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!