Sunday, December 14, 2008

Re-certification Topics

I attended my re-certification class this weekend. To me, it's interesting to see what topics are discussed at the clinic as it indicates where the state committee is seeing problems. Compared to last year, this year's clinic was broad in its coverage of topics.
As is done every year, we reviewed changes in the LOTG. You should review the USSF memorandum and the memorandum supplement on changes right away.
There are significant language changes to Law 1, but let's face it, we don't get too worked up about the ball, other than it being inflated properly and in good condition, do we? It seems the changes in the LOTG are often more applicable to the professional game.
In the "Dealing with Injured Players" section, the USSF tells us, among other things, that we need to more quickly evaluate injured players and make the decision on stopping the game or not. We should not depend on teams to do this on their own. It bothers me when I see a referee, who is honestly trying to teach nuances of the game, insisting that a obviously confused team kick the ball into touch. This happens when a player is laying on the ground, injured in some way. My opinion is, if you think the team should kick the ball out, you think the player is seriously injured. In this case, you should stop the game immediately and go with the drop ball.
Check out the interesting comments about Law 5 in the memorandum supplement. It clarifies something that I've thought about on occasion. Many referees will not end a game while the ball is not in play. They wait until the ball is put into play, and then blow for the end. My philosophy is to stop the game when it is over, regardless of what is going on on the field. I had a very wise referee once ask me "Is it fair the defense should have to defend longer than necessary?" If you think about it that way, it makes a lot of sense.
We are now told, as assistant referees, that we should indicate offenses when we have a better view, rather than being closer. Hopefully, if you are my assistant, you are doing that already!
The wording in Law 12 with regard to tackling has been changed. How many times have you heard "but he got the ball first!" yelled from the sideline after a player performed a slide tackle that wiped out the opponent as well? Now, we are told to merely look for a player that "tackles an opponent."
Moving on to the revisions of the "Interpretations of the Laws of the Game," you'll notice an interesting underlined section. It's the reminder that advantage can only be applied to violations of Law 12, or in other words, fouls and misconduct. There can be no advantage on things like offside infractions, throw-ins etc. This is important to digest as I see it on the field on a regular basis.
At the very end of the memo, we see the International Board reminds us that, as part of our game management skills, we should use some common sense and warn players who fail to respect the required distance for both throw-ins and corner kicks. They seem to acknowledge that blatant violations need to be caution, be we should use our ability to merely provide a stern look and warning. Our re-certification instructor pointed out this skill applies to free kicks as well.
Like last year in my state, penalty kicks were covered. Apparently, penalty kicks are a real problem. I gather there is a problem with referees not getting the restart correct when infractions happen during a penalty kick. It's really pretty simple. If the defending team cheats, its a goal if the ball goes in the net. It's a retake if it doesn't. If the attacking team cheats, it's a retake if the ball goes in the net. It's an indirect free kick if it doesn't. Here's the part I didn't realize. Let's say the attacking team comes into the penalty area just before the ball is kicked. Let's also say the shooter puts the ball way over the net. The restart is still an indirect free kick. The fact that the ball went over the goal out of play doesn't change the indirect free kick for the infraction. I hadn't thought about that before. By the way, if both teams cheat, it's a retake. Take some time to review Law 14 in your law book. Also, check out the training materials on FIFA's website.
We received a very well done presentation on dealing with bench issues. It seems the inspiration for this might have come from some of the materials I've seen for the Intermediate clinic (upgrade to 7). My key "take-aways" from the presentation will help me in my games. Our instructors pointed out that showing up to the game on time and looking professional will help avoid some of the problems one might experience with team benches. Also, they pointed out to be sure to walk directly over the both coaches and introduce yourself. It gives the impression that you are aware that the game is not about you. It's about the players.
After the game starts, you might have to deal with bench problems. As with player dissent, you must learn to ignore dissent from the bench that does not erode your authority in anyway. I'm referring to an occasional emotional outburst that disappears quickly. Try to avoid confrontation when confrontation is not necessary.
When it becomes necessary, stop play (if it's not stopped already) and inform the bench that you will be reporting the behavior. This is equivalent to a caution for a player. Make sure you follow through. Your game report must include all the facts. Also inform them that continued behavior will result in a dismissal, which is equivalent to a player send off. You must follow through with this. If you do dismiss bench personnel, do not start the game again until they are out of your ear and eye range. I did this once, and it was a real problem. If they refuse to leave, you simply terminate the game. Remember to include all details in your game report, as well as the offending personnel's coaching card. Obviously, a short paragraph describing this lengthy presentation makes it sound so simple. This situation can be highly emotional and confrontational. I think the key is to maintain your professional demeanor through the process. You cannot be overly emotional as this just escalates the situation. Our instructions reminded us of these key skills.
So that's my summary of this years re-certification. I've read some comments on a referee forum that suggest face-to-face re-certification is a waste of time. I'm not sure I agree with that opinion. It's only once a year and it's an opportunity to gain knowledge from the more experienced officials in your state. Take advantage of it by going in with an open, eager mind. Ask questions. If you find yourself a little bored, realize that you might be one of the more experienced officials and you can offer anecdotal situations to illustrate the instructors main points of emphasis.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Shortest Tournament Day Ever

I woke up this morning about 20 minutes before my alarm clock was to go off. I could hear outside that it was already raining, even though the weather forecast the night before said it wouldn't rain until mid-day. I put in, and was assigned, to a boys winter college showcase tournament. Fully expecting to see the tournament was canceled, I got up and checked the website. According to the website, the tournament would play through showers. Great. Large, aggressive boys on wet, slippery, cold fields. I arrived at my assigned location in plenty of time and met up with my good friend. We chatted for a while, not believing we were actually going to get any games in. It was raining pretty steadily and there were already a few standing puddles around the field. We received our field assignment. I had the 2nd game in the middle, so I was off the first game.
Young Referee
I wondered over to my field around mid-way through the first half, after checking to see if I might be need elsewhere first. I ran into the assignor, who was coming from our field. He came over to me and asked me to go stand behind a young referee on our field and coach him a little on foul recognition. I did just as he asked and noticed right off he was being a little lenient. The referee was about the same age as the players. I found out later that he still plays. In talking to him a little, he seemed to think the rough play was nothing "he couldn't play through." It was an interesting comment as it lead me to believe his judgement was being influenced by his playing rather than what he knows is right as a referee. I pointed out that letting some of these obvious fouls go could result in the game getting out of control and he really needed to tighten up in order to help the center referee. I'm not sure how much I helped, but I hope I got him thinking and looking at the game from a different view point.
Right Diagonal
The tournament asked that we run a right diagonal in an attempt to save the fields. I'm referring to running the field toward the right corner flag as you enter the attacking half of the field, instead of running toward the left flag, which is the direction most of us choose. If you've never done this, don't underestimate how hard it really is. The first 4 minutes of the game I felt really awkward. It took me a little while to figure out just where I should be running and where my AR would be standing. Oddly enough, it made it much harder to remember which way the team's were playing. I recommend running a game with this opposite diagonal maybe once a season. I'm glad I had this experience, but it was stressful. I doubt anyone actually noticed, but I sure felt like they might! That will get you on your toes very quickly.
The good news (or bad news, depending on your viewpoint) is the tournament shut everything down 25 minutes into my first game. It was disappointing because I had not refereed at this age group in quite some time, but it was definitely necessary to ensure the safety of everyone involved. The fields had really become slippery and nearly unplayable.
So, that's it for my Fall season. I'll probably post a couple of times between now and March as things come to mind. Feel free to shoot me an email if you are looking for a sounding board on any referee issues.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Pleasant Tournament

I had a really nice day today refereeing a modest area tournament. It's a pretty big tournament, but not particularly exclusive. Originally, my son was to work with me. He had a conflict and could not do the tournament. The assignor kept me assigned to a younger age field anyway. We had a day full of U-11 and 12 boys and girls teams. My crew consisted of all younger referees (15-20), one of which I had worked with before.
I did 4 games today with 2 in the middle and 2 as an AR. It was the kind of day that makes me glad I pursued getting certified. We had no problems with parents, coaches or players. All of the games were well fought, and, for the most part, pretty competitive. Although it was cold, the weather was tolerable. There were no serious injury and all the players looked happy leaving the field.
I worked with a guy today that, if he continues, will be a really good referee. He's 20 and takes the job pretty seriously. His uniform was neat and clean. His shoes were clean and well maintained. His knowledge of the game was very good and his mechanics, both in the middle and as an AR were excellent. I spoke with him for a few moments about how impressed I was and encouraged him to pursue an upgrade. It was nice to work with him.
The only mar on the day was a parent that had to prove that adults are ruining the game for kids. I'll give you the short version of the story. I was the AR for this game. At the very start of the game, there was a person having a bit of a heated discussion with the near coach. I overheard much of the conversation. It seems this person had concerns about certain players getting enough playing time. The guy was really giving it to this coach and was relentless. After 4-5 minutes, he backed off and sort of hovered behind the player bench. At one point, I quietly asked the coach if this individual was a coach (ie, he has a coaching pass) or a parent. I pointed out that he cannot be in the technical area if he is not carded to the team. At half time, this guy starts in again on the coach. The referee and I got involved as the debate was getting a bit heated. We pointed out that the subject of the argument was none of our business, but the parent would have to leave the technical area. Well, this guy takes his daughter, and her player pass, and decides to leave. The look on this little girl's face said it all to me. She was crying and did not want to leave her team mates. A few of the other players noticed it as well. Apparently, this parent had lost sight of the fact that it is about the child and their desire to play soccer, not about the parent's desires or hurt ego because their child doesn't play as much as they think she should. It's hard, but as adults, we cannot lose sight of the fact that this game is about the players, not about the coaches, parents, or referees.
Time for Upgrade Thoughts
I wasn't sure I was going to make it this season, but I did. I now have enough games as a referee (75) to register for the upgrade, or Intermediate clinic. In my state (New Jersey), it's in March. I've already made some noise with the State Youth Administrator, so hopefully I'll get in. We'll see.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Final League Games for the Season

