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.