Monday, November 30, 2009

Wrong Way Referee

This weekend, I worked one day of a large, boys, college showcase tournament.  I've worked this tournament before.  It's always good because you typically have the older ages and the players (for the most part) are on their best behavior as they are trying to impress the many college coaches that show up to scout.
In the morning, we meet with the assignor at a central location to get our field assignment, game cards and tournament ball (why do they always get a lousy ball?).  He makes the announcement that we are to run the opposite diagonal because the fields are getting beat up.  Oh boy!  If you've never done this, I cannot express how confusing it is.
I've only run the reverse diagonal (running toward the right-side corner flag, with your leading AR on your left) for a 1/2 game, about a year ago.  I got to run it for 2 complete U-17 boys games on Saturday and I was the AR for 3 more games.  It's amazing to me how something so simple can screw up a perfectly good referee.  For the first 1/2 of both games, I felt really uncomfortable and had a hard time finding good positioning.  I got hit by the ball no less than 3 times in 2 games.  I finally figured out I was lagging too far behind play and not getting wide enough.  I felt out of place all day, even though I greatly improved in the 2nd half of both games.
I was not the only one.  My colleagues seem to be struggling a bit as well.
As an AR, it's still awkward.  It's odd sprinting down the field, looking right to see the offside line!  Try signaling offside with your left hand.  It just doesn't feel right!  Next time you have a lower level game, run the opposite diagonal to see what it's like.
What is your definition of abusive or insulting language?  We had a game in which one of the coaches started in on the officials within the first few minutes of the game.  They were not particularly abusive, but I would call the action dissent.    I was the team-side AR on the game.  I asked the coach at least 2 times to stop with the questioning.  At one point, when I was down by the corner flag, I saw the coach engage in a heated debate with the opposing coach.  I sprinted down the line and got in front of him.  I gave him the "Coach, I have had enough.  Stop now."  He apologized and I walked away.  As I'm walking away, he yells at my back that the other team is "a bunch of cheats."  In my little world, calling anyone in a soccer game a cheat is abusive.  Soccer has a tradition of sporting conduct, and calling anyone a cheat is at least insulting.  I immediately called the referee over and told him what happened.  He tells me to give the team one more chance.  Doh!
Guess what?  At the end of the game, we had a mass confrontation because this same coach was mouthing off to the opposing team's players!  Just a reminder, when your AR tells you a coach has to go, they are probably right.
So what do you do if you have a tree hanging over the field and the ball hits it?  We had just this situation on our field.  Hint: It's not a dropped ball situation.  I found this in "Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game":
(c) Pre-existing conditions
These are things on or above the field which are not described in Law 1 but are deemed safe and not generally subject to movement. These include trees overhanging the field, wires running above the field, and covers on sprinkling or draining systems. They do not affect one team more adversely than the other and are considered to be a part of the field. If the ball leaves the field after contact with any item considered under the local ground rules of the field to be a pre-existing condition, the restart is in accordance with the Law, based on which team last played the ball. (Check with the competition for any local ground rules.)
Note: The difference between non-regulation appurtenances and pre-existing conditions is that, if the ball makes contact with something like uprights or crossbar superstructure, it is ruled out of play even if the contact results in the ball remaining on the field. Where there is a pre-existing condition (such as an overhanging tree limb), the ball remains in play even if there is contact, as long as the ball itself remains on the field. Referees must be fully aware of and enforce any rules of the competition authority or field owner regarding non-regulation appurtenances.
Yes, this surprised me too.  I think the best practice here is to remind the teams ahead of time how this is going to be handled.  I never thought I'd actually see this situation, but upon observing the other fields, I noticed there were 2 or 3 fields with trees overhanging one goal area and 1 field with a tree near halfway.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Futsal Is Not Ready For Me

Last night, I attended a meeting to review the Futsal Laws of the Game.  I signed up to referee in the local Futsal league.  My good friend, and referee, did it last year and he encouraged me to come out and give it a try.
Wow, I'm in big trouble.  I had no idea the laws are significantly different from outdoor soccer.  If you're interested, all the information you'll need is right here. I have a feeling this is going to feel like my very first game.  I'll be completely overwhelmed for the first few games and then start to feel more comfortable as time goes on.  Undoubtedly, I will have some stories that will be sure to entertain.  Stay tuned...

Monday, November 16, 2009

Interesting Tournament Experience

There's a pretty big tournament in this area that I've worked a couple of times.  The games are always competitive and the organization is decent.  This year, I didn't put in for it as both my sons were playing so we were quite busy.  A few days before the tournament, I get an email from the assignor.  The implication of the email was that he was short of referees and really needed more.  I sent him an email saying I could work the Sunday of the tournament if he put me at a particular facility (were my son was playing).  I got a reply within 10 minutes confirming I was assigned, so I guess he really was in need.
On Sunday, I arrive at the facility at the appointed time.  Most tournaments I work the assignor will send you your specific field assignment a few days before the tournament.  This assignor asks that you report at a specified time to a central location to get your assignments.  So there I was, standing in the crowd of referees while the names are read and officials leave for their field.  We get to the bottom of the list, and I don't have any assignments.  My name is on the list, but apparently they had a field closed and didn't need me at this facility.  Unbelievably, they ask me to go to another facility that's a few minutes drive away.  The guy standing in front of me is not the assignor I sent the email to explaining why I need to be at this facility, so I didn't make a big deal of it.
I jumped into my car and headed over to the other field.  These facilities are actually in the outer edges of a city and I don't know the area very well, so I made a wrong turn and it took me a little longer than I had hope.  I was getting a little frustrated.  I finally get to the facility, park and walk to the tournament headquarters, only to find out they don't need me until 9:20.  Yes, this day was just going down hill.
I reported to my field and met the referees I'd be working with.  I ended up doing 3 games on the field.  My first center was a U-18 girls game.  I ran a line on a U-15 boys game and then did the center for a U-15 boys semi-final match.
The U-18 girls game went fine.  There were really no issues to speak of.  The field was slick so we had some issues with players making tackles that could easily be perceived as reckless.  I had a few talks with some of the players to point this out and all went well.  Given the schedule, we really didn't have much time for a thorough pre-game talk.  I would have preferred to have one since I had never worked with any of these officials, but the "quick and dirty" version had to suffice.

During the game in which I was an AR, I made an observation.  The referee that had the center was definitely one of those "likes to pick fights" referees.  You know the type I mean.  It's the guy that doesn't know what "trifling" means.  Any player talking to him is either immediately cautioned for dissent or is given some kind of angry retort meant to intimidate.  It's too bad really, because he seems to be a pretty good official, just kind of mean.
Later in my 2nd game, I had a small issue with him.  During my pre-game with the players, one of the goalkeepers asked me to check the hat which they intended to wear on the field (the sun was shining in the direction of one of the goals).  It was one of those runner hats.  It didn't look unsafe in any way to me, so I allowed it.  About midway through the 2nd half of the game, the referee in questions start waving at me and pointing at his head and then at the goalkeeper.  Obviously, he was trying to indicate the goalkeeper's hat.  I yelled to him "Thank you, I inspected it earlier" to which he replied, loudly "OK, it's your decision, " clearly trying to imply that this was some sort of huge mistake.  I couldn't believe he had done that, but there it was.  Fortunately, I was in a pretty good mood and was able to forget about it almost immediately.  Looking back on it now, it's pretty annoying as he openly questioned my decision in front of players and perhaps the near-bench coaches.