I put in for games on this, the "make up game" weekend for the league we work. I ended up with 3 games assigned. On arrival at the field, we decided I would work the first game, a U-13 boys match, we would flip a coin for the middle game (U-11 boys) and then a colleague would work the final, U-14 boys match.
Given that it was about 30° out, these were fairly young players, and this was the last weekend of the season, I didn't expect much trouble from these games. Interestingly enough, the first game turned out to be a pretty exciting one. As you do a lot of games, you soon realize you need to expect anything in any game. For example, 3 minutes into this one, the red team's forward committed a reckless charge against the opposing goalkeeper. Where did that come from? Is this game important to one or both of the teams? Is this a rivalry game of some sort? I thought to myself "this might be interesting." Obviously, he earned a caution for his effort. I was thinking there might be more to this game than I understood, but when I took him aside, it was pretty clear he knew what he did and it was more from being 13 and clumsy, rather than any kind of malice. Other than that incident, the first half went well.
At the half, one of my colleagues seemed a little bored with the games. He seemed disappointed that we were doing games at a middle to lower skill level. His comment got me thinking. What do you consider a "good game" to referee? Most of us are fans of the game as well as being a referee. When I evaluate the quality of a game, I look at it in the context of the players age and skill level? Did the players get a fairly officiated, sporting game? Did they seem to play up to or beyond their skill level? To me, that is a "good game." I do not look at a game between lower ranked teams, or younger age groups, as a boring game. It's a game that needs quality officiating so the players can, hopefully, meet or exceed their current skill level in a fair environment. Always remember, most of the time, your current game is the only one the players are going to get this week. Do your best because it is important to the players.
The 2nd half was played quite well. The teams were equally matched and played hard. Play was aggressive, but fair. There was an additional caution at the very end for a reckless tackle, but all in all a great game! Afterward, the coach of the visiting team made the comment that we were the best crew he has seen all season! You have to like that. He appreciated that we stayed out of the game, only interfering as necessary. I felt like the players got the game from us that they deserve.
Shoes Pay Off
Regular readers know I just purchased new referee shoes. They paid off at this game. I wore the turfs to the game, reasoning it was very cold out and the field would be very hard. I started the first game still under this assumption as I was the 2nd official to arrive and had not walked the field because my colleague had done the pre-game check. Minor mistake. About 25% of the field was very slippery and muddy. I had not noticed it because it was on the opposite side from where we put our bags down. At half time, I switch to my newly acquired studs and I was good to go! They made a huge difference. OK, they are probably not necessary if you are newly certified. I'm just suggesting that, as you do more games, you consider having 2 pairs of shoes in your car so you are better prepared.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Back to the Game

Tournament Time
Now that I got that marathon business out of my system, I'm getting back to doing games before the season is over. I had quite a few games this weekend. On Saturday, I worked a day of a girls showcase tournament. The tournament is a pretty big one that I worked last year. It's scheduled over 3 locations for 2 days. The tournament is positioned as a "college showcase," and I have observed quite a few coaches wandering around with clipboards. For the most part, the play is high-level and the referees are top-shelf.
I was looking forward to this tournament because I hadn't worked one in a while. The summary is this: The weather was brutal and I only got 4 games out of an 8 hour day.
This tournament started out like the last one I worked for this assignor. I was told to be at the morning referee meeting at 7:30am. I was there, only to find out my first game was scheduled for 9:15. As you can imagine, that's annoying. It's even more annoying when it is 25° out and the wind is blowing between 15 and 20 mph! I report to the field for the 9:15 game and work as an assistant. I'm 3rd in the rotation, so I have the next game off. I return for my game as the center. I get both teams checked in...only to find out that the assignor has, for some reason, replaced me as the center with another referee that just showed up at the field. I'm working as an assistant again. What's worse is the new addition has disturbed the normal rotation. Now I'll be doing my first center after coming off a game as an assistant. Great! I'm as flexible as the next guy, maybe more so, but I find this type of disorganization really annoying.
During the game as assistant, there is a ball that is bouncing toward the corner flag opposite my position. I watch it very carefully and I clearly see it hit the flag and go left, for a throw-in. The center signals for a corner. When she glances over at me, I give her the throw-in motion trying to tell her she's making a mistake. She holds her hand up in a "I've made my decision" motion. Normally, I don't bother getting the center's attention on something like this, but I was absolutely positive it was a throw in. The corner nearly resulted in a goal. It's just my opinion, but if you have an assistant that is trying to tell you something, you at least go over and do a quick "sanity check."
I finally got in the center for my next game. First, I'll point out that I actually did the game in shorts. Did I mention it was windy and 25° out? Seriously, it was brutal out there. The wind was so strong it made the games a bit strange. The teams had a very tough time getting the ball out of the down-wind end of the field. Unfortunately for the teams, the games were almost ridiculous.
At one point, one of the teams played the ball to a forward and she broke free of the defense. She was off to the races! I followed about 15 yards behind her as she entered the penalty area. She got about 5 yards in where the goalkeeper met her. She actually managed to get around the goalkeeper, but the goalkeeper grabbed her ankle on the way by, pulling her down. This was a pretty easy call. Loud whistle, point at the spot, the goalkeeper protests, etc. She was actually quite lucky. The attacker had not been heading directly to the goal, otherwise I would have sent her off for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity. All the other checks were met, only direction to the goal was not established. If you are interested, US Soccer offers a position paper on obvious goal scoring opportunities.
My fourth, and last, game of the day was also a center. This one was pretty uneventful, although all of the players were obviously ridiculously cold. That's probably why the games were kind of tame. I'm not convinced the players wanted to be there.
Interesting Game Statistics
I own a nifty GPS watch that I use for running and cycling. In addition to keeping track of all kinds of data like speed, elevation and heart rate, it also keeps track of where I've been. I've always wondering how much ground a soccer referee covers in a game, so I wore the watch during the tournament.
First, let me point out these were shortened (30 minute half) tournament games. Also, as I mentioned above, they really weren't typical games. The wind was blowing very hard toward the end of the field at the bottom of the picture. The ball stayed in that end much of the time. If you look carefully, you can see my path is concentrated in that end of the field.
The watch returned some interesting information. In these games, I covered about 1.5 miles per half. that seemed a little low to me, but as I mentioned above, the games weren't typical. I also wore the watch as an assistant. I ran about 1 mile per half as the assistant.
I think it would be interesting to gather a little more data here. What do you think? Do you have interest in some numbers for various age games?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Suntrust Richmond Marathon

Well, I did it. I ran a marathon. I can say, without a doubt, that is the hardest athletic endeavor I've ever undertaken. I managed 4 hours, 36 minutes on a very warm, windy day. The course was hillier than I expected too. Those of you that live in the North Eastern United States know there was significant rain in the area. Believe it or not, not a drop fell on the race, which I left me grateful. Running that far in the rain would have been terrible.
The odd thing about the day is I did not experience any unusual pain whatsoever. Naturally there was plenty of discomfort as my legs got tired, but I was very worried about typical runner injuries like shin splints or knee pain. I had none of that. I didn't experience any cramping (thanks Hammer Nutrition!). Trust me, there was plenty of that going on. There were many, many runners either dropping to the asphalt in pain or standing on the side of the road stretching out some very angry muscle. I feel very fortunate to have avoided that situation.
OK, back to refereeing. I've sent in my availability for the usual college showcase tournaments we have in this area for November. We'll see what I get. Thanks for reading.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Under the Lights

