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.