Monday, October 26, 2009

It's Been a Slow Fall

If you live in my area of the country (mid-Atlantic states), you know how much bad weather we've been having.  Once again, my Sunday games were canceled.  However, my assignor called and asked my son and I to report to a different field to work with a 3rd referee that had been assigned to do his games alone.  Interesting, because that tells me that my assignor doesn't have as many active referees as I thought.  Anyway, we did just that and managed to get in a couple of short sided games (U-9 and U-10).  I always enjoy these games, as they are usually fun and have very little stress associated with them.
One observation I have is that the coaches seem to misbehave in the short-sided games more often than the coaches of the older teams.  However, they misbehave i a different way.  They complain about calls far more often, but in a way that is less offensive  than their large field colleagues.  The dissent you get from these coaches is more of the nature of the guy you see in the stands at professional games that is always yelling at the officials.  It's part of the experience for them.  While it is dissent, it's almost comical in the lack of soccer knowledge that it displays.  Do you notice the same thing?
Substitution Problem
It's a pretty typical problem.  Generally speaking, the substitution procedure is not enforced in youth soccer.  Therefore, most teams don't really have a good idea how it works.  Because it is typically not enforced, it's tough for the next referee to enforce it as they teams feel that "it wastes time."  Of course, many referees don't add lost time either, exacerbating the problem.
Apparently, I can't count.  At least I can't count accurately up to 8. Because the teams were being sloppy with their procedure, I was being careful to count the players on and off as the game went.  I was the AR on the team side and I see that as part of my job.  At one point, I noticed one of teams counting the players, during play, and call one of theirs off the field.  I walked up and counted the players with the coach.  I counted 8...2 times.  To make a long story short, the referee counted the players at the next stoppage and counted 9.  What's really annoying for me is I also counted the players at the last substitution and got 8.  I think I'm getting old.
All of this brings me to my thoughts on youth soccer substitutions.  The US Soccer Development Academy has substitution rules that are different from the typical youth rules.  In the Development Academy, substitutions are allowed on any stoppage of play.  However, the academy also has limited re-entry rules.  Once a player comes off, they cannot re-enter the field until the next half.  I think this does two things.  First, it causes coaches to really think about their substitutions instead of taking advantage of the "revolving door" rule we have now.  I've had games were there were substitutions every 4-5 minutes.  Academy games have perhaps 1 or 2 substitutions per half.  Second, I think it formalizes the substitution procedure.  Because of the limited re-entry rule.  Players present their passes when they come on for a substitution.  Since they must present their passes, it slows the process down and makes it so the player can't just run on the field.
I guess the argument against the academy way of doing things is you could argue it's harder to get players adequate playing time.  I don't know if I buy into that though.  I think it improves things because coaches can no longer break up playing time into 5 minute chunks.  It improves the flow of the game for the fans as well as the players.  It makes the game far easier to manage, in my opinion, for the referees.  What do you think?  Send me a comment and let me know.  Is there a downside to this I'm not seeing?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Bad Weather, Slow Weekened

I live in the mid-Atlantic states.  We had some awful weather this weekend, so there really wasn't much going on.  The local high schools were giving the PSAT (a standardized test for college admissions) so there weren't too many young referees around to do recreational games.  The assignor that my younger son works with called me and asked me to do a game as he was in a jam.
When I got up on Saturday morning, I fully expect everything to be canceled.  It had rained all Friday night and the temperature was barely 40°F.  I went to the recreational website, just to confirm...what!?  The games are on?  I gathered up all my things and headed to the field.
Upon arrival, I noticed a lack of...well...anyone.  I was sure they'd never get enough players to have a game.  About 15 minutes before game time I got out of the car and walked over to the field.  It was raining steadily and still in the 40's.  There were coaches there and a handful of players.  This being recreational soccer, we stood around for a little while to see how many players would actually show.  I was quite surprised to see they ended up with about 16.  The coaches asked if I'd be OK with playing a half field game with cones as goals or playing shortened halves.  I told them either was fine.  Normally, I'd never do that, but the recreational rules make it clear they want the games to be played and it doesn't really matter how it gets done.  After some discussion, the coaches decided to go with full field, but shorteded (20 minute) halves.
We started the game with the players looking pretty miserable.  Most of them were very cold and wet.  Most had big jackets on and gloves and hats.  You could tell the experienced soccer players as they only wore hats and gloves.  The game went well and after a short while it was obvious the boys were enjoying themselves.  This is what soccer should be like.  The kids were getting a game in while some of their "softer" buddies were in their nice warm houses.  Nobody seemed to care who won, they were just out playing for fun.
It rained the rest of the weekend. All my competitive games were canceled, so that was it for the weekend.  Maybe next weekend we'll finally get some games done.

Monday, October 5, 2009

New Club In Town

OK, the new club is not in my town, but my assignor does have a new club as of the Spring.  Actually, he has 2 new clubs!  My older son and I put in for games this weekend but we only received one, at this new club.  In talking to a few friends, I have heard this club can be a tough place to do a game.  The coaches have a reputation for being mouthy as do the parents.
Early Sunday morning, I got a call from my assignor telling me that our 3rd referee has not responded to his assignments.  The assignor went on to tell me that this guy, if he shows up, is not to work the game and I am to tell him that.  Great.  First, I don't understand guys that put in for games and don't follow through with their commitment.  I realize bad things happen sometimes, and I know this assignor will certainly forgive any legitimate excuse, but how do you just ignore assignments?  This guy won't be working for this assignor anymore.
So my son and I get to the game a little early.  We had never been to this field, so we left a little earlier than required just in case we couldn't find it.  It turned out to be easy to find.  (An aside:  car GPS units are the greatest thing ever invented!)  We checked the field and do a couple of laps to warm up.  My son points out that, while the home team has been at the field since we arrived, there is no sign of an opposing team.  That can't be good.  It turns out, they got confused and went to another field at another club.  Fortunately, that field was on the way to the correct field.  They arrived about 15 minutes after the game start, well inside the leagues 30 minute grace period.
Just as we start the game I realize I never asked a parent to run the sideline for the missing AR.  This isn't that big of a deal because, to be honest, I'm not convinced a club linesman is worth the effort.  Even if you instruct them to not show direction or offside, they inevitably try to do it anyway.  Naturally, this leads to ill will went you wave them down and show a different direction.  This was a lower level U-13 boys game on a relatively small field, so I felt pretty good about being able to do it myself anyway.
Oddly enough, about 10 minutes or so into the game, the home team coaches started giving my AR a hard time about his offside calls.  You might have guessed we'd have problems on the no AR side of the field.  Nope.  It seems the home team was trying an offside trap, but not timing it very well.  I kept making eye contact with my son with that questioning look ("Are you sure they weren't off?) and he gave me the subtle shake of the head ("No way.")  Good enough for me.  It became clear pretty quickly that what I had heard about this team was indeed true and that I'd have to start on my "Ask, Tell, Remove" routine.  At the next goal kick, I held play and walked to within about 15 yards of the bench.  I politely asked the coaches to "cool it" so we wouldn't have any problems.  One of the coaches started with "But you guys have already made 3 bad calls!"  I cut him off with "Coach, I will not be asking next time.  You coach your team and I'll referee the game."  Apparently it worked and they got the message, because I didn't hear anything at all from them for the rest of the game.
One thing that is tough when you don't have a certified AR on the touch line is watching for balls that cross the goal line momentarily.  Even if you have a club linesman, this is tough. You really don't want to take their input on this because it is a game changing decision.  I had one in this game.  The visiting keeper made the initial save on a very hard shot.  He bobbled the ball in the air right on the goal line.  I was maybe 15 yards out, but did not have a good angle to see if the ball had crossed the line.  Fortunately, during his juggling act, I noticed an instant where the ball was clearly behind the post, not next to it.  Goal!  In changing my diagonal, I had given up a little angle on the play and ended up behind the ball, rather than to one side.
It turned out to be a fun game.  The home team won by a good margin, but the visiting side had a few players that really could play the game well.  It was interesting to watch.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Good League Games