I only managed one game this week. With the marathon training, I can't really do a day's worth of games after having run long distance. My assignor sent out a request for Friday night availability, so I jumped on it, along with my older son.
On most of the weekends I'm doing league games, we get an odd number of assignments, meaning they cannot be split evenly among the crew. Most of the crews I work with are happy to split the money evenly and they use a game of chance to pick who is doing the middle (We usually draw pieces of paper with numbers written on them). Lately, I have not had much luck in this regard. I've been doing quite a few sidelines. In fact, it is so obvious, one guy I worked with 2 weeks ago insisted I do the middle because he noticed the luck of the draw had not gone my way in some time. It's all good though, as I take a lot of pride in being a good assistant.
The Friday night game was the first game I have done at night, under lights. I never realized that outdoor field lighting can be tough on a referee. Depending on the team's jersey colors, it can be tough picking out teams in the heat of action from 40 yards away. Be aware of that if you do a night game.
It had for a few days before this game, so the field was really wet. Going back to my earlier post regarding shoe selection, it became obvious to me why every referee should have a set of studded shoes in their car. This field was quite loose. For whatever reason, the line I was running had some significantly muddy areas. Without studded shoes, I would have been in big trouble. These teams (U-13 boys) where playing the ball up and down the field quickly so I was sprinting down the line a hand full of times. It would have been treacherous without some traction.
In regard to the game, it was a pretty good one. The teams were middle of the road skill-wise, but quite evenly matched, making the game hard fought and exciting. My colleague in the middle, who I have not worked with previously, was quite good and was a pleasure to work with.
We had two calls I thought were significant. The first was a trip in the penalty area, but it wasn't really a tough call. It was fairly obvious and the whistle and my flag went at the same time. No argument from either side here. I thought we demonstrated good team work and confidence in our decision. The other call was a little more interesting. The red team came free around half way with 2 attackers. The attacker with the ball was coming straight up the field about 5 yards to the left of the left goalpost. His team mate was coming up the center of the field. As they came into the penalty area, the attacker without the ball moved slightly ahead into an offside position. As the ball was passed to this team mate, a blue defender managed to sprint up in between them and toe the ball...into his own goal.
Arguably, I blew it. I popped my flag the second I saw the pass. The center waved me down and allowed the goal. I think I could argue this one both ways. In my opinion, the player was guilty of offside because they were interfering with an opponent. The Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game states:
"Interfering with an opponent" means...making a gesture or movement which...deceives or distracts an opponent
Running onto a ball in front of the goal seems to qualify as a movement that distracts an opponent. However, you might see it as the attacker not guilty of offside because they had not played the ball. It was an opinion matter and the center called it the way he saw it.

Friday, October 31, 2008

"Run Forest, Run"

As some of you long time readers know, I do a lot of running outside of soccer. I'm not a great runner, but I think I have very good fitness. What I mean is I'm not going to win many races (although I did win my age group in a duathlon last year!) but I'm very fit and I really enjoy running and cycling. This summer, I decided I really wanted to try to improve my running, so I registered for a 1/2 marathon in Philadelphia. A good friend of mine signed up as well. I found myself a training schedule on the web and followed the program pretty closely. We did well in the Philadelphia event, finishing in just over 2 hours. Again, we are not talking about any world records here, but I was pretty happy with that time. If you've never done an event like this, I encourage you to consider it. Not only is the concentration on running great for your referee fitness, but these events can be great fun as well! We had a great time!
After finishing the 1/2 marathon, I had all this fitness and nothing to do with it, so I did the natural thing: I signed up for a full marathon! Yes, I must have been out of my mind. On November 15th, I'll be running the Suntrust Richmond Marathon.
For those of you that don't know much about marathon training, most programs are 15-20 weeks in length and involve some sort of regular increase in mileage up to about 3 weeks before the event. One then tapers their mileage to allow the body to heal from training and rest for the upcoming effort. Most marathon training schedules have you peak at a long run of 20 miles. I did my 20+ mile run last weekend. Being complete honest, it was easily the hardest thing I've ever done, although I managed to average 9:45 per mile. I felt pretty good up to about 17 miles, but beyond that, it was tough. I've asked around and apparently this is completely normal for all first-time marathoners. Now I'm tapering my mileage for the event. I hope to get under 4:30, but in reality, I just want to finish it.
The biggest hurdle for most long distance runners seems to be trying to stay healthy. Injury is a real threat with any running endeavor and long distance running in particular. I struggled with shin splints for a few weeks. I've had persistent plantar fasciitis as well. Along with these issues, I've had all kinds of interesting aches and pains that come and go, but all of this seems to be part of being a real runner. As I taper for the event, many of these issues are starting to fade and I'm hoping all will go well in the marathon. Wish me luck! I'm probably going to need it.

Working with my Assignor...or not

For the first time, my assignor was going to be one of the referees on my crew. I've met him a couple of times, although our meetings have been at tournaments where he was working and one of my sons was playing. This was to be the first time I had spent any substantial time with him. We were assigned to two girls games, ages 14 and 15...and he didn't show up. Actually, he assigned someone else to take his spot. That was kind of a disappointment. I was looking forward to working with him. Too bad.
I ended up doing the U-15 girls game. OK, technically it was a U-16 girls game. Apparently, the league combines the age group when there aren't many teams. We had one U-15 team and one U-16 team. The game went pretty well. These are not very skilled teams. In fact, it is sort of unusual to have high school age players playing in the Fall season. I work at this club often and the games are always enthusiastically played, for sure. The players and coaches are pleasant so its a pleasure to work this club's games.
There wasn't much in the way of difficult calls or ugly challenges. I issued one caution when a player decided to recklessly charge another player just after the ball had gone. She knew she was getting the caution the minute I blew the whistle. Interestingly enough, she was bordering on a persistent infringement caution later in the game. I gave her a stern verbal reminder of the first caution and she seemed to cool off a bit for the rest of the game.
At one point, I had two players trying to occupy the same space, about 30 yards out from the goal. They were both running after the ball and got their feet tangled up. I didn't see any foul play. However, when the players went down, one of the girls sort of shouted in pain and seemed to grab her leg. Thinking she was seriously injured, I stopped play right away. Apparently, she was just frustrated about going to the ground. By the Laws of the Game, the restart is a dropped ball. Needless to say, I got quite a few questions about that one after the game. In hindsight, my whistle was probably a little premature, but I was looking out for player safety so I don't feel too bad about it. It is just another example of how a referee can be well within the laws, but casual observers can think you are a nit wit. I think its important to realize that much referee criticism comes from not only an ignorance of the Laws, but also the lack of communication beyond the players on the field. I did say to the players something like "We stopped because I thought one of the players was injured so we will restart with a dropped ball."
Fox Sonik Whistle
I bought a new whistle. I have a hand full of whistles in my bag. There are a couple of Fox 40 classic's in there (you do have a Fox 40, right?), a Fox Pearl, an Acme Tornado, an Acme T2000 and now, a Fox Sonik.
The Fox 40 classic seems to be the standard whistle for soccer referees. It is a pea-less whistle, meaning it doesn't have that little cork ball rolling around inside. I'm told the pea can be a real problem in cold weather. The classic is loud and piercing and works well on the soccer field. the Fox Pearl is one of my favorites because it is similar to the classic, but has a lower pitch. This comes in handy when you are close to another field. The players can differentiate between your whistle and your colleague's on the next field.
I haven't used the Acme whistles too many times. They are similar to the Fox whistles, but I need to try them a few more times to have an opinion.
Every time I need to order some new referee item, I pick up another whistle. I saw the Sonik on the website, so I ordered it. It is kind of expensive, so I had high expectations. The Fox website claims the Sonik produces up to 125 decibels of sound and is recommended for "large arenas." It's a 4 chamber whistle, as opposed to the other Fox whistles which are 2 chamber. By comparison, the Pearl is described with a maximum of 90 decibels and the classic is at 115 decibels.
I used the Sonik this weekend. One of my AR's told me he was not impressed with the whistle's sound power. From my end, it sounded about as loud and shrill as the classic, but my colleague said he thought a classic was better. So there you go. If you are going to get a Sonik, be aware of this potential problem. Honestly, I think the Sonik merely requires just a bit more wind to get it to produce maximum volume. Perhaps another game with the whistle is in order.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Referee Needs a New Pair of Shoes

