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.