Wow! What great weather we had this weekend, in the Mid-Atlantic area, for our league games! We could not have asked for anything better.
One of the assignors I work with called me late last week and asked me to work a couple of recreational games. My younger son (13, grade 9) works this league so he figured I'd be there anyway. Apparently, he's having a hard time getting the young referees out to do games. He assigned my older son (16, grade 8) to work a game as well. I had 2 6th grade boys games. They were a lot of fun. If you ever feel yourself getting burned out by officiating games, go out and do a couple of short-sided games at a recreational level. They are fun and really low stress. This league wants the referees to take advantage of "teaching moments" and instruct the players, so I had a few chances to educate the players on the Laws of the Game.
My older son and I put in for Sunday league games and we were assigned with another real quality referee to 3 games. We had U-12, 14 and 16 boys games. I can't remember the last time I had high school age boys in the Fall season. In New Jersey, the high school age boys usually don't play competitive soccer in the Fall. Their high school teams don't like it so the club team coaches don't do it.
I had the middle for the U-16 game. In checking in the teams, we noticed the visiting team (yellow) players were generally much bigger than the home team (red) players. We went through the player passes and realized that many of the home team's players were playing up a year. Oh boy.
It was pretty obvious from the whistle that this was going to be a one-sided affair. Yellow was much bigger, faster, and handled the ball better. I have to give the red team credit though, they hung in there for quite a while before the first goal. The first half went well. I had a few opportunities to control the game with my voice and I noticed the other AR was doing the same. He's really good and I know I can count on him. Both AR's were calling appropriate fouls and it seemed we were all on the same page.
By the half, the game was a bit lopsided (3-0). The teams had sort of settled into a playing pattern. I did notice that yellow was still playing quite aggressively. I thought this a little odd given the score. Early in the 2nd half I had to have a few stern conversations with yellow for border-line tackles. Again, I felt this was strange for a one-sided game.
Late in the 2nd half, red managed to get the ball down the left side of the field. Their attacker attempted to put a ball in front of the goal from around the intersection of the penalty area line and the goal line. The ball went over the right shoulder of the defender and he reached up and knocked it down with his hand! A peaceful game went to kaos in about 4 seconds as the red team's coaches were screaming for a send-off! I was positioned around the top of the penalty area. I blew the whistle hard and walked quickly toward the offending player. In my mind, I though of sending him off for a second, and then realized this was not an obvious goal scoring opportunity. I cautioned the player and pointed out to him how close he was to being sent off. After the caution, I had to give the red team's coach a quick "Sit down and be quiet!" as he was going ballistic. Red converted the penalty kick for a goal.
After the game, we talked about that play. My son said he felt that I made the right decision while my other AR said he wasn't so sure. In reviewing the "Advice to the Referee" later, I found this:
The send-off offense for deliberate handling, number 4 under the seven send-off offenses, "denies the opposing team a goal or an obvious goalscoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball (this does not apply to a goalkeeper within his own penalty area)," does not require any particular alignment of players for either team, but simply the occurrence of the offense under circumstances in which, in the opinion of the referee, the ball would likely have gone directly into the goal but for the handling.
The infraction the yellow player committed was certainly cheating and it was certainly unsporting behavior, but by this definition, it was not denying a goalscoring opportunity.  In my opinion, this ball was not going directly into the goal in a thousand tries.  It just was not going to happen.  I think I did the right thing.
I think I've said this before, but this is another example of how you cannot "fall asleep" during a game that seems like it has settled down.  Things happen when you least expect them, even in an "easy" game.  You must always be on your toes and paying attention.  Also, notice the quote above doesn't say "don't bother sending off if it's a lopsided game."  As much as I might have found it distasteful, I would have had to send this player off had that attempt on goal been likely to go in.
As a side note, I lost one of my favorite flip coins.  I think it flew out of my pocket when I was getting my book out.  Where do you keep your coin so that won't happen?  I'm just wondering what other officials do.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Season Starts

Well, as predicated, it was an exhausting weekend. However, it went much better than I had expected and I feel really good about my performance!
I did 17 games this weekend, including 6 middles. Yes, I know, it's a ton of games.
Too many games?
Some readers really blasted me for accepting a tournament that schedules so many games for a referee crew on a single day. A few mentioned not doing "justice to the game." I was quite surprised by the reaction.
The only thing I can say is this. I understand where you are coming from but realize that, in this state and this area, if you are not willing to do both days of a tournament, you don't work. Most tournament assignors will favor the guys that want to do both days. My choice comes down to working...or not working. I choose to work.
Would I rather work 5 or 6 games instead of 8 or 9? Of course. However, since this was not an option, I chose to work instead of staying home.

This is exactly the reason I argue for increasing one's overall fitness. I did notice that, at the end of the both days, I was fresher than my crew mates. Some of that is age, but much of it is definitely overall fitness.
Generally speaking, the 2 days went really well. The weather was wonderful. The field, being turf, was perfect. The guys I worked with were pleasant enough. The coaches and players behaved themselves. The only downside to the weekend was the combination of game schedule and tournament rules.
The tournament specified that playoff games need a winner and the winner would be decided by 2, 10 minute, "golden goal" periods and then kicks from the mark (KFTM). We had 4 playoff games on Sunday and 2 of them went all the way to KFTM. This put us approximately 1:20 behind schedule. Our last game was schedule to go off at 7:25pm but didn't start until 8:45. That made for a very long day.

Mr. Nice Guy

One of the guys I worked with was a "Mr. Nice Guy" referee. In personality, he is genuinely a nice guy. Being a referee is somewhat of a social event for this type of official. Nice guy referees tend to make the law up as they go to fit their view of what is just and right on the field. Unfortunately, I believe that referees with this type of personality are a bit naive to what is going on around them. They see the positive side of everything and fail to be cynical of events on the field. Don't be that guy.
Our rotation put Mr. Nice Guy in the middle for a U-14 boys game. I knew one of the teams had a very aggressive style of play and the game could end up being challenging from a match-control viewpoint.
Sure enough, the game started getting a little chippy. I had a very aggressive trip occur right in front of me, about even with the top of the penalty area. I looked Mr. Nice Guy in the eye and patted my pocket as this was obviously cautionable. He waved me off with a big smile! Oh boy. 4 minutes later, another player from the same team put an even more aggressive tackle on an opponent. The players nearly went to fists but I intervened using a very light and firm tone of voice as I was close to them. I separated the players, directing the offender toward the referee. I think he realized he had to show the card on this one, and he did. I'm not sure this incident would have happened had Mr. Nice Guy realized earlier the temperature of the game was rising.
My most challenging match of the weekend was a U-14 boys game between one of the better teams in the area (red) and an up and coming challenger (white). It turns out the game had some meaning as it was a "must win" game for red to win the tournament. The game was scrappy from the kick off with the teams fighting for every ball. I pushed myself to be on top of play as much as possible as it was obvious I was going to have to be firm and make quick decisions in this one. I had some firm talks with a couple of players after hard fouls and managed the game without resorting to cards for some time. I did show one caution in the game as a player on red didn't get the memo. It was an exciting game that ended with the weaker team (white) managing a draw.
During the second half, red's coach start complaining about calls a few times. After the 2nd or 3rd time, I held play at a restart and ran to within 10 yards of the bench. As the coach started to speak I held up my hand and said "Don't say anything. I'm asking you to behave yourself in the technical area. If I have to come over again, I will dismiss you." I then ran back onto the field and started play. I didn't hear another word from him. It turns out the assignor was standing behind the benches at the time. He later came by and said that I had done a great job of handling the situation and he would use the example to other referees.
I did have one call I made this weekend that might be of interest. I actually made an "impeding the progress of an opponent" call! I never thought I'd actually make that call. We had a through ball go across halfway and head toward the opposing goalkeeper. The goalkeepers team mate followed the ball in, closely followed by an attacker. I noticed the defender actually look back at the attacker, change direction into his path and then run a quick zig-zag pattern in front of him. The ball was 20 feet away. I didn't think I'd see an example of this, but there it was, right in front of me.
I made an interesting discovery this weekend. Dunkin' Donuts has a drink called a "Coffee Coolatta." It is truly a miracle of science! It's kind of an icy, coffee drink. There must be a ton of caffeine in those things. I had a large during one of my breaks. I was razor sharp for 2 or 3 more games. Good stuff!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Oh, This is Going to Hurt

Hello again!
I've been off for some time. The effort I put out in the Spring sort of burned me out a little, so I've stayed off the pitch for most of the summer. I'm back now and I'm refreshed.
This coming weekend, I'll be working a large Labor Day weekend tournament. I just received my assignments and my schedule falls into the "be careful what you wish for" category. The good news is I'm on one of the fields with the high-level teams. The assignor for this tournament is familiar with me and he knows I've been working quality games lately. The field is turf too, so it should be a little easier on the legs. The bad news is my first game is 7:45am and my last game is...7:45pm. Ouch. We do have a break in there for dinner, but it is a very long day. I'll probably end up working about 7 games on Saturday and another 7 on Sunday.
That said, I'm still looking forward to working!

Friday, August 7, 2009

New US Soccer Website

The US Soccer Federation has launched a new website. It looks pretty nice, but there's a good chance I have some broken links in my blog, so let me apologize for those in advance. If you find any, please send me email.
There are some improvements. It's easier to get to some of the "more traveled" materials for referees. Here are just a couple links of interest:

Check out the new site and see what you think!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Thunder and Lightning - Time for a New Gadget

Bad Weather

I was an AR on a game this past weekend where we had a small storm blow through. We saw it coming toward us and, as is normal for this area, we were on alert for any lightning. Seeing none, we played through. The rain started and got fairly heavy a few times. At the start of the 2nd half, the rain had let up some. 10-15 minutes into the 2nd half, the rain started up again. At one point, a parent told me she saw lightning. I pointed it out to the official doing the game. He asked the other AR as well as both coaches if they had seen it. They said "no," so he continued with the game. We actually heard thunder a few times, off in the distance.