The maker of my preferred shoe, Spot Bilt, no longer exists. Since my current shoes are starting to show signs of wear, I've started the search for new shoes.
My thoughts are that referees are not players, so we should not be wearing player shoes. You've probably noticed that there are, unfortunately, very few manufacturers making referee-specific shoes.
The Referee Administrative Handbook tells us that referees should have
BLACK SHOES (may have white manufacturers design) with black laces
The design and styling of player shoes often call attention to themselves, being brightly colored and using materials that attract attention. In the majority of cases, these shoes are not acceptable for referee use. Aside from the cosmetic aspects, player shoes are normally not designed for all-day comfort either. Generally, players only need to participate in a maximum of 2 games in a day. I've done as many as 7 games in one day.
In my quest for a new shoe, I tried the Diadora Referee TF. I was ordering some new things for my boys and I noticed this shoe on the website. They were priced less than $50 and I've seen many of my colleagues using these shoes, so I thought I'd give them a try. The shoes arrived and I was pleased with the styling of the product. They are nice looking referee shoes. They are made of a material that should clean up easily. They are available in all black or black with white accents. Unfortunately, they seem to be made for narrow feet. I wear a size 10 and my foot width is measured as size D, which is very average. I found these shoes to be cut way too narrow. They had to go back. If you have a narrow foot, these shoes may be worth trying.
I've seen quite a few referees wearing "old school" Adidas player shoes, so I went to the local sporting goods store to give them a quick try. Specifically, I'm referring to the Adidas Copa Mundial. Oddly enough, I never even tried them on. I noticed another Adidas shoe that had all the cosmetic characteristics of a referee shoe. I'm referring to the Adidas AdiPURE TRX FG (firm ground) and TF (turf).
I tried on the FG version and they felt pretty good. They seemed to be wide enough for me and I've always wanted a pair of firm ground shoes for those loose fields, so I purchased them. When I got home, I looked up the turf version (the store didn't have them in my size). I picked them up, on sale, online.
Cosmetically speaking, these shoes are perfect for referees. They are mostly black, with a small amount of white. The FG version is even available in solid black.
As far as fit is concerned, these shoes seem to run true to size. I purchased the shoes in my measured size. They are soccer shoes, so expect the fit, especially in the width, to be a little snug.
The first time on the field with these shoes was interesting. First, I didn't realize how much traction you get with firm ground studs. I couldn't believe how much better these shoes performed, compared to my previous turf shoes. They gave me great confidence on a soft, damp field. On the down side, they tore my heels up a little. I ended up with a nice blister. The second time out, however, was better. Given that these shoes are made of natural material (kangaroo leather), they have a break-in period. If you get them, I suggest wearing them around the yard. Take the dog for a walk a few times and wear these shoes. Run in the local park for a little while. Do whatever you have to do to get through some of the break-in period in a controlled, non-game, situation. As a side note, you do keep blister bandages in your referee bag, don't you? If you don't, buy a box today and throw it in there with your other small stuff.
I have yet to wear the turf shoes in a game, but I've already noticed a small difference in the feel of the shoes. The upper seems to be identical between the shoes, but the absence of the stud base makes the turf shoes slightly more comfortable.
In summary, I find the Adidas AdiPURE FG and TF to be a good choice for referees. They have the look desired by referees and seem to perform well on the field. It remains to be seen how comfortable they will be in a full-day tournament situation. Perhaps I'll post a follow-up when I find out.
See my last post regarding referee shoes.
UPDATE (11/10/2008): I have had a chance to work a few more games in these shoes. I'm starting to like them even more. The blistering has gone as the material "broke in" a little. They are definitely feeling more comfortable and I'm getting the benefit of having both turf shoes and studded, firm ground, shoes in my kit bag.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Make the Call

It's been a couple of weeks since my last post. I just haven't had the opportunity to put in for too many games. As frequent readers of the blog know, I do a lot of running and bicycling. I recently decided to train for a 1/2 marathon. I completed the Philadelphia Long Distance Run in mid-September, managing a time of 2:03. It was a great time and I encourage all of my readers to consider doing something like this. If anything, it will certainly get your endurance up to new levels. Since the 1/2 marathon went so well, I plan on doing a full marathon in November, so I've continued my training. I'm currently up to 16 miles.
This weekend, I got in 5 games. I was assigned to an unusual Friday night game this weekend, as well as 4 games on the usual Sunday. The Friday night game went real well. I worked with a referee that I've worked with a few other times and I highly respect. The other official is a high school age official that the first referee apparently knows pretty well. Before the younger guys arrival, the older official asked if I would be OK with putting the younger guy in the middle to get him some experience. That's one of my philosophies so I was good with it. This kid did a great job! I was very impressed with his ability. He knows the Laws of the Game and has good foul recognition. He blows the whistle like he means it and runs the game like he takes it seriously and is not just there for the money. I can't say that about most referees of this age. Again, I was impressed!
Sunday's games were interesting, to say the least. We had a U-15 girls match at a local community college field, and then 3 younger boys games at a different facility. I did the middle for the girls game and it went really well. I've had both teams before. The home team is very well coached and the players are respectful. Basically, this club's game are uneventful.
I did make one controversial call, but I felt good about it. The visiting team's forward had the ball at the top of the home team's penalty area. A defender came from the right, slid and tackled the ball away. It was a very clean tackle in that the defender got the ball, but she ended up with the forward's ankles between her knees. Instead of turning and watching the ball go away, I kept my eyes on these two players and sure enough, the defender rolled on the ground, in a "scissors move," bring the forward down. Based on the reaction, I was the only person at the facility that saw it. Even my near assistant didn't see what happened. I was literally 6 or 7 feet away and was glad I watched behind the play. This is an example of having the courage to make the call even though you are the only person that saw it. This is the source of a lot of complaining because most people at the field watch the ball and don't see the same things that referees do.
After the girls game, we did our quick drive across town to the other facility to continue our day. The first boys game went on without much in the way of events. The U-14 boys game, however, was a different story. For the most part, it was a clean, well played game. There were 1 or 2 players the referee had to speak with, but it didn't seem like anything was getting out of control. About mid-way through the 2nd half, the home team scored. I was the AR on the opposite end of the field, so I pulled out my notebook to note the goal time. As I put it away, I noticed the visiting team yelling about someone kicking their goalkeeper and the goalkeeper was laying on the ground holding the middle of his back. The referee walked back to the goal area to check on the keeper. After he called the coach onto the field, the other AR motioned to the referee. They had a short conversation and the referee walked back toward the center circle, reaching into his pocket at the same time. I walked onto the field and asked the teammates of the injured goalkeeper to walk away from the halfway line. I knew the referee was about the send someone off and I did not want to allow any opportunity for interaction between the teams. Sure enough, the referee found the offender and sent him off. Again, make the call you know is right. The referee freely admitted he did not see the misconduct, but the AR did and you have to go with that.
Any send off is going to generate controversy. It's just that simple. I don't care how egregious the offense, it seems like all parents and most coaches think a send off is too harsh. In this case, there was a lot of yelling because neither I nor the referee saw the offense. However, the other AR saw it and was adamant that this was a case of violent conduct. He's a high school age official, but I've worked with him and he certainly was not making it up. This is exactly why we have 3 officials and we work as a team.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Score Sports Offers New Stripe Pattern Jerseys

When I first was certified, I purchased some of my alternate jerseys from a copy called Score Sports. Their quality is pretty good and their prices are excellent. I saved a few dollars and got decent alternate jerseys. Since both of my sons are certified, this seemed like a good source for relatively inexpensive jerseys. The quality is not quite what Official Sports offers, but it is acceptable.
When the jersey striping pattern was changed, Score Sports was not as much of an attractive alternative, but that's all changed. Score Sports now offers the new striping pattern on their jerseys. Browse their website and see what you think.
There is one thing I noticed about their jerseys. The yellow jersey is more yellow than the gold color supplied by Official Sports.

Friday, August 29, 2008

There's No Substitute for Correct Procedure

Lately, I've become a stickler for the correct substitution procedure. I was reading through "Advice to Referees" and came across section 3.4. Now, I've read the entire publication a couple of times, but this time a particular line caught my eye:

Referees who deviate from the formal process by which a substitute becomes a player - whether in the interest of saving time or because the steps are thought to be too complex and cumbersome - do so at their own peril and will eventually discover that the Laws of the Game specify the procedure for very good reasons.

I don't know about you, but I don't want to do anything that has the word "peril" associated with it. In all seriousness, I think the substitution procedure is the area where most youth referees get sloppy. In my area, I have not seen any referee enforcing the correct substitution procedure (let me know if this is not the case where you are). Typically, substitutions work like this:
  1. Referee stops play

  2. Coach yells "Sub!"

  3. Substitutes run onto the field, directly from the bench, yelling their relieved teammates names

  4. Referee restarts play.

We all know this is not the way it is supposed to go. For starters, the substitutes are to be waiting at the halfway line BEFORE the next substitution opportunity. They need to be ready to go in the game. The good referee will be aware of their presence, usually aided by the assistant referee on the team side of the field. At the next opportunity, the coach requests the substitution ("Sub!").

After the referee grants permission, the appropriate players are to exit the field. One thing youth players are not aware of, or don't consider, is they are to exit the field at the nearest point. They are not supposed to go directly to the bench from the far corners of the field. This is something you may want to remind the players of in your pre-game talk. After the players are off the field, the substitutes are beckoned onto the field, becoming players. Be aware of the substitute that does not enter the field. This often happens when there is a throw in on the team side of the field. The thrower is being removed from the game and replaced by a substitute. The substitute must step on the field before they become a player. Of course, all of this is spelled out in Law 3 under the "Substitution Procedure" heading.

Recently, I decided to start enforcing the procedure to see what would happen. Because most teams are conditioned to do the procedure incorrectly, I always announce my intent, in a friendly way, before the start of the game. I usually say something like this to the coaches at the start of the game:

Coach, let's make sure we have a proper substitution procedure today. If you could help me by making sure your subs are at the halfway line when they want to come in I'd appreciate it. Also, they should stay there until the players come off the field. As a reminder, players can, and should, exit at the nearest touch line.

