of those emails are paying off as I've been asked to participate in a rather large local tournament. It's pretty exciting as the play should be very good, there will be many matches available for assignment, and its a chance to work on 3 person crews, instead of on my own as is my usual league assignment. I'm sure my league assignor will be less than thrilled when I let him know I won't be available, but I think its worth it to get some quality experience.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

My First Match (As the Center!)

I finally managed to get a match in as the center referee. It went pretty well and I learned quite a bit. I should point out, it was a U-9 match. Yes, it's not exactly World Cup, but I look at it a different way. First, I realize I have very little experience, so keeping me on a small field with slower players is a good idea. Second, the match is important to the players, regardless of the age or skill level.
Everything you read about becoming a referee points out that you need to demonstrate your authority before the match begins by doing a few important things. One is to be on time. On time in the referee world means 30 minutes before the match is scheduled to start. Also, I agree that it is critical to be dressed neatly, appropriately and professionally. Make sure you have the correct USSF referee uniform. The correct uniform is important, but it is just as important to wear it correctly. Make sure your uniform is clean, pressed neatly and your shirt is tucked in. It makes a difference, as the coaches perception of you is formed in the first 10 seconds of meeting each other.
The match was scheduled to start at 3:30. I arrived at the field around 2:50 and the preceding match was still being played. I walked around the field to the team side, noticing that both of my teams were starting to arrive. I introduced myself to both coaches. Interestingly enough, they both handed me their league-supplied game cards and payment for the match. I didn't have to ask, which was nice.
I had never done player check-in before. It's pretty straight forward and it went well. I merely asked the girls if they were wearing any jewelry. The funny thing is, they all checked, as if some jewelry may have appeared on them! I had to laugh at that one. Just so I had something to say, I asked the coaches to mind the substitution process and make sure their subs stayed on the sideline until the substituted players came off the field. Turns out that was a good idea, as the process went very smoothly throughout the match.
The match preliminaries were pretty smooth as well. Keep in mind, the players have been through this before, so they know the routine. As long as you go through it like you've been through it before, they won't know the difference.
Before your first match, you'll go through everything that you need to do 100 times. Ok, maybe even more than 100 times. Naturally, you'll make a mistake anyway. Mine was not asking the coaches to get club linesman to assist with the touch lines. Of course, I realized this just as I start the 1st half. Fortunately, this mistake wasn't that big of deal. I just had to make an effort to be closer to the ball than I otherwise might have had to.
After all that description, most readers would expect a detailed description of the actual match play. To be honest, the match went as expected, so there isn't much to say. However, I do have a few observations. It seems that even mundane calls can be controversial. I made a throw-in call that seem to set off one of the coaches. Did I miss something? Did I just zone out? I don't think so, but it does make you wonder. Parents don't know anything about the Laws of the Game and must be ignored. This was a very tame match, yet some of the things parents were yelling were comical. There were surprisingly few fouls I had to call in this match. I'm interested to know if this is typical of this age level, or just two non-physical teams. In one regard, the younger games are more difficult than the older levels. Young players are far more likely to commit more technical infractions of the law . For example, one of the goal kicks in my match was intercepted a few feet before it left the goal area. I don't think I've ever seen that happen in U-12 and above. You really need to pay attention with the young ones!
An issue I did not anticipate was how difficult it is to get direction correct after half time. My brain seemed to struggle with the change in the 2nd half. If anyone has suggestions on minimizing that issue, let me know! Suggestions are always appreciated.
Oh, and in case you're wondering, I think I did blow one call. A player put both of her hands up to blow a ball that was coming at her neck. I did hear a few parents scream for a "hand ball," but I didn't blow the whistle. In hind sight, I'm convinced it wasn't necessary as she was protecting herself, and these are U-9's afterall.
There was at least one positive decision I made. One player took a ball in the face maybe 8 yards in front of her own goal. I blew the whiste immediately as it was obvious she was not going to continue to play. I also immediately waved her coach on the field. She wasn't seriously injured, but no one questioned my choice to protect the players. As an added bonus, I managed the dropped ball correctly.
I read somewhere that many referees go over their match in their head after leaving the field. I didn't think I would do that, but I can't help it. I keep thinking that perhaps I did make a few poor calls, but I guess this is part of the learning process. My calls will be improved for my next match, and that's what it is all about, isn't it?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Getting Experience is Tough!