USSF Policy

I'll point out right away, before you send me a scathing email, that we should have discontinued the game as soon as we heard thunder. That was in the back of my mind, but I confirmed it when I got home and re-read the USSF position paper on bad weather. There it is, in black and white:

If you can't see the lightning, just hearing the thunder is a good
back-up rule.
Review this paper if you have not seen it before. It's an important safety rule.

Time for a Gadget

Having realized that I come across severe weather on a regular basis and taking notice of the mention of "lightning detection" equipment in the USSF paper, I decided to do a little searching around and see what these nifty devices might cost someone.

I found there are a bunch of devices available, costing from many thousands of dollars, down to less than $100. Being the "gadget guy" that I am, I decided to give one a try.
I purchased a StrikeAlert Personal Lightning Detector. It cost me about $75, including shipping.

Preliminary Testing

As soon as the device arrived, I unpacked it and read through the instructions. It is very simple to use. You turn it on by either pressing and releasing the power button (silent mode), or holding the power button until the device beeps.

All you have to do is carry it around. It's quite light and has a clip on the back. I haven't tried it yet, but I can see keeping it in a back pocket or giving it to one of your AR's. If it senses a lightning strike, the device beeps (if it is in "beep" mode) and lights a lamp indicating the distance from the lightning strike. There are four ranges on the device. The two most distant have amber lights while the two closer ranges have red lights.

Since we've had a ton of storms blowing through my area, I've had a couple of chances to try it out. I can't yet say that it definitely works, but I can say it's doing something. Last night, I decided to go for a run. I took this gadget as it looked like it was going to rain very soon. Sure enough, I hadn't even gone a mile when the skys opened up. At about 1.5 miles, I heard two beeps, indicating lightning at 12-24 miles. Later on, I heard 3 beeps, indicating lightning at 6-12 miles. I never heard thunder or actuallly saw the lightning, but I will say lightning indications corresponded with an increase in wind and rain. The storm was clearly getting closer.

My preliminary testing says this thing might actually work. That said, would I clear a field based solely on these results? Not likely. I need more testing. I'll post more once I get a chance to test it with visibile lightning.

Monday, May 4, 2009

More (Girls) National Championship Series

This past weekend, I attended my 2nd weekend of the US Youth Soccer National Championship Series here in my state. This weekend, it was the girl's chance in their quarter final match ups.
I was assigned to be the senior AR on 2 U-18 games. In our state, the quarter final games are played at a central location. It happens to be a local college campus. The U-17 and U-18 games are played on the school's turf fields, while the younger girls play on the campus grass fields. That became an important distinction this weekend. Perhaps I'm wrong, but it felt like an honor to be selected for the U-18 games.
The other AR was one of the guys that assisted me in my, well, difficult game last weekend. The two officials selected to rotate between the middle and the 4th spot were both female referees. I have worked with one previously, but was unfamiliar with the other.
When you get to a level where you are being assigned to college stadiums with turf fields, you might think you don't have to do the basics like thoroughly check the field. On the contrary, these responsibilities never go away. We found several issues with the facilities that we had to resolve before the game. Placement of corner flags is always sketchy. Make sure they are right. In our case, the nets were not clipped on the goalposts in every spot, so we had to take care of that. Also, check for items (practice goals) that might be located a little too close to the touch line for safety. Stadiums tend to have lots of barrier fences. Always get more than 1 game ball. At least 3 is best to avoid awkward delays in the game.
Weather conditions were not ideal for the players and officials alike. It was a cool, rainy day. The first game of the day was between two very good teams. You would expect that given that we are now in the quarter final round, but that really hasn't been the case with my state's tournament. In fact, quite a few of the games at the boy's quarter finals were a bit lopsided.
The official in the middle called a quality game and everything went off without much in the way of issues. The rain wasn't a real big problem, just annoying. Turf fields have their downsides, but all-weather play is not one of them!
We had a two hour break between games. The stadium is about a 1/2 mile from the grass fields, so we just sat in our cars to occupy our time. During the break, the rain really picked up. We found out later that the grass field games had been canceled for the day. The rain was unrelenting.
We headed back to the stadium about 45 minutes before the start of our 2nd game. I was looking forward to seeing the official for this game work as I had heard she was really good. In conversation, I discovered she was really young. In fact, she was the same age as most of the players, although she looked a few years older to me. It turns out, she is a really good official! I was completely impressed by her ability. The game was not all that challenging, but she clearly knows what she is doing. She's going to move up quickly. I'd really like to see her in a more challenging game.
We had an interesting observation with our 2nd game. Given the rain, we had to hunt for our teams a bit. One was hiding in the covered entry area of the stadium. We checked them in right there. The other team was found in the parking garage adjacent to the stadium. 35 minutes before the game, they did not yet have their player passes! The manager was "on his way" with the passes. He arrived about 10 minutes before a National Championship Series game. I don't get that. The rules of the competition are clear. No pass=no play. Was this some sort of gamesmanship? If so, I can't figure it out. I suspect it was just very poor planning.
As I mentioned previously, this game turned out to be quite one-sided. The team with the late arriving passes was very good. They moved the ball exceptionally well. The other team was out played from the start. In fact, I would estimate 85% of the game was played in their end of the field. The only thing that kept that game close was their goalkeeper making some great saves!
From an officiating viewpoint, the conditions were tough. The rain was incessant. We were soaked the moment we took off our warm-ups. The rain didn't stop for an instant the entire game. Fortunately, the temperature was just high enough that we were not terribly cold. Between the weather and the one-sided aspect of the game, one had to really concentrate on the game and keep the mind from wandering. Most of the game was played in front of me in the 1st half. The 2nd half had me leave my position at halfway maybe 5 times!
That's the end of the quarter finals. I have to wait and see if I'll be assigned at the semi's and finals. I believe I'll get something for semi's as I've made it known I still want my assessment done. We'll see.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

More (Boys) National Championship Series

It occurred to me over the last day or so that I really didn't pass on anything constructive about my first state cup experience, and I have to apologize for that. My stated purpose for this blog is to try and pass on things I experience and learn, so I'm going to make good on that.

Importance of Pre-Game

How often do you deliver any kind of pre-game talk when you are the referee? I suspect many of you give the 30-second, "stay on your offside line, don't let me screw-up" talk. I'm referring to a real thorough pre-game discussion. For an example, check out the pre-game article on
My pre-game talk is far from perfect. Here are just a few of the things I talk about:
  • Make eye contact all the time
  • Don't worry about "my area/your area." Make calls based on who had a better view.
  • Watch the players behind my back.
  • You may come on the field and set up ceremonial restarts.
  • What do we know about these teams?
  • Let's review the competition rules
In my opinion, the foundation to being a quality referee is to take seriously your obligation to know the Laws of the Game inside and out, backwards and forwards. You cannot be a good official without knowing the laws. Implied in that opinion is knowing the rules peculiar to whatever competition authority you find yourself working under. For example, if you go to a tournament, and they only want substitutions on goal kicks that occur in even numbered minutes, so be it (Before you ask, I have not come across anything that bizarre). You know the rules and you follow them, or you should not work the competition.
For my first state cup game as the referee, I had AR's that I did not know. My 4th official was a guy I have worked with at USSF Development Academy games. I noticed during my pre-game that he seemed more interested in the game on the next field over than what I had to say about our impending game. I politely asked him a few times to focus on me. I reviewed all the things above and more. During the game, he tried to get me to substitute players on the opposing teams throw-in, which is directly against competition rules. In hindsight, I should have absolutely insisted he pay attention to what I was saying before the game. You must assert yourself in these situations, even if the team member is more experienced than you.
If you read my previous post, you know my game didn't go as well as I had hoped. I take some of the blame for that. I probably could have clamped down on some of the more minor stuff. As one of my colleagues pointed out in his comments, perhaps I was taking too many risks for the sake of game flow. Check out the Game Management Model 2009 directive from the USSF if you don't know what I'm referring to. The more I think about it, my demeanor changed as the stress level of the game rose. I think the game would have gone much better had I talked to the players more often. In addition to more frequent talks, my tone should have been more "I need your help with this" than "You need to change your behavior now." Things go much better if you are the coolest head on the field.
I can't stress enough the direct relationship between your fitness and the quality of your game. I believe my fitness to be very good relative to other referees doing the same types of games as me. Even with my fitness level, I was struggling in parts of the game to be as close to play as I really wanted. It was a very hot day (93° F) and this takes it's toll on you. You must work on your fitness if you want to do better games. I try to run 3-5 miles at least twice a week. I'll often do it 4 times a week. Occasionally, I'll go to the track and do intervals to maintain my speed.