I usually say this during the pre-game talk in the presence of the players. That is usually enough to get them pretty close to doing it right. At the first substitution, the players might start to run right on the field as soon as you blow the whistle. This is what they are accustomed to. Inevitably, the coach has either not mentioned it to them or mentioned it without any enthusiam. So, at the first sign of a substitution, position is everything. You need to run to the halfway line and be pretty close to the team benches so you can blow the whistle a couple of times and "remind" the players that they must wait at the touch line for the players to come off the field. This usually does the trick for the entire game. For the most part, this strict enforcement has been met without complaint. I have heard a few gripes about it "slowing the game down," but you can point out that you'll be adding time for substitutions as allowed for in Law 7.

Naturally, this brings up the problem of tournaments that do not allow the referee to add time. You cannot just go ahead and add time in tournaments that specify no time will be added. As some of my earlier posts have noted, you must keep your games on time. Since you agreed to the assignment, you also agreed to the rules. Unfortunately, there is not much you can do about it. The good news is you didn't write the rules, you are only enforcing them.

The results have been very positive. I feel like the game is more under my control. Yes, there can be a little friction with the coaches, especially when it is a close game and they have frequent substitutions, but most of them understand the value. To some extent, it does slow the game down, but it doesn't waste game time. They are really two different things. Following the procedure can allow for high emotions to be somewhat diffused, adding to your game control. Following the substitution procedure is one less thing that can go wrong in a game. Try it and you'll be a better referee for it.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Time for Soccer Again

It's that time again. I've been diligently reviewing my copy of the Laws of the Game and Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game. My son has started his soccer practices, so I have some free time on my hands.
Speaking of my son, he got certified as a grade 9. Now we have 3 referees in the family. It's working out pretty well for my older boy. Hopefully, my younger one will have the same experience.
So, I started my fall season by working a local late summer tournament (or did I end my summer season?) The assignment process was a little strange. I put in my availability about 3 weeks before the tournament, only to find out there was a new assignor. I didn't get any response from that assignor until about 5 days before the tournament. I had already assumed I probably wasn't going to be working. The response, addressed to many others as well, basically said we'd be getting our assignments late in the weeks because of some problems with the tournament folks. That's fine with me, as long as I know I'm working. Before the week had ended, we went through 2 completely different assignment schedules. I also noticed, by reviewing the tournaments game schedules, that there seemed to be far fewer teams this year. I guess some of the assignment confusion came from the tournament losing teams.
This is the first time I've worked a tournament where we were assigned as a 3-referee crew, with no breaks, but we got done earlier in the day. If you read my blog, you know I typically end up doing 6 games in a day, over an 8 game schedule. Usually, the 4 referee crew allows for having 2 games off. We worked 5 straight games on Saturday and 6 straight games on Sunday. I think I like getting done earlier in the day and working with no breaks. It is hectic, for sure, but getting home well before dinner is nice. However, I think if you are going to schedule referees this way, you have to make sure you have field marshals of some sort and that they are competent. We really didn't have help with getting teams ready to play (checking and collecting passes, herding them to the benches etc.) but it worked out ok. It's just tough to stay on schedule, although we managed to pull it off.
I was assigned as the referee for the U-15 girls championship game. What a great game that ended up being! These teams played a very competitive, clean game and it was exciting to watch. Unfortunately, it started out with a big negative: One of the girls seriously damaged her knee in the first few minutes. We had to call an ambulance. If you have a serious injury in one of your games, get that coach on the field quickly and get out of the way. Once it is obvious the injury is serious, be sure to send someone to notify the tournament officials as well.
After the medical incident we restarted. The tournament allowed the girls to play the full game since we didn't have a subsequent game. The teams played through the first half with no score. The second half went scoreless until about 3:00 left. There was a pretty obvious deliberate handling (2 hands!) in the penalty area, resulting in a penalty kick. Believe it or not, the girl missed!
At that point, I was positive we were going to kicks from the penalty mark. Actually, I was kind of hoping we would as this would allow me to officiate the procedure for the first time. Like I wrote above, this was a great game. One of the teams score with 30 seconds left. Unbelievable!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Good Tournament, Bad Spectators

It was a long weekend.
I worked another premier level tournament this weekend. I've worked for the head assignor a number of times in the past, but not this particular tournament. The tournament has several locations and I was assigned to the main location at a local university. As is my practice, I arrived early, only to find that campus police were not allowing anyone to drive to the parking lot next to the fields. I had to walk about 1/4 of a mile with my bag, cooler and chair. This wasn't an ideal start to the weekend, but I could deal with it. For whatever reason, this assignor does not give you your field assignment until the morning of the tournament, so I waited around with the other referees. When we got our assignments, I discovered I was assigned to a satellite location in a local park, about 10 minutes drive from the university...and our game schedule started about 2 hours later than the other fields. If you are an assignor, please read this and take note. There were only 8 of us going to this park. It would have been nice to get an email telling me to go straight to the park. Gas is $4.00 a gallon and I could have stayed at home, out of the heat, for another 2 hours. I understand assignors are very busy and it's a hectic day, but a little courtesy goes a long way.
I ended up with only 4 games for the first day of the tournament. As I mentioned, I was sent to a satellite field with a shortened schedule. The guys I worked with seemed ok and we had a pretty good day. I had two middles for the day. Both of them were U-17 boys, so it was a satisfying day in that I felt challenged by the games.
It was a little trying because, being away from the main location, we had no support at all. That means we were on our own for food and water. If you are going to do tournaments, invest in a rolling cooler! They have a handle and two wheels and are very easy to move across grass fields. Fill the cooler with water bottles, sandwiches of your choice and bags of ice. In my opinion, it is a mistake to count on being able to get food and water at a tournament. Sometimes there is none available. Sometimes there aren't enough referees to ensure you will get time off. You must be prepared for these things.
When I arrived home and checked my email, I found the parking permit sent by the 3:00am that morning. I guess I have to start checking my email before I drive to tournaments.
Day 2
I arrived at the university even earlier on day 2 in anticipation of being sent to the satellite site again. Armed with my newly found parking permit, I was able to get much closer to the fields. I received my assignments. I was located at the university, but I was sent to a field away from the others, on the other side of the campus. Since my car was close this time, this wasn't much of a problem.
Arriving at the field, I noticed a few things. First, we were without any services. There was no food or water in close proximity to the field. Second, and worse, we had no field marshal assigned to our field. Third, there is a parking lot behind one of the goals that allows balls to roll forever.
Getting around the parking lot wasn't much of an issue. As the referee, you just need to ask the home team for 2 balls. Typically, spectators will chase the run-away balls for you. Not having food and water is not a problem either since you should always go to tournaments prepared for this situation. It happens all the time. Not having a field marshal proved to be an issue.
Our first and second game proved to be near-disasters. I can't put my finger on what happened, but we had all kinds of problems with spectators. By the end of the first game, we had called on the radio the tournament provided for us and asked for a field marshal to come to the field. The referee had asked a parent to leave the field area. The parent lingered in the parking lot, making the referee understandably nervous. We were disappointed to find that the field marshals were not quite as assertive as we would have liked, but the parent did eventually leave. I'm not going to say the first two games had the best officiating I've ever seen, but they were certainly called fairly and with pretty good skill. I don't understand what causes people to become unglued during youth soccer games. I don't understand what mechanism causes people to behave in a disrespectful and aggressive way like I saw during this game.
Things went well for the only middle I had on day 2 of the tournament. It was a U-15 boys game. I made it clear at the coin toss that we did not have a much of a tolerance for dissent (as things had been going badly in other games) and that my expectations is we would be spending our time playing soccer. It seemed to work. The players got the not-so-subtle message and played a great game.
Later that day, we had further issues during the game which I was off. I was sitting in my chair between the teams, about 20 feet behind the benches. Normally, I'd choose a place to "set up camp" much further from the team benches, but the layout of this field did not lend itself to this practice. There was a no-call situation that raised the temperature of one of the coaches. I could see he was questioning the assistant referee in a leading way, trying to get the assistant to agree with him. As he should, the assistant basically refused to answer the coach in any meaningful way. So the coach heads in my direction and starts asking me if a certain scenario is a foul or not. Now, I've been doing this long enough to realize that a coach will never describe a situation as it really happened and one should never give an opinion about a game situation because of the risk of undermining a colleague's authority. So, as pleasantly as I could, I pointed out to the coach that I cannot comment on a game in which I am not directly involved. This guy starts calling me all kinds of nasty names and storms off very angrily. I just don't get it what makes people do that. Had I been involved in this game in anyway, this guy would have been immediately dismissed. Arguably, he could have been dismissed anyway because his behavior certainly could be called irresponsible.
In doing just a little research, I've come to the conclusion that this is problem experienced in many parts of the country, across a variety of sports. Check out the "Citizenship Through Sports Alliance". They put together a National Report Card that is interesting reading. Here is just one article I found that talks about this problem. So what's the solution? What do you think? Send your comments and let us know.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Assignment etc.

