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.