Fourth Official

Being the fourth official was interesting. It is not something, as youth soccer referees, we get to do very often. As the referee, having a quality fourth official is invaluable as it takes much of the "noise" off your shoulders and allows you to concentrate on the game. The responsibilities of the fourth official are outlines clearly in the USSF's "Guidelines to Procedures for Referees, Assistant Referees and Fourth Officials." If you don't have this publication, buy it. Once a year, review the book. Pay special attention to the items that refer to the fourth as you never know when you might get to do this.
It was an interesting experience because I got to observe the game without the direct responsibility of making any calls. I don't want to give you the impression that I was sitting in a chair, sipping a cool drink. It's not like that. You must pay strict attention to the game as the referee needs to know what you saw in the even of an incident. This position is also an exercise in man management when team staff gets a little worked up. You must learn to be calming, yet assertive at the same time. You must also be clear with your instructions to the players. As they come up to half way, I immediately walk to them, ask them to tuck in their jersey, observe their shin guards and lack of jewelry and indicate where I'd like them to stand while I wait for the next opportunity to get them in. Most of all, do not let them go on the field until their teammate comes off. This is the law and you must follow it. For more on managing the technical area, check out the 2009 directive, "Managing the Technical Area."

Monday, April 27, 2009

Interesting, but Disappointing

Normally, I don't write entries that have a negative feel to them, but I will have a hard time hiding my disappointment in this posting.
I attended our National Championship Series quarter finals yesterday. I was assigned the middle for one of the games and asked for my upgrade assessment. I attended a mandatory meeting last week. I researched the teams I knew I was getting and even went through some of the new sections in "Advice" publication. I put in quite a bit of time to be sure I was ready for my game. I went to the fields the night before to make sure I knew where they were located. I arrived at the field the day of the game several hours early so I could watch the previous game. All of this was done to properly prepared for my assessment...which didn't happen. Apparently, someone failed to ask assessors to come to the games in time for them to be available, so none were there. I don't really understand that. I assume state cup games are scheduled many months in advance. My next two weekends, I only have lines, no middles. I spoke with one of the committee guys and tried to express my disappointment. He said he'd get me a game for the semi-finals. We'll see. For those of you that have gone to these types of tournaments, does this sound a little unusual?
To make it worse, my game was...well...trying. The summary is this: 3 cautions, 2 send-offs. Yeah. The first half went really well. 9 minutes into the second half, there was a tackle right in front of me. By my view, the player with the ball fell and landed on the ball. The defender was standing over him. As the attacker was getting up, the defender stomped on his thigh. In my view, this was a clear send off. In hindsight, I probably should have stopped play immediately, but as I mentioned, the attacker was getting up. Anyway, that was the catalyst for the game to go down hill. The team with the send-off was generally getting outplayed to begin with and them playing a man down tipped the scales. After that, it was nothing but dissent and debate.
In fact, I had spoken to one of their players about his constant comments at least 2 times. Late in the 2nd half, he was taking the ball into the opponents half when he was fouled. As we stopped play, he shoved the defender. I cautioned him for it and he proceeded to call me...something not very nice. That was the 2nd send off.
It was a tough game. The feedback I received from the others was maybe I was not clamping down on the small stuff and that caused the violent conduct send-off. I accept that maybe I should have been a little tighter, but I will not accept that I am somehow responsible for a players actions. I didn't make him stomp on that player's leg.
It was a tough weekend and I'm disappointed and a bit disillusioned. I feel like I could have done a better game, and I really feel like I'm going to have a tough time getting this upgrade assessment.
Let me know if you have had similar circumstances.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


I'm very excited to say I've received invitations to not one, but two important tournaments! The first to arrive is an invitation to work state cup and the 2nd is an invitation to work the Region 1 ODP tournament.
At first, I thought my attendance at the recent upgrade class put me on the list for state cup, but I found out later my league assignor recommended me to the committee. The invitation makes it clear that it does not mean you'll get a game. I'm going to accept and see what happens. The invitation does ask that you indicate your need for an upgrade assessment, so perhaps I'll get a middle in a quarter final game to satisfy my assessment requirement.
I can only assume my upgrade class attendance did get me on the radar for the Region 1 tournament. Although I don't know much about it, I'm really looking forward to that one as well. There are a couple of pre-match meetings involved and we are representing our state, so it's an important tournament. As always, I will be doing my best both on, and off, the field.
Both tournaments are a great opportunity to work high-level games with very skilled referees. It is a bonus if my attendance at either event results in a positive assessment that finishes my upgrade process. Even if that doesn't happen, I expect to gain a great deal of experience just by attending and observing the other officials. I'm really excited about both events and I'm sure I'll have quite a bit to write about after they occur.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Putting Together My To-do List

I had my first U-19 boys league game yesterday. The teams were not playing in one of the highest divisions, but sometimes, it's the lower ranked teams that can be more problematic.
In general terms, the game was not particularly challenging. Red only had 1 or 2 available subs and black had none. It was a very, very windy day, so it was going to be tough for the teams to put together more than a couple of passes and I suspected their play might be a little slower than normal, given the lack of bench relief. Most of the tackles in the first half, and for much of the 2nd half, were clean. In fact, very few were even close to foul play. That said, there were some things that should have grabbed my attention. For example, one player on black was playing quite aggressively. For the most part, his play was trifling at worst. I used my best man-management skills in talking to him once or twice to let him know I was watching and he needed to dial his play back some. In hind sight, I should have been calling more of his play foul, and probably could (should?) have cautioned him for persistent infringement.
The only incident in the game, which I probably could have avoided, was a bit of a mass confrontation in added time of the 2nd half. The rough player mentioned above came in hard on a red player, charging him off the ball. I was maybe 15 yards away. Red responded with a hard push to the back. I blew the whistle and made my presence immediately known by coming to the spot and commanding players to separate immediately. I cautioned the red player for the push to the back, but failed to caution black. Again, in hindsight, I failed in this regard.
The positive result of this match is I've identified the areas I need to concentrate on in preparation for being assessed. I need to work on foul recognition. I think I need to start cautioning earlier, or set the bar a little lower for what I think qualifies as a caution and I need to pay much closer attention to who did what in a mass confrontation situation. If you have suggestions for ways to improve in these areas, let me know. For now, I have my to-do list and I need to start checking these items off.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Upgrade Class