The season is winding down. I put in for games and was assigned to one U-12 and one U-13 boys game. It's been really hot lately in my area (95°+). I realize this is probably common sense, but do you make sure your teams are drinking enough water when playing in extreme heat? Do you make sure your colleagues are drinking enough water? Do you watch out for players that don't look right and might be succumbing to heat stroke and the like?
One minor but interesting controversy we had this weekend involved the so-called "offside trap." One of our U-13 boys was playing a team that has significantly more skill. Apparently, there coach decided they would trap this very fast, aggressive team offside. This is always an interesting tactic in my opinion, because it seems very few coaches recognize that doing this tactic poorly results in a unfortunate situation for their goalkeeper. This coach was quick to imply I wasn't staying with that 2nd to last defender and I don't understand Law 11. He also pointed out he is a referee. Since I was working as an assistant, I kept my mouth shut and the center handled him nicely.
How does your assignor work? In speaking with my colleagues this weekend, I realized there is some controversy going on in my area. Our assignor does not specify working the middle for any games. We get a list of games and a list of people and we work it out amongst ourselves. I'm a believer in playing some sort of "game of chance" to decide, among the interested parties, who is getting the middle for a certain game. Perhaps we flip a coin, or draw from pieces of paper with numbers on them. However, there are a few people in our area who take it upon themselves to decide they are doing the middle for the game they want. The less assertive among us end up not getting middles. Please, send me mail and tell me how your assignor works. If I get enough responses, I publish some statistics in a future entry.
In regard to referee pay, our league specifies the middle gets twice the amount of an assistant. Among the crews I work with, I would say half end up dividing the fees evenly and half get paid whatever the league specifies. Again, the crew will decide before the first game.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

New Assistant Referee Signals

The US Soccer Federation has introduced some changes to accepted Assistant Referee mechanics. The announcement was made on May 14 in a memo to all National Referees and State Administrators.
I find the memo a little confusing, but I'll tell you what I think it says. It seems we are given new mechanics for communicating that a foul has occurred in the penalty area. The previous signal was to hold the flag, pointing down, directly in front of the body. The new signal is to hold the flag horizontally across the hips to signal a foul occurred in the penalty area. The same new signal is also used to communicate when a goalkeeper has moved forward on a penalty kick. Check out the announcement and send me your interpretation.

Monday, June 2, 2008

You Can't Always Choose Your Crew

I returned to a tournament I worked last year. I like the assignor and the tournament is generally well run. My recently certified friend was assigned to the same crew as me and we were given a field at the central location for the tournament. After inspecting the schedule, I realized we were given reasonably high-level games as well.
He Scares Me
The weekend started off a little strange before we even got on the field. My friend found me in the parking lot and told me the assignor had called him and apologized in advance for one of the guys he put on our crew. He said he didn't have a lot of choice as he was running short of guys and had to use him. You know it can't be good when you hear those words.
We arrived at our field to find our 3rd and 4th crew members. I met the referee in question and he seemed ok, although he struck me as having a somewhat awkward personality.
I had the first assignment in the middle and the game went pretty well. I was late in spotting 2 offside flags which kind of irritated me. I'm working on that and it happens more often than I want. I think my positioning might be part of the problem. Anyway, the guy we had been warned about was working as my assistant. He did reasonably well, although some of his calls for the ball in and out of play were sketchy. I did not have great confidence in his decision making ability so I decided I would pay much more attention to that side of the field. We all blow a call once in a while, but it was a little more than that.
Later on in the day, he had his first middle. It was one of our younger age groups of the day. My concerns were realized in that I observed poor foul recognition. I was off for this game so I had the benefit of watching from the comfort of my lawn chair. It only got worse later in the day in his second middle assignment. I watched the first half. I noticed a disproportionate reaction to player dissent. It was an older boys game. There was the normal amount of player rumbling. This guy seemed to have only a loose grip on his temper while interacting with players. Later on, things went bad. Several players were sent off. I observed some of this from a distance (getting something to drink) so I can only comment on what was told to me later. Apparently this official overreacted to a player questioning a call of some sort and seemed to lose control of the match after that. The assignor was called over and he did his best to smooth things over with the players and coaches. From my vantage point, the officials body language told me he might have some anger management issues. He was waving that red card around like he was quite angry.
Now here is my dilemma. This guy made me really nervous. It's one thing to be dicey with foul recognition and maybe not know the laws inside and out, but I sensed some sort of deeper problem when observing his reaction to players. Frankly, he scared me a little. I think I'm going to contact the assignor with my concerns. I'm not sure I'd want him working my kid's games.
Deliberate Pass to the Keeper
During my 2nd middle of the first day, we had a great moment of team observation. I was moving directly behind a group of players. The defending team was following a through ball heading back toward their keeper. A couple of opposing players were in pursuit. As the ball approached the edge of the penalty area, I observed the leading defender tap the ball into the waiting goalkeeper's hands. It was very subtle. As the whistle went up to my mouth my AR's flag went up. Nice. We both saw it, even though it was very quick. In fact, the goalkeepers coach made lots of noise about the call. Sorry coach, we got this one right. It was an example of perfect position as well as solid team work. You have to like that. Check out US Soccers position paper on this very issue.
It's really easy to get lazy when you are an assistant referee, isn't it? Some games just coast along without much for you to do. It's easy to allow your attention to drift elsewhere. Sometimes you don't run quite as fast as you normally might in a particular situation. I had 2 reminders this weekend of how important it is to run a ball all the way to the goal line. Both times, the attacking team took long shots that were on goal. In one situation, the keeper deflected the ball down to his feet, only to have it roll toward the goal line. He fell on it, but too late. I saw it cross the goal line and immediately brought the flag up. The second time, the keeper had the shot come right at her, but it was moving so quickly she caught it in her hands and turned toward the goal. In this case, I was right on the goal line. When she turned, the entire ball was over the goal line. Goal! I'm glad I wasn't sleeping on these.
On the first day of the tournament, we had some thunderstorms roll through. Did you know US Soccer has a position paper out on weather??? Neither did I. I found it accidentally. Check it out. It's worth reading since we will often be in a situation where we have to watch out for the safety of the players as well as our crew. US Youth Soccer has published lightning safety tips on their site.
All things considered, it was a pretty good tournament this year. Last year, we had a couple of send-offs and a few coach dismissals. It was blazing hot as well. This year I put up one caution to a coach (Yes, we caution coaches here. Don't ask.) that couldn't take my warnings for what they were. Other than the incident I described, the other games went very smoothly. It was a pretty good weekend. I even received my first tournament coin. Actually, I have quite a few that have been given to me, but this is the first one I received as a result of working the tournament.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Learning with the 11's

I only managed one game this weekend. Sometimes, life just gets in the way of my referee schedule.
I ended up in the middle for a U-11 boys game. The teams are not particularly skilled, so you have to watch out for things that less skilled players tend to do. Pushing, holding and the like spring to mind. These teams are fairly evenly match so it was a back-and-forth kind of game. I'm not saying it was a challenge to keep up with play, but I did really have to pay attention. I refer to this type of play as "the scrum" where you get 4 or 5 players in a small group wildly kicking at the ball. There is an inevitable kick in the shins in there.
In my mind, there were three interesting situations in this game. The first involves assistant referee position and the team aspect of refereeing. The second involves knowing the law and making the best call you can within it. The third underscores the importance of your viewpoint on the field.
At one point, the red team plays the ball into green's penalty area. The green team is failing to clear the ball so it's bouncing around a bit. One shot goes off a defenders foot and shoots up in the air, coming almost straight down near the goal line. The goalie bobbled it a couple of times from hand to hand with his back to me. To me, the ball looked like it had to be over the goal line. I looked to my assistant. I was glad to see he was right on the goal line watching play carefully. Up went the flag for a goal! It doesn't sound like much, but the key take away here is he was in the proper position to make the call. Nice stuff! I could not be sure where the ball was, so I looked to my team mate and was rewarded!
Another interesting situation occurred, resulting in my awarding a penalty kick. Again, there was a "scrum" situation on the left side of green's penalty area. Red falls down and makes a few pokes at the ball with his foot. As he's getting up, green puts a forearm on his back, pushing him down to the ground. I was 20 feet away and immediately blew the whistle and pointed at the spot. The green coach was not happy and wanted the call for "dangerous play" since red played the ball on the ground. Now, we all know that playing the ball on the ground is not necessarily an infraction. In fact, the "Advice to the Referee on the Laws of the Game" says, in section 12.13,
Merely committing a dangerous act is not, by itself, an offense (e.g., kicking high enough that the cleats show or attempting to play the ball while on the ground.)...The act becomes an offense only when an opponent is adversely and unfairly affected, usually by the opponent ceasing to challenge for the ball...
It's important to realize that many things coaches and players say are because of the various myths about the laws that exist.
The third item of the day involved me having the right viewpoint and position on the field to make the correct call. I think having the "best" position is a skill, with a little luck thrown in too. In this situation, red played the ball into green's penalty area, from the right side, to a forward standing about on the penalty spot. He struck the ball. It hit a defender directly in front of him in the knees and bounced back at him. As it came off the ground, one of his outstretched hands pushed it back toward the ground, not unlike one might dribble a basketball. As it came back down, he shot it into the net. I blew the whistle before he had struck the ball and pointed up field. After the game, my assistant told me he was screened from view and it was a good thing I had a good view on the play.
It was a good weekend. I learned a lot and had a great time working with two quality assistants. All that happened in only 1 game. What could be better?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Some Time with the Big Guys

