Monday, November 15, 2010

What's Really Going on Here?

I took a weekend off to watch my son play at a tournament.  I've made some observations that got me thinking about how and what we evaluate on the field to make decisions to manage the game.
I observed a game in the morning in which I noticed something odd about the officials match control.  In this particular game, the white team was clearly more physical, but less skilled than the other team.  The green team had far more skill with the ball, but seemed to be slightly less physical.  The temperature of the game was clearly going up slowly but surely over the time that I watched.  White was getting increasingly physical, even grabbing at the back of no less than 3 players on breakaways.  What surprised me is there was neither an "Advantage!" from the referee nor a whistle.  White obviously noticed they could get away with more, so they increased the aggressiveness of their challenges.  At one point, I observed a scissors tackle on against a green midfielder that was shielding a ball into touch.  No foul.  Suddenly, the green midfielder turned on the white player and went nose to nose with him!  I heard him say something like "that better not happen again."  The center barely made a move toward the players to get things under control.  At that point, the AR motioned the player over.  I was close enough to hear him admonish the green player for his behavior.
Let's examine what was happening here.  By my observation, I see white playing increasingly aggressive, testing the limits with the referee.  The referee seemingly does nothing to show white exactly where the line is, so they keep testing.  At some point, we reach the green team's limit on what they will tolerate, so they lash out.  The referees punish the green team.
I am of the opinion that what one sees on the field is merely one way to evaluate what is happening.  The apparent frustration of one team should be noticed.  Perhaps the frustration is because we, as officials, are missing something that is happening.  It could be green is just getting outplayed, or it could be that white is indeed playing unfairly.  In the latter case, it is just a matter of time before green takes justice into their own hands as they see that the referee is either unwilling or incapable of dealing with the problem.  This is one of the reasons we see major incidents in some games.  In the game described above, the only caution issued in the game was for an "f-bomb" uttered by white after blowing a decent opportunity on goal.  We have to have our priorities right.  This is a U-15 game.  Where I referee, you are going to hear language on the field that is not directed at anyone.  Worry about the big things, like the temperature of the game.
The federation has a directive that is aimed at this sort of thing.  It is titled Game Management Model - Foul Selection and Recognition.  It discusses the idea of promoting game flow, versus the need to call fouls and control the game.  Check it out.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Why do they call them "Free Kicks" anyway?

I managed to have a 3-game day last weekend.  I was on a crew with 2 young referees.  Both did a fine job.
Generally, I try to offer new referees some help with things I notice during a game.  It is usually along the lines of "You're doing a great job.  You might want to keep an eye on..."  Some new referees are not willing to hear this and completely ignore it.  If you are one of those guys, realize it is a team effort.  Any feedback for improvement is useful.  You can accept or reject input from other referees.  That's your choice, but do so at your own peril.  Most referees have something to offer you for improvement.
It's frustrating when other referees are not following the rules of the competition, or the Laws of the Game, for that matter.  It makes life more difficult for everyone. I understand we often do games from several different leagues and many different tournaments.  How often do you actually read the rules of the competition?  As a referee, you often work your league games for the same league and assignor for many years.  Do you try to read the rules for your league at least once a season?   You must!  Leagues are always changing rules in very subtle ways.  Every week, I will hear things from coaches related to these rule changes.  In some cases, the rules did not change.  However, last week's referee is getting the league rules confused with some other league or tournament they have worked.  For example, the league I work has slightly different rules for throw ins in the short-sided games.  Players get one retake for a foul throw before the ball turns over to the opponent.  I cannot tell you how many times I have had coaches tell me that "last weeks referee" didn't do it that way.  I re-read the rules of the competition.  This is how our league wants to game played.  Go, right now, and download your league's rules.  They are usually found on the leagues web site.  Give them a quick read and follow them to the letter!