I attended my grade 7 upgrade class today. I'll get all the drama out of the way: I passed both the written and fitness tests!
On the fitness test, I managed 1.61 miles in the 12 minute run (otherwise known as a Cooper Test), 33 seconds in the 200 meter and around 8 seconds in the 50 meter. I was pleased with those times. The requirements for my age, for this upgrade, were 2000 meters on the Cooper test, 40 seconds in the 200 meter and 9 seconds in the 50 meter. For those of you interested, you can find this information in the Referee Administrative Handbook, available from US Soccer.
I was really surprised by the number of guys I saw struggling in the fitness test. There were about 25 of us in the class. As I was going around the track, I noticed about 5 guys that I was pretty sure were not going to make it. I have no idea what their finishing distance was, but I'd be really surprised if they didn't have to retake the test. I find that kind of surprising because, if you know are interested in an upgrade, and you know there is a fitness test, why would you not adequately prepare for it? More importantly, an upgrade implies you want to do higher level games. Fitness counts a great deal as you move up.
I was very pleased with my results on the written test. I scored a 99%. I misread the only question I got wrong (duh!), otherwise, I could have had that elusive 100%, but in the big scheme of things, I'm OK with that. It was an incredibly stupid mistake, but I'm happy I passed. Unfortunately, one of the guys I have worked with did not pass. In listening to him talk about what went wrong, it became obvious to me that, while a seemingly knowledgeable referee, he has not read/studied the law book in a long time. In fact, after the test, during a break, I was looking something up in my copy of "Advice to Referees" and he asked me where I had found that book! Again, like I mentioned above in regard to the fitness test, if you are interested in upgrading you must do everything you can to prepare. Getting past re-certification is not enough.
Perhaps the information I keep referring to is not obviously found on the US Soccer site. There is a Referee section in the US Soccer Store. In that section, you will find various publications. I strongly encourage each and every one of you to buy the following:
  • Laws of the Game
  • Referee Administrative Handbook
  • Guide to Procedures
  • Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game
You should absolutely have all of these publications. You should read and re-read each of them. You should have them in your bag at all times. Trust me, you will be a much better referee because of your effort.
Going back to the upgrade class, we went over several of the 2009 Directives. In particular, we spent time on "Contact Above the Shoulder" and "100% Misconduct: Tactical and Red Card Tackles." We went through an exercise were we watched video clips and had to indicate on a worksheet foul/no foul and the type of misconduct, if any. I did really well no the foul/no foul section, but apparently I need some work on misconduct identification. For the most part, I'm too lenient, but it some examples I was too harsh. I have to concentrate more on improving my skill in this area.
We received a really good presentation on the directive for "Free Kick and Restart Management." I can see why emphasis has been placed on this topic. How many times have you seen a player conveniently tie their shoe in front of a ball during a free kick? I love that one. In my game, that one doesn't even get a warning. That is an instant caution. Be sure to review all of the 2009 directives. There is good information in these documents that will help you on the field.
Here's a good tip I picked up during this discussion. When you go to a ceremonial restart, you are to tell the kicker to wait for the whistle. You hold your whistle up, and point to it while saying the words. We were warned to hold the whistle at eye level and never above. Why? Because holding it over your head could cause observers to think you are indicated an indirect free kick! That would not be good, so be careful with your "wait for the whistle" mechanics.
Now I have to prepare for assessment. The day after the class, my assignor (who is trying to help me prepare) gave me a U-19 boys game, along with two fine ARs. After completing our 2 preliminary games, we got together on the side of the field. I gave them my best pre-game, which they thought was pretty good. I checked in the first team and then, while walking over to the other team, I noticed really ominous storm clouds. Uh oh. Sure enough, just as the other coach got done passing out the player passes, we saw lightning. We went into "clear the field, 30 minutes" mode immediately. You guessed it by now: We never started the game. We even had a little hail within the 30 minute wait period. I hope this is not a fore-shadowing of my upgrade process. I have another U-19 boys game scheduled for next weekend, so we'll see how that goes. I think I may ask for the assessment in April. If anyone has good assessment tips, please leave a comment and let me know.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Score Sports Referee Wallet

Score Sports data wallet
For a while now, I've been looking for a data wallet that is a step up in quality from the wallets that most of us use. You know the one I'm talking about. They are made of very thin vinyl and last about a season before some of the little pockets separate from the wallet itself.
I stumbled onto a pretty nice referee data wallet on the Score Sports website. Score Sports is a maker of various sports equipment and has an extensive line of soccer uniforms, equipment and even referee uniforms if you don't want to use the recommended supplier.
The data wallet (product number 773) is made of black nylon and has gray trim. The wallet has internal stiffeners that make writing on it much easier than the typical vinyl variety. The wallet is designed with a pocket on front and back to hold your misconduct cards. When you open the wallet, you'll notice the clear vinyl sleeves used to hold your game card from moving around. A magnetic closure keeps the game card from coming out and keeps the wallet closed in your pocket. The magnet is strong enough to hold a flipping coin against the side of the wallet. The quality of the material suggests this wallet will last a very long time.
The product is designed a little bigger than your normal vinyl wallet. At first, I thought it would be annoying to have this in my pocket, but in all honesty, I didn't really notice it at all. It's a little heavier than the vinyl variety as well, but it was not a problem for me. The quality of the writing surface made up for any negatives.
Here's the best part: It can be had for under $3. Unfortunately, Score charges (for me) almost $12 for shipping. I think they are in CA, so my shipping cost is probably the worst case scenario. I ordered a couple of them for friends of mine since the shipping was the same. If you are looking for a quality wallet, this might be the end of your search.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Weekend of Soccer - Part 2

More Learning at the US Development Academy Games

On Sunday, I worked two more US Development Academy games. At the risk of repeating myself, this is some good soccer!
The crew for this weekend was an interesting contrast to other weekends. The highest rank official is a grade 6 (State Referee) and the other is a 7. Both are much younger than me. On past weekends, the officials were of the same grade, but typically around the same age or a little older. For the record, I'm in my early 40's.
Typically, development academy games consist of two games on the same day. The teams are from the same club. The first game is U-16 and the second is U-18. In my area, they are played on our finest local college fields, both of which happen to be artificial turf stadiums. So far, I've been the lowest graded official and assigned to the AR-2 spot every weekend.
I made an interesting observation. While the 7 was very put together, I noticed the highest grade referee had some, well, anomalies in his uniform. He was wearing unapproved socks and a short sleeve jersey with a long sleeve base layer that didn't quite match the color of the jersey. Even the shorts where a little questionable. I was quite shocked by this as I've heard the acceptable uniform list emphasized over and over again. It was a disappointing observation. It just goes to show you that referee grade is not always the best indicator of quality.
The games went OK, although there was some notable problems. In the first game (U-16), I would say the young guy did pretty well, with maybe 2 exceptions. Early in the game, there was a "one to beat" situation. The attacker got fouled from behind about 3 yards outside the penalty area. He had one defender still in front of him, but he was heading toward goal. Personally, I though it was denying a goal scoring opportunity. I think the middle thought so after the fact. We talked a little about it at the half. After the game, I heard him talking to a guy that had come out of the stands. This guy must have been another referee as I heard him ask "What did you see on that play..." Late in the game, there was some controversy over a defender handling the ball in the penalty area. The defender and attacker fell together just outside the goal area. Their backs were to me, so I saw nothing. The middle was on top of the play. He said there was contact with the ball, but he saw it as ball-to-hand, not the other way around. The attacking team's coach really ripped him over it and kept at him after the game. At one point, the coaches wandered away for awhile. They came back a few minutes later and started on him again. Foolishly, I stepped in the middle (it was obvious the young guy was getting tired of it) and just said words to the effect of "You've had your say. He's explained his opinion. Nothing else needs to be said so let it go." It didn't go over well, but I'm not going to stand there and watch a coach dig into a colleague.
I felt really good about my performance. Given my age and experience level, I feel like I put in a top notch AR performance. I'm always on my offside line. I stay with the players even at full speed. I never take my eyes off the field. At this level, you will often get outbursts from the players. You must have thick skin and avoid flaming any emotional fires by choosing your response, if any, carefully. The players will often challenge you with statements like "Who kept them onside ref?" You have to have an answer like "#5 and #3." Sometimes saying nothing at all is better.
The 2nd game was challenging in quite a few ways. First, the official that did the middle in the first game asked me to take the senior AR spot. He had had enough from the coaches from the first game and needed a break from the berating. I was glad for the opportunity to take a shot at the team side of the field. These games have limited substitutions so there is some work to do over there. You are truly doing both the AR job and the 4th official job.
Being a U-18 game, play is quite physical. This is were reading the players becomes important. For the most part, the players were not complaining in the 1st half of the game. However, the coach of the team right behind me...was. Every time two players came together on the field, this guy was bending my ear. I largely ignored his comments other than a few "I understand coach" type replies. As the half wore own however, the game became an example of why some of the trifling stuff matters. The game was getting increasing physical. Player frustration was starting to be demonstrated. The emotion of the game was rising.
In the 2nd half, things started tense right away. Contributing to the temperature rise, the referee had some hard tackles pretty close to him that perhaps could have been called fouls. Things were getting a little ugly. At one point, I made an offside call that was close, but definitely correct. I was in my correct position during fast moving play. The forward receiving the infraction had an outburst, directed at me, that involved some profanity. The middle said nothing. I found that quite disturbing because, even if you don't see this as dissent (I did), you must make a show of having a stern talking to the player starting with the phrase "My assistant is completely off limits..."
In hindsight, the middle should have started to notice the rising emotion and started to clamp down on physical contact and some dissent. I think that would have gone a long way to controlling things. Instead, his management of the game stayed on course. It wasn't bad, it just wasn't completely appropriate for this particular game.
As tense as this game was, there was some good news. The representative from the federation took me aside and commended me on a job well done in both games. Although he's not there specifically for the referees, he does make overall game comments, which can include performance of the officials. He made a point to tell me the federation would be made aware of my performance. That made me feel pretty good, especially as I enter my grade 7 upgrade effort.
Fortunately, the game ended without any serious incident, but you could feel the pressure on the field during play. I can see how games at this level and age can blow up in your face if you aren't paying attention to the overall player temperature.

