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.