I had some interesting issues with free kicks in a U-14 boys game.  In the first 10 minutes, I called a foul at mid-field.  As a side note, I am one to encourage quick free kicks.  I will often point to the spot of the foul and start moving away, keeping my eyes on the attackers in case they want the ceremonial free kick.  In this case, as I'm moving away, 2 defenders set themselves up maybe 6-7 yards from the ball.  The attackers take the kick, but as they do, one of the defenders lunges forward, blocking the kick.  I immediately stopped play, signaled for a retake and cautioned the players.  Some thought that was harsh, but there is this from "Advice to Referees:"
On the other hand, when the attacking team has exercised the option to restart play quickly and the opponent closer than the required distance moves toward the ball and performs an act that makes a difference in the play, such as blocking the kick, that player has committed an offense that must be dealt with firmly in accordance with the Law. After the referee has cautioned the failure to respect the required distance, the original free kick must be retaken as required by Law 13.
Clearly, we are to caution this behavior based on this writing.
Later in the game, I had a very similar situation.  In this case, it was a delaying the restart as the attackers never tried to put the ball in play.  The player (from the same team incidentally) was maybe 5 yards from the ball.  As the attacker started to run up for the kick, the defender stuck his foot out. The attacker pulled up.  I whistled and tested the player for his ability to identify the color yellow.  Turns out he saw it just fine.  I was a little surprised the lesson had not been learned, but they are 14 year-olds.
Speaking of free kicks, I had a situation that you coaches out there might want to consider.  A red attacker came free around halfway.  He dribbles straight in on goal.  The goalkeeper comes out to meet him just outside the penalty area.  The attacker attempts to flick the ball over the keeper as the keeper slides in front of him.  The keeper does make contact so I call the foul (yes, I considered DOGSF.  Too far out in my opinion), point to the spot and start moving away as the attacker looked like he would go quickly.  He's caught the defense napping.  He puts the ball down, takes a few steps back...and his coach tells him to wait!  Wow!  This was an easy goal.  The keeper had not moved back into the goal quickly.  The attacker would have just kicked the ball into the net.  From a referee view point, this is why we encourage the free kick. When you award a free kick, get out of the way and see if the players want to go quickly.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Rules Do Not Apply To Him

Wow, I had an interesting weekend.  Just when I thought I didn't have much left to write about...
I received a 3 game assignment this weekend, which I haven't had for some time.  I've been getting quite a few 1 game assignments.  We had U-11, U-12 and U-14.  I was assigned with my younger son as well as another referee that I've worked with on a few occasions. What a great day for soccer! We had perfect weather and a really nice field.  You have to love that.
The first 2 games went really well.  My son did the U-11 game.  He's developing into a fine official.  I had the U-14 game and that went well too. The field we had for the day was not unusually long, but it was very WIDE.  Note to self:  Do a little more running during the week.  I felt like my conditioning isn't what it should be.  I did fine with the 14's, but I will suffer when the college showcases come in November.
The interesting situation arose with the U-12 game.  The home club was set up to help under privileged kids from a nearby small city have an opportunity to play competitive soccer.  I've worked with teams from this club before.  The players are skilled and always play hard.  When checking the player passes for the team,
I asked the trainer for his pass.  He told me the coach, who had not yet arrived had them.  "No problem," I said, I'll come back in a few minutes and collect them.  I noticed the coach arrive so I went over and asked for the coach passes.  The coach tells me he doesn't have them.  Our local rule is "No Pass, No Play."
I explain to the coach that we may not be able to play as the league does not allow anyone without a coaching
pass to be in the technical area. I went and talked to the center referee who had the same position as me. While we are talking, the coach approaches us and gets quite beligerent and rude, calling us "a joke."  (Coaches: if you are reading this, that approach is not the best way to get someone to try to help you out when you make a mistake).  Not only that, but he brought up the fact that the club is for under privileged kids, the implication being that somehow we are being mean to the kids.  Keep in mind, he's the one that didn't bring his pass.  I mention to the referee that I'm willing to give our assignor a quick call to double check that there is no way around this.  We agreed and I made the call.  It turns out the league is fine with it as long as one of the carded coaches from the other team is willing to monitor the opponent's bench.  It's an odd arrangement, but workable.  So we ended up doing the game.  The referee even allowed the offending (offensive?) coach to be in the technical area which he is clearly not entitled to do without a pass.  The coach later apologized for his behavior.
The interesting thing about the ordeal is during the conversation, the coach mentioned a few times that
he has a national license etc.  I pointed out that it doesn't matter since he has no coaching pass.  However,
I did have the feeling I had seen this guy before.  On the way home, my son realized who he was.  He coaches a division 1 college team!  Unbelievable.
The lesson here is this:  Make sure you know your local Rules of the Competition inside and out.  Follow the rules and you can't go wrong.  Do not be swayed by those that bend the rules for their convenience.  They will not be there when you have to defend your position and decisions.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Yes, I'm still around

