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.