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.