Weekend of Soccer - Part 1

A Day at the Girls Tournament

I spent Saturday this weekend at a local tournament.  This was the weekend for the girls.  As some long time readers know, I tend to favor the girls game somewhat.   In my opinion, the female players focus on playing the game, not on going after each other or yelling at me.  Of course, there are exceptions to that rule...and I found 2 teams that define that exception.
The day started out well.  Our schedule started with the U-13's and 14's for the first half of the day, then we went to the 16's and 18's.  In total, we had 8 games and 4 referees, so I ended up doing 6 games with 2 in the middle.
As I get more experience, and move closer to upgrading, I find I'm far more confident in the middle, especially with the younger ages.  Much of that confidence comes from really knowing the Laws of the Game.  If you want to be a better referee, know the Laws backwards and forwards!  Anyway, my first game in the middle went very well.  I felt like I had total control and that we did a really good job.  The players got a completely fair, well officiated game, and that's what it's all about.
During one of the games I was an AR, we had an incident that really illustrates how important it is to constantly make eye contact with one another.  In the afternoon, we had the U-18's.  The game was a well played game with some rough contact being had by both teams.  Generally, there was nothing terrible, just aggresive challenges.  There was a challenge for a ball around halfway on my side of the field, right in front of the parents.  The attacker was facing her own goal, waiting for a ball to come down.  A defender came in from the side and slightly behind, challenging for the same header.  The defender jumped into the attack quite aggressively and knocked the attacker down.  My view was of the back of both players and I put the flag up right away.  The ball went out of touch on the play, but the middle did whistle the foul.  The parents went nuts!  The attacking players went nuts!  The challenge was pretty rough.  Unfortunately, at that moment he chose to engage the parents in debate, not seeing me pat my pocket like a wild man trying to get him to issue the caution.  We talked later and he admitted to being distracted by the parents.  Try to remember in your games that the parents really are inconsequential.  You are there for the players and the players only!
Later that day, I had my 2nd middle.  It started out as a really well played U-16 game.  It was physical but not overly so.  The white team went up pretty quickly, 2-0.  Frustration was brewing on the blue side.  I was getting some dissent, resulting in one caution in the first half.  
Because the game was physical, I made an extra effort to always be close to play and to make sure my view on the play was good.  I think the biggest problem that started to develop was the parents were getting into it.  I've noticed that parents of female players seem to be more sensitive to physical play, even though the players seem fine with it.  Toward the end of the 1st half, there is a challenge around halfway, just inside the touch line on the parents side.  A defender slid in on an attacker, getting the ball with one foot and the defender with the other.  The ball goes out of play, but I whistle for the foul from 10 feet away.  The parents go absolutely crazy.  One guy in particular is really giving it to me.  I'm not sure what was going on there.  Like I said, the game was tough, but not out of control.  He was ridiculous enough that I told him to leave and made it clear that we were not restarting until he did.  Now, I'm well aware that referees really don't have authority over spectators, but the parents don't really know that so off he went.  I think the parents got my none too subtle message.
At half time, both of my AR's stressed that I was doing a very good game.  Their thoughts were it was just two emotional teams, playing a tough game.
In the 2nd half, blue starting clawing there way back.  It was a constant struggle back and forth with every call resulting in moaning.  Again, I can't stress enough how you must be keeping up with play to sell your calls in games like this.  Eventually, blue goes up 3-2.  White ended up getting booked twice in the 2nd half.  Both times were reckless challenges, resulting in cautions for unsporting behavior.  I'm sure much of it was frustration with getting beat.  
Naturally, the game ended with controversy.  With about 1:30 left, blue put a through ball in on white's goalkeeper.  The blue attacker chased it in and I knew a collision was likely.  The keeper kneeled down and covered the ball with the attacker about 3 feet away.  She tried to pull up, but ended up falling over the balled-up keeper.  This was not a foul but merely two players challenging for the same ball.  The keeper got injured (slightly) so I called the coach out immediately.  Wow, did I get some emotional outbursts from the 'keeper's team mates. Time was running out while the coached tended to the player.  The tournament rules did not allow for added time.  Since they were down by 1, they were not happy.
On a positive note, one of the dissenters during the game apologized right afterward.  She came over and shook my hand and said she was sorry for giving me a hard time.  I told her to forget about it.  It's all good.  Interestingly enough, the coaches never got involved.  The emotional stuff came strictly from the players.
I guess if I can pass anything on from this experience, it would be a couple of things.  First, try to ignore parents as best you can.  If they become a problem, deal with them unemotionally and quickly.  Second, be on top of play.  It sells calls and helps with outbursts.  If you are having trouble with this, improve your fitness.  Finally, when you feel like you are getting stressed from the emotion going on around you, do whatever you have to do to calm yourself.  If you are calm and confident in your abilities, you will control the situation and have a better game.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Friendly Weekend

I was asked to work a local club's friendly tournament. It wasn't a tournament from the standpoint of the teams paying a lot of money and having a large number of teams at a big facility. No, this was a local club that asked 8 teams to come together, throw enough money together to have referees and play a bunch of full-time scrimmages to get ready for the upcoming season. Knowing that I'm looking to be assessed this season, my assignor was nice enough to ask me to work one of the two fields while he was on the other.
This turned out to be a great way to start the season. Before these games, I didn't have any recent opportunities to be in the middle for anything above U-12. I've been doing US Soccer Development Academy games, but I'm always the 2nd AR on those games. I did a youth tournament a week ago, but they were all U-11 and U-12 games. So these games allowed me to knock some of the rust off and get a great work out in the process as we worked without assistants. I haven't done that in a long time!
Give that these were "friendlies", the atmosphere was pleasant. I really didn't have any issues to speak of, except for one sarcastic coach, but she was easily ignored. It was a great chance to concentrate on positioning and tuning up the eyes to follow the action. I was pretty tired after 4 games, but I'm happy to have been out on the field. For being friendly games, the players really made an effort on the field. Much of the action was exciting!
As the day went on, my assignor offered some good tips for my anticipated assessment. He pointed out that I should make sure the referee crew is not wearing the same color as either team, or either goalkeeper. I have to admit, I would not have thought much about the goalkeepers. He suggested that I make sure my uniform is perfect and that I'm not wearing anything not deemed acceptable by US Soccer (which I never do anyway). Also, he suggested I wear two watches. I've never done this because I usually work with assistants and at least 1 is backing me up on time. This was told to him once and he felt it was important for an assessment game. These are great tips and they really got me thinking about things that might be imporant in an assessment. It's good to have someone in your corner that wants to help you out.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Referee Summit

I had an interesting experience a few nights ago. A few of the assignors for the youth league that I often work decided to have a referee meeting at a local meeting hall. Attendance was optional, but I'm always looking for opportunities to learn so I went. There were 3 assignors involved. One is the assignor I normally work through. Another is a guy that I previously worked for and know pretty well as I work a large youth tournament through him and my youngest son gets his games through him. I have also worked for the third assignor. Recently, I became aware that this third assignor is recognized by the league as a "regional assignor," which apparently means the first two guys loosely report to him.
I've never been to a meeting like this, so it was pretty interesting. The agenda was designed such that all three assignors spoke about a few topics. League representatives were also present to talk a little about the kinds of things that happen behind the scenes related to referees.
The first speaker talked generally about how to get assigned to games. I've described the league's assignment process in other posts, so I won't repeat it here. However, he made some really good points about some things that a referee should consider. First, make every effort to never turn an assignment back. Once you get an assignment, do all you can to make sure you honor it. I don't think anything annoys assignors more than having to assign a game more than once. The speaker also made the point that the assignors consider many things when making assignments. They look at your age, experience level, past performance and physical fitness when deciding what games you'll be doing. Since they look at those things, you should be too! He also pointed out something that I have often thought about: Realize that everything you do on the field is being watched and in some cases, recorded. If you do things that are outside of acceptable practices for your league and/or USSF, someone will report it. Examples might be running a 2-whistle, high school type, system in a USSF game or wearing an inappropriate uniform. This assignor also talked about the importance of doing a proper pre-game, including field inspection, player equipment and card checks etc. A point of emphasis was checking the anchoring of your goals, which cannot be emphasized enough. You must check the field, including the goals, before every game. He reminded us that we are required to be at the field at least 30 minutes before game time.
The second speaker talk about items that, perhaps, were targeted at newer officials. He reviewed all the points related to uniforms. I'm always surprised by this, but he pointed out that you really shouldn't be wearing things that are not part of the uniform. As an example, he said that he often sees the younger referees wearing a short-sleeve jersey with a "hoodie" sweatshirt underneath. This is really not acceptable. I would say most referees are making enough money to buy a long-sleeve uniform jersey and find some warm piece of clothing for underneath that will remain hidden. He showed the acceptable socks (there are 3 styles) as well as examples of appropriate shoes and not so appropriate shoes. Hopefully, this talk will have some effect on guys that show up to games looking unprofessional. If you are one of those officials, realize it just hurts the image of the entire crew and makes match control that much more difficult.
The third speaker was the assignor I typically use for league games. He spoke mostly about our administrative duties. Before the game, our league requires getting the game card from the home coach, collecting game fees and checking player passes. Note the emphasis on "Before the game." (You do collect your game fees before the games, right? You really don't want to ask for money after a controversial game.) He emphasized the need to hold the player passes for the duration of the game. In the event of a sending off, we retain the player pass and send it to the league. I wouldn't want to have to ask a coach for the pass after the game.
I was glad for the opportunity to get some face time with the various assignors in my league/area. As should be expected, these types of meetings often address issues with a small number of officials, but the issues cause problems for all of us. Many people might view the content of this meeting as somewhat of a waste of time, but I disagree. We all need to be reminded of the basics. After all, if we were all doing our job perfectly, there would be no need for these meetings in the first place.