Spring is always tough for me as I have 2 sons that still play, so I can't do games every weekend. This weekend, I had 3 games assigned. 1 was canceled due to the terrible weather we had on Friday night. Fortunately, the other 2 were still on. I was a little apprehensive since we only had 2 games. Someone wasn't going to get a middle, which is unfortunate. The games were U-11 and yes, U-19 boys. This was the first time I was assigned above U-17, so I was looking forward to it.
As is my custom, I arrived 30 minutes before game time at the field for the U-11 game. It payed off. One of the guys assigned with me, who I've worked with before, was already at the field. We flipped a coin for the 2 games available that day. I lost, so he took the U-19 game. Oh well, being an AR for the game is fine too.
As you do more and more games (I have 117, after today), you'll come across situations where you really need to manage the situation with some common sense. Today, the away team had a bunch of players get lost. You should know, ahead of time, the rules for your league regarding the minimum number of players and the grace period for late teams. You don't want to have to look them up. We started about 15 minutes late, but it all worked out.
The first half of the U-11 game was pretty exciting. It was a well played game with both teams effectively moving the ball. Most of the play on the field was fair, although I saw something I hadn't seen before. One of the teams had an interesting tactic used when an opponent would get by them with the ball. They would run behind them and fall. On the way down, they would clip the ankles of the player with the ball. Yes, that drew quite a few whistles and "Advantage!" calls. They quickly found out I wasn't going to see it as "accidental." The 2nd half was not quite as good. The wheels fell off for one team and the game became a little lopsided.
After the U-11 game, we quickly drove down the street to get the the Big Ones. I made some interesting observations about the big guys. First, they are in no hurry to start the game. As a referee, you really need to light a fire under them and get the check-ins done and get the teams on the field. The referee doing the middle did some things, as this guy often does, that I don't think I want to imitate. He tends to talk down to the players. He often warns them of particular things during his pre-game talk. I don't like this and I think it breeds some contempt among the players. The idea of giving them a laundry list of "don'ts" before the game strikes me as disrespectful. Avoid it if you can. Try and think about how what you are saying during your pre-game sounds to the players.
All in all, I'd say the U-19 game went pretty well. There were a handful of cautions, but I suspect that is pretty normal for the older guys. They play quite aggressively and can get mouthy at times. Match control skills are critical. I'm confident that, when the time comes, I can handle this type of game. I only missed it by a coin toss!
As I've mentioned before, I think there is more to being a good AR than most referees think. When you are an AR, do you do everything you can to make the referee's job easier? For example, make sure you take the initiative before the game and check the goals. Go get the game ball and verify the pressure with the gauge you have in your bag (you do carry a gauge, right?). During the game, are you mechanics as described in the "Guidelines and Procedures" book? Make sure they are correct. Also, do you watch your part of the field, even during stoppages in play? It's not very helpful to be looking at the same thing as the referee. Make sure you are looking at all areas, trying to spot signs of trouble. When it happens, be prepared to give the referee a full description of what you saw, presenting only the facts.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Referee Game Log - I want your input

Outside of being a referee, I'm also a software developer. I often look at my personal computing needs through the eyes of my profession, and I see a need for a decent game log for soccer referees. Currently, I keep track of my game data in a simple spreadsheet. It works ok, but it's not really useful for reporting and it's hard to find a particular game. I think a well designed game log would be very useful for several reasons:

  • Yearly USSF recertification form asks for your game count

  • Upgrading has a game count requirement

  • Type-written game reports are neater and often more consistent

  • Easier to keep track of fees, mileage etc. (assuming the right software features)

Send me your wish list! I'm interested in what you'd like to see in a referee game log! What do you do now? What kinds of information do you want to track? Should it be web-based? If I actually write this, would you be interested in testing it? Thanks.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Rational Parents Gone Bad

Unfortunately, I didn't have any games with this weekend. The good news is I got to attend my son's game!
Being a referee, and always wanting to learn, I always have something to do at my kid's games. I watch the referees doing the game and try to learn (both good and not so good) from them. This weekend was no exception. My older son's team drew an excellent official for their game. They played one of the more skilled teams in their league and, apparently, one of the more physical as well. As I predicted in the beginning parts of the game, there were many cards. The referee called the game pretty tight as one might do with older boys. I don't know for sure, but I'm guessing he might have had the home team before as he seemed to be trying to keep a lid on their rough play. Anyway, he called a good game under tough circumstances. I admired his ability to control the game. He asserted his authority early and kept it through the game.
After the game, I had a somewhat disturbing incident.
As I waited for my son, the 3 officials were exiting the field nearby. One of the opposing teams fathers approached the center referee and said to him "Was this your first game?" in an obviously mocking tone. The referee replied with some remark about how the parent should get certified. I couldn't help myself. I don't know if it was the sight of another official getting harassed or the flippant attitude of this obviously ignorant parent. I chimed in with a rather stern "Leave him alone! You should consider reading the Laws of the Game." The parent replied with something about the referee not being able to tell time as my son's team scored in added time (The game ended in a draw). Of course, I said, "It's called added time. You really should read about it." So this guy replies...wait for it..."Hey, I'm a coach. I know the game." My reply was "That's exactly my point." and I walked away.
Before you send me a million emails, I realize I probably should not have gotten involved. Then again, how many times do we see people ignore something like this. It's just wrong to hassle a referee. I don't care whether they called a good game, or a "bad" game. It doesn't matter. No parent, coach or player has any right or reason to hassle a game official. After thinking about it on the way home, I decided it was the right thing to do. I didn't get involved only because I'm a fellow official, I got involved because the incident was just plain wrong.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Helping Out a New Referee

This weekend, I only had 1 game scheduled and it was a short-sided, U-9 game. The good news is I was assigned with a newly certified friend of my son. I've worked with her before. She's been one of my Assistant Referees a couple of times and she has done a pretty good job. Since we were assigned a short-sided game, I decided it was time to practice what I preach and help out a new referee.
When we arrived at the field I asked her if she thought she was ready to do the middle. She looked at me with a little fear evident on her face. I told her it was time, and assuming the other referee agreed, she'd do the center and we would coach her through it. I had not worked with the other guy before, but I mentioned it when he arrived and he whole-heartedly agreed that we should run the lines.
Fortunately, it worked out pretty well. The game turned out to be a good one for her as there wasn't any controversy or particularly difficult calls. She did very well. Her first time in the middle was no different than most in that she seemed to lack some confidence, but her application of the laws was solid. All in all, I think she's off to a good start and will only get better going forward.
After the game, we coached her a little on some things. We pointed out she needs to blow the whistle likes she means it and make sure her field mechanics are confident rather than tentative. Going forward, we assured her she would have to concentrate less on foul recognition, leaving more time to think about game management and better mechanics.
Hopefully, her success will continue and she'll remain an active official.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Another Learning Weekend

Just when you think you are getting good at this thing, something unexpected happens that causes you to go back to the books!

I had two games this past week: u-13 and U-14 girls. As I've said before, I've noticed some referees really don't like being assigned to the girl's games. I enjoy them. It's a different kind of game, but the enthusiasm of the girls is contagious. Also, the skill level is amazing.

Deliberate Handling

I'm not a big fan of referees asking the players, during the pre-game talk, "Are there any questions?" You have to be careful what you wish for. I've picked up this habit lately. Naturally, I had a player ask me about "hand balls" related to girls protecting themselves. I gave the generic "It must be deliberate handling of the ball, not merely instinct or the ball hitting the hand" and left it at that.