Wow, I'm not having a lot of luck. Living in the Mid-Atlantic states is tough this time of year. So far, I've had 4 match assignments. 3 of them have been canceled because of weather. Hopefully, I'll be getting on the field soon.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

My First Match

I'm sure I'm driving my assignor crazy. I've been pestering him for an assignment since the first schedules came out in this area. The first league in this area to have scheduled games is the local girls soccer league. For some reason, they start 3 weeks before the boys league in the same region. I guess they have more teams and thus more weeks in the season. Who knows?
The first mistake I made was being confused about which assignor assigns for which league. I have 2 assignors that know about me, but I had them confused as to which league they assign for. I ended up not getting assigned the first week of the season because of that. There's a lesson in there: Know the leagues for which your assignor works.
I got a call for the second week of the season. My assignor gave me a U-8 girls game for the weekend. I was all set. I got out my notes from my certification, my copy of the Laws of the Game, my copy of the Guidelines and Procedures, and a few other FIFA papers that I found on the web. I reviewed them all so I was confident in my knowledge of the Laws. Unfortunately, weather made the local fields unplayable. The league called me 2 days before the match to tell me it was canceled. What a disappointment!
My disappointment was soon lifted by a call on Saturday morning from my assignor. He asked, "Can you do a friendly match tomorrow?" Without hesitation, I agreed. I was to be an Assistant Referee (AR) with 2 very experienced referees. Perfect!
The match was between U-16 girls from a premier league. This was a good opportunity to learn. I was sure to arrive at the field 30 minutes before game time (I double checked the location the night before). The other officials had not arrived, so I walked out on the field, set my bag down and went about checking the field conditions. One of the goals was not weighted down, but the sand bags were there, so I put them where they needed to be. (Don't forget to check moveable goals for some sort of appropriate anchoring!)
As a side note, being new, I was surprised at the way the coaches handled themselves. They both made sure to come to me and introduce themselves. Yes, I realize they won't always be that nice, but I can get used to being called "Sir" before games start.
The other officials arrived a few minutes after me. I went over to introduce myself and was quick to point out that additional instruction from them would be most welcome. I suspect my assignor put me with these officials on purpose as they were very forthcoming with tips and suggestions. The center even spent a few minutes with me going over my responsibilities as an AR. He reminded me to back him up on time keeping. He told me to keep an eye on his half of my touch line, just in case he couldn't see who put the ball out. Interestingly enough, he made it clear he wanted me to avoid signaling any fouls in the penalty area. He pointed out that this was a friendly match and he didn't want any controversy that wasn't absolutely necessary.
We walked out on the field together to the center circle. I observed the introduction between team captains and the coin toss. After the toss, I walked to my position and waited for the start. As I was waiting for the match to start, I concentrated on which team was attacking in which direction. I didn't want to get that wrong on my first call. In fact, I was thinking about it so much I almost forgot to start my watch!
My observations from the first half are only a few. For me, keeping up with the game physically was not a problem. I run about 5 times a week. Even though these were 16 year olds, keeping up with them wasn't an issue. However, I was warned by my instructor that my first match would seem like it was "going 100 miles per hour." That is spot on! I felt like I couldn't keep up mentally, meaning my decision making process felt slow. This improved as the match went on. I grew more confident with my signals. I realized the more confident I was with my mechanics, the more the players bought into my decision. The 2nd half of the match was a little different than the first. The team now attacking my end of the field was being more successful in that they were getting much closer to the goal. I was having to sprint to stay with the 2nd to last defender. They were much closer to being in an offside position. The match was a very good experience and gave me confidence for my upcoming first match in the center.
After the match, I spoke with the center for a few moments. He gave me a few things to improve on and said I had done a good job and I would be fine.
On a final note, I should point out that I sent a quick email to my assignor after the match. The email basically let him know that the match went fine. I also thanked him for the assignment. In some regards, refereeing is a job. As such, one wants to develop a good relationship with their assignor.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

You're Certified. Now What?

You've passed your certification. It's official, you're a USSF referee. Now what?
After certification, there are a couple of things you'll need to do.
  1. Purchase uniforms, whistles, cards etc.
  2. Contact assignors

Purchasing Equipment
There are many places to purchase uniforms as well as the accessories necessary to referee a soccer match. The official USSF provider of uniforms is Official Sports, Inc. There are many, many other sites. One in particular that I recommend, is Score Sports. Their uniforms are very high quality and a little less expensive. See my list of links for other equipment providers.
I recommend the following items for someone just starting out as a soccer referee:
  • 1 pair of referee shorts
  • 1 pair of referee socks
  • A good pair of black or black and white turf shoes
  • 2 long sleeve jerseys, one gold and one other color (assuming you'll encounter cool weather)
  • 2 short sleeve jerseys, one gold and one other color
  • Watch - Any watch with a chronograph function will do
  • Flipping coin - a large, heavy coin like a half dollar will do
  • Red and Yellow Cards, data notebook
  • Flags
  • Pens and Pencils
  • A bag to carry your stuff
  • 2 whistles
Getting Assigned
I thought getting assignments would be easy after getting certified. I was wrong. I suppose it probably varies by state, but I found the assignment process to be confusing. Your mileage will vary. First, you have to get in contact with a few assignors. The easiest way to do that is contact your state committee to get a list of local assignors. An alternative is you can contact the various leagues in your area and get the contact information for the league's assignor.
Once you get a list of a few assignors, call or send them email. Mention that you are a newly certified referee and ask to be assigned. Be persistent if you don't get an answer. My advice is to take whatever assignments you get and do a great job with them. That's how you are going to get more and better assignments.
You shouldn't expect to get assigned to high-level matches right off. It is very likely you'll get assigned as an Assistant Referee, hopefully paired with an experienced center official. Your first experience as a center referee will most likely be with very young players and less skilled divisions.