Monday, February 23, 2009

More Great Games

Yesterday, I worked another set of US Soccer Development Academy games. It seems these games are always scheduled in pairs. The clubs have 2 teams; one U-16 and one U-18. From what I gather, they play games within a pretty large area. In my case, the drive time radius for the teams can be up to 6 hours! If you are doing that, you are playing some serious soccer.
The first time I worked these games, I was the last guy at the field, so I made a point to show up earlier this week. It turns out it still wasn't early enough. I met up with the referee for the U-16 game. I was honest about being new to these games. It turns out he's a grade 8 as well, but he's been doing games for much longer than me. So I guess it's all about experience, not necessarily about your grade. Anyway, he pointed out that I should plan on getting to any US Soccer game at least 1 hour before game time. To be honest, I'm a little surprised that my assignor didn't send me a list of things to do for these games, but that just goes to show you that you are ultimately responsible for yourself. Since this referee was empathetic to my position, I was sure to ask him some other things that I was trying to figure out regarding administration of these games. Always use a willing resource when you find one!
Our third crew member, and also the referee for the U-18 game, was really late. I thought perhaps he had some other games going on, but I didn't hear him mention an excuse. I was a little disappointed by that as this is a State Referee. I guess I hold those guys in pretty high regard, given there grade. It turns out he's a really good referee. I learned quite a bit from watching him work. Both encounters show that the badge doesn't necessarily tell you everything about the referee.
For those of you that live in warm climates, I'm jealous. Wow, the weather was brutal for these games. The temperature was fluctuating in the mid-30's and there was a howling wind coming through the stadium. Not only that, but we had periodic showers and snow showers. Yes, we were in shorts. You don't do these games in warm-ups. Actually, you shouldn't be doing any games in warm-ups. You know it's cold when your teeth are chattering incessantly while you are running the line.
It's interesting to note that I felt far more comfortable this week than last. It seems that your brain needs a game or two to adjust to a higher level. I experienced that when I first started (doing short-side U-little games) as well as when I did my first couple of games at U-15 and above. This week, I didn't feel like I was barely keeping up with the game. I think I did a pretty good job. I was a little early on an offside flag, but I was still correct. I got all my directions right without getting "direction stupid." I even started talking to the players a little bit when they were in my area. You do talk to the players, right? I've noticed the referees at this level will often admonish the players when they are doing wrong, but not wrong enough for a whistle. You'll frequently hear things like "knock it off over there" or "hands down gentlemen!" I mentioned this in my last post, and I'll mention it again because I think it's important. As an AR, you can help the middle with things like "Red #5, get off his jersey!" It warns the player and let's the referee know where he should be looking.
I'd like to, once again, make a few comments about being a good Assistant Referee. Too many referees do not take the role or AR seriously enough. I've seen that, at the upper levels, a good AR is invaluable. Being a good AR doesn't just mean getting offside or ball out-of-play right. It's the little things like taking initiative and getting the game balls squared away for the referee. Making sure the referee has everything he needs while doing check-in (put a spare pencil in your pocket). Do you make sure your uniform is neat, clean and up to par before going to the field? That makes the crew look professional and garners respect. During the game, you must be on your offside line at all times. Coaches, and players, at the higher levels will call you on it if you're not. You must watch everything at once. You must pay attention to the other AR when the ball is away from your half so you can mimic his or her signals as necessary. You must watch the players when the referee is otherwise occupied (ie, talking to a specific player, dealing with substitution) so if something happens, you can report facts. Next time you are an assistant, try to think about all the ways you can make yourself useful to the referee. It is appreciated and only helps to build your reputation as a quality official.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Moving up in the World

Upgrade Time

There has been lots of referee activity in the last couple of weeks. First, I got myself enrolled in the state's only grade 7 class for 2009. Every day, I would check the state committee website, waiting for the announcement of the class. As soon as I saw it, I contacted the youth referee administrator and reminded him that I really want to be in the class.
I had spoke with him directly at this year's re-certification, so he remembered me. He told me to send my game log to the committee and they would confirm my eligibility for the class. Some of you long time readers have probably noticed my tendency to document things. I have a nice, neat game log that I keep in a worksheet on my computer. It has columns for the date, time and location of the game. I record the teams, the score, any misconduct in the game, as well as the age level and gender of the players. Well, my record keeping paid off. I was able to send that game log right to the committee after the youth referee administrator asked me to do it. I received a reply the next day that I was indeed eligible and I could register. The registration opened up this weekend and I'm in. Even if you don't intend to upgrade, be sure you are keeping good track of your games. It could come in handy. Also, if you are interested in moving up, you need to be your own advocate and speak up. Tell any of the administrators in your state when you get the chance.

US Soccer Development Academy Games

In anticipation of upgrading, I contacted the local adult league assignor in hopes of getting a few games and maybe getting in the middle for a game to have my assessment. To upgrade from grade 8 to 7, you must be assessed. I didn't think I'd hear anything for some time, but much to my surprise, I was asked to work 2 US Soccer Development Academy games.
These are very high level games with U-17 and U-18 boys. Naturally, given my grade and experience, I'm the junior assistant on the games. The funny thing is, to accept the assignments, I had to get a login to the US Soccer game officials site! I didn't even know there was such a thing.
A few days after the first assignment email, I received 2 more. I now have 6 of these games scheduled. It seems these games are played on the finest fields available in the area. In my case, the games are on 2 college campus turf fields.
I worked the first two games today. Wow, these are big time. The first thing I noticed is one needs to arrive early to these games. I was there exactly 30 minutes before the game and both of the other referees were already there checking teams in. One of the guys on the crew is a State Referee (5).
There is a significant amount of paper work involved as these games are limited substitution and records must be kept in regard to what players came into the game and at what time.
I was very glad I had a bag full of new uniforms as it seemed important to the other guys that we match exactly. They took great care in looking and acting professionally. Many of you know how important I think those impressions are when working games. We even did the ceremonial procession to the middle of the field! It was pretty cool.
The games were tough. I've done quite a few U-17 games at tournaments, but these games were very fast and aggresive. You could not lose your concentration for a second. I suspect it will take a few games before my brain adjusts to the tempo. It felt like I was doing my first game all over again. Fitness is absolutely key. In order to stay on your offside line, you must really hustle. These guys can fly down the field, so game fitness is very important. Also, they are not afraid to open their mouths so you must be able to defend your calls with a quick explanation with details like "#12 kept the attacker onside" or "#4 touched the ball AFTER it crossed the goal line."
I got a really nice tip from the other guys on the crew. They suggested that I sternly talk to the players that were getting out of line, but not necessarily committing fouls. For example, they had me say things like "Blue #7, get your arms down!" That way, the middle could keep an eye on the situation and the players relized we are not push-overs and are paying attention. It worked pretty well.
It was truly a great day on the field. I learned some things. I worked with really high level guys and I took a significant step toward upgrading to grade 7.