Naturally, this very issue came up during the game. In the U-14 game, a ball was played in the air toward the halfway line. It traveled about 20 yards in the air. The receiving player chest trapped the ball down using her arms crossed against her chest. Sorry, but in my opinion, this doesn't fly in a U-14 game. I called the foul and their coach immediately started in on me. My thinking is, at U-14, these girls know how to trap a soccer ball without getting hurt, especially when it is passed from some distance. You don't see the Women's US national team doing it, right? I got thinking about this on the way home and did a little research. Here are a couple of sources I found that address the topic:
Stupid Mistake

Yep, I made one. We had a situation where the attacking team had a throw in, close to half-way, on their end of the field. The ball comes in and the attacker carries the ball across half-way and sends it diagonally toward the corner of the penalty area. The ball comes down and is recovered by the defense. At that moment, I notice my AR's flag is up. Thinking she is signaling offside for the long pass, I wave her down as the defense plays the ball back to half-way. The ball is taken back by the original attacking team. They make a couple of passes and score. My AR waves me over. She tells me the attacking team substituted a player without my permission on the throw-in. Normally, this would be a no-brainer for me. The thing that got me was both teams were playing down 1 player. Apparently, one of the teams could not field 11 players, so the other played short. I allowed the goal, thinking this was only a problem when a 12th player was discovered on the field. I now know I should have disallowed the goal and started with an indirect kick from the goal area, after cautioning the player that came on without permission (I did issue the caution). Fortunately, the goal did not make a difference in the game. The thing that is frustrating is I put a lot of time into studying the laws and the accompanying publications only to make a silly mistake. I guess we all make mistakes and the key is to learn from them.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

On Our Own

This weekend had 2 league games in store for me. I could only do Saturday, so I was assigned to a U-10 and a U-13 match. Fortunately, I was assigned with my newly certified friend that started his referee career doing a U-17 boys game!
My typical schedule for league games is 2 or 3 games in a row, usually starting around noon. Sometimes I'll have to switch facilities for one of the games, but the travel is usually quite short. Today was the most unusual schedule I've had to date. Our first game was at 11 am, and our 2nd game was at 4 pm! Very unusual, and not terribly convenient, but it's better than having no games.
As I've mentioned in the past, I find the short sided games (U-10 and under in our state) to be really refreshing. After having a day full of teenage boys a couple of weeks ago, it's nice to have the little ones. If you really pay attention to them, they can be really entertaining. The thing I find interesting about the younger games is you actually need to pay more attention to the game. Don't go in thinking you can rest and take it easy because the players are 9 years old! You'll quickly find out the younger games is where your knowledge of the laws will get challenged. Look for frequent 2nd touches on free kicks and goal kicks that don't make it out of the penalty area. That stuff happens all the time.
An interesting, and all too frequent, thing occurred before the 2nd game of the day. The game was scheduled in a rather affluent town in my area. As is my habit, I always check the goals before a game, even if there is a game before mine. Surprisingly, one of the goals was not anchored in any way. I say it was surprising because this was not a run-down, poorly maintained facility. This was a well cared-for field in a nice park. I quickly mentioned it to the home coach. His assistant immediately pointed out that the previous game had taken place without a problem. This is the kind of pressure you will experience, but you must never play a game without the goals being adequately anchored! Please, don't be the one to give into the pressure. It's not OK to play a game with the field in this condition. In this case, we improvised. We grabbed a nearby field hockey goal and positioned it on it's back with the heavy end lying on top of the ground-level bar on the soccer goal. Problem solved and the game was played!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Big Weekend at a College Showcase

I had a big weekend working a day at a boy's college showcase. There were two great things about it. First, I managed to get in 7 U-17 boys games! Second, my good friend, who was recently certified, got to do his first tournament and we worked together.
For a few months, I've really felt like I was ready to move up the age groups a little bit. I haven't had much in the way of the older games, so I was looking forward to getting a few assignments. I put in my availability for this college showcase and I was selected. We had an entire day of U-17 boys scheduled! Typically, I'll end up doing 6 games of an 8 or 9 game schedule. We work a crew of 4, so you have a couple of games off. Well, this morning, one of our crew members was late so I wound up with 7 games for the day with 2 middles. Nice. I really felt like I did a good job today so it was pretty satisfying, although I am totally exhausted!
As a new referee, I think you have to understand how to choose your sources of performance feedback. In other endeavors, you can sort of trust that the feedback you are getting has at least a hint of truth in it. I'm not convinced that's the case with soccer. For the most part, we had good teams with good coaches and parents today. But some of the teams were...well...lacking in some of these categories. As a referee, you need to be able to filter out some of this negative feedback. Realize that coaches and parents, for the most part, are not knowledgeable about the Laws of the Game and are certainly not going to give an unbiased opinion about your performance. You are much better off if you seek feedback from colleagues you know to be trustworthy and knowledgeable. If you are able to realize this early, you have a better chance of sticking with refereeing. At the half of most games, I'll meet with my ARs at mid-field. Typically, there isn't much time, especially if you want to try and get some food and drink. I've developed the habit of immediately asking "How are we doing in this game?" Get that feedback to make sure your game situation is what you think it is.
My recent re-reading of the "Advice to the Referee" came in handy this weekend. I was an Assistant Referee on the coaches side of the field. We had a free kick. The team chose to take the kick quickly, hitting an opposing player in the back, as he was retreating, about 5 yards away. The coach was immediately screaming for a caution and a retake. I pointed out to him that the player was retreating. Those of you that have read it know that "Advice" tells us (section 13.3) that in this situation, the kicking team cannot claim infringement of the required distance because they chose to take the kick with the player that close. This seem to satisfy and calm the coach, although I'm sure he looked it up when he got home!
If you read my earliest posts, you'll take note my first few games were U-9 and U-10 girls. I worked those games on my own, without the benefit of knowledgeable ARs. Recently, I talked my good friend into getting certified. He is in excellent condition and knows the game well as he played as an adult. The last few weeks, we've been putting in availability together for league games, but he hadn't been assigned. I guess there weren't any games available that the league assignor felt appropriate. We put in our availability for this college showcase. Honestly,
I never thought he'd get called. Even if he did, I was sure "Lines only" would be next to his name on our assignment sheet. Well, he got called AND he was assigned 2 middles! This is not the way I would have wanted to start my referee career. Fortunately, he came into the day with the right attitude. He was like a sponge the first couple of games, watching his colleagues and obviously making mental notes. When his time came, he did reasonably well, considering his experience level (zero!) His first game in the middle can be described as awkward. It wasn't bad, just awkward.
Fortunately, he had relatively easy teams in that there didn't seem to be any trouble makers or particularly aggressive play. By the end of the half, he had improved some. We spoke with him at the half and made some corrections. His second half was better. Later in the day, he had his 2nd middle. Surprisingly, he made a huge improvement. I thought he looked like he had 10 or 20 games under his belt. It's nice to see a guy start off well, knowing he's going to end up being a solid official.
So there you have it. Another nice weekend running the field and learning how to be a better referee. I got some experience with the older players and helped my friend get a good start in his career. Let me know what your first game was like! Your comments are always welcome!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Here we go!

That time has come again! I started the Spring season this weekend by doing a day of a local girls college showcase tournament. It ended up being a pretty good day for me with 2 games in the middle and 4 on the lines. It was pretty clear the younger girls were scheduled in my time slots. I had a U-15 game and a U-16 game. It's a start, although I want to try my hand at the U-17-u-19 ages so I can start thinking about my upgrade to 7.
I really felt like I did a pretty good job and didn't make much in the way of mistakes. As some of you may know from reading my blog, I've been trying to concentrate more on making eye contact with my assistants as I've missed a few flags in games. This tournament showed I have made improvements in that area. I felt like my positioning was better and I was keeping my eyes on the ARs.
In one game, I had a player go down in her own penalty area. The ball was played off to the corner and I saw it go over the touch line. In hindsight, I think I gave the ball to the wrong team after we got the fallen player squared away. It just goes to show that you need to keep every detail in your mind. Fortunately, it wasn't a huge mistake but merely something I need to remember.
One thing I found myself pondering at the end of the day is how to deal with players that basically collide going for the ball. I had that happen in one of my games. I felt the ball was basically 50/50 and the girls merely collided trying to get to the ball first. One of the girls got a little banged up and I restarted with a dropped ball. I asked my AR about it at the half and he said he would have went with a foul. So how do you do that if you see it as a 50/50 ball? Both players have the right to go for the ball. I guess it's one of those "opinion of the referee" calls.
The other referees I worked with were pretty good. There was one odd thing though. One of the guys didn't have a gold jersey with him! How do you go to a high-level tournament without a gold jersey? He seemed to be a pretty experienced guy too. It bothered me a little. In the 2 games I was referee, he wore a USSF sweatshirt instead of a jersey, even after one of the guys offered him a short-sleeve gold jersey. It looked sloppy and unprofessional. Yes, I believe those things do matter. You can't expect people to take you seriously if you don't look like you are taking your job seriously. It invites dissent.
The next day, I had some league games scheduled. I could have put in for the 2nd day of the tournament, but I feel some obligation to my league assignor so I made sure to keep the day open for his games. I was originally scheduled for 3, but 2 were canceled, apparently for a lack of players. I ended up with the middle for a U-13 boys game. Again, this game went real well. I was assigned with 2 very competent officials. I've worked with one of them a few times and he's a real professional, pleasant guy. The other referee proved to be very good too. I'm told she's a grade 7 and has been doing this for some time.
The game had a minor coach problem that I shut down pretty quickly. After a foul called by one of the ARs, I heard one of the coaches say, loud enough so I could hear it, "this is why referees should play the game." As I ran by, I said to the coach, "Take it easy coach, we don't need any of that." He said "I'm allowed to disagree with you" to which I replied, rather quickly "Yes, but you are not allowed to dissent." That seemed to make it clear to him that I wasn't to be trifled with as I didn't hear anything from him for the rest of the game. I felt good about it because I dealt quickly with the problem without having to resort to being rude, or disrupting the game by getting out the notebook (we card coaches in this state)
All in all, it was a good weekend. I put in my availability for another college showcase next weekend. Hopefully, I get some older age games.