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.