I have just a short updated that is really intended to reaffirm that I'm still around and I'm still a referee.
I haven't been posting much because...well...I haven't been getting many games.  Is it me or are there less games available this season?  I got turned down early in the season for 2 tournaments that I have always worked.  Part of the problem was my fault.  I had not put in availability right away, so I ended up at the back of the line.  However, the assignor made it clear that the participating team count had declined significantly this year.  I have had a few league games this season, but I'm only getting 1 or 2 games a weekend (usually the number is 2 or 3) and they have all been small sided.  Is the economy hurting tournaments?  Have the number of U-14 and under teams declined?
Send me your comments!  Tell me if you have noticed a significant decline in teams going to tournaments.   What's going on with your league?  Are there fewer teams?  Make sure you include your state so we know where your are located.  Thanks.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Player Card Games

This weekend, I had a single U-11 game at a local club.  The game was part of a league I only work occasionally.  It just turned out that I was available and the game was being played pretty close to my house.
When I arrived, I noticed the home club had their entire team at the field (in other words, plenty of players) while the visitors were clearly short handed.  The visitors had enough to start, but we gave them 5 minutes extra to get another player or two to the field.  They started the game with 8 (In my state, we play full sided, 11 players for U-11).  The game ended up very one-sided.  At the half, the home team was up 5-0.
The rules of the competition say players arriving after the start of the 2nd half may not enter the game.  At half time, my AR pointed out that another player had arrived at the bench, but he had yet to see a player pass for the player.  I indicated that we should keep an eye on the situation and we started the 2nd half.  About 18 minutes into the 2nd half, the coach calls for a sub.  My AR waves me over.  He points out that the coach has given him a player pass, but the picture is clearly not the player standing at halfway.  I take the player pass over to the coach.  I pointed out that all players must have a pass and that the pass in my hand clearly did not belong to the player in front of me.  He mumbled something about giving me the wrong pass etc.  He was caught and he knew it.  Extra points go to my attentive AR, a young kid.
So what's the lesson I'm trying to convey here?  I guess there are two things:  First, coaches will try to get away with anything you can imagine.  That's not to say that all coaches will try to cheat.  That is not the case.  However, there are coaches that will try to get away with cheating if they can.  Second, it is easy to try to play Mr. Nice Guy and accept this player on the field since the team is playing short.  Incidentally, this player looked way under age too.  I'm guessing he was 9 and was probably the little brother of another player.  Unfortunately, you would be in big trouble if something happened to said player.  In the court room at the civil suit, you'd be asked about checking player passes etc.  Not good.
You must pay attention to these details and take all of the rules, including the administrative ones, very seriously. I put a note in my match report regarding the incident.  I also sent an email to the assignor with details of the incident.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


Those of you that follow my blog know I took a while to get to grade 7.  There was the politics of even getting considered.  There was a couple of state cup tournaments and an ODP tournament.  Several assessments and almost 2 years later, I got upgraded.  I put in for a tournament for this past weekend, my first as a 7.  You'll never guess what my assignments were...2 days of short-sided and the U-littles!  Ironic, isn't it?  It turned out to be fun and its always a good way to start the Fall season.  My son worked with me as well.
The interesting thing about the short sided game is you will often see situations that never occur at the older levels.  For example, you will see goalkeepers handle  balls kicked by their teammates on a regular basis.  You will often see balls mishandled on the goal line (so run that ball out when you are an assistant!).  There are any number of awkward and ugly tackles just because the kids are clumsy.  In short, you still have to know the Laws of the Game inside and out.  In fact, maybe more so for the little ones.  Also, you will often have teaching moments that you can take advantage of.  For example, I had a goalkeeper make a save.  The opposing team backed off, expecting him to distribute the ball.  He knelt down, put the ball down (almost having it roll over the goal line for a corner) and tied his shoe.  He then picked it back up and distributed the ball.  I let it go.  At the half, his coach and I took 30 seconds to remind him that he can't put the ball down and then pick it back up.  The coach was very appreciative and I think I managed to teach this kid something about the laws.  That's always a good thing.
We did have a really funny comment from a coach that left one of my assistants barely able to hide his grin.
I awarded a free kick for a goalkeeper handling the ball just outside the penalty area.  I'm standing to the left of goal at the top of the penalty area, with my back to the coaches.  One of the coaches yells "Is it direct or indirect?"  I reply direct.  He says "Your hand is not up so I wasn't sure." I look across the field at my assistant.  We exchanged completely puzzled looks...and then nearly lost it on the field.  Inside my head I'm saying "My hands is not up for a reason..."  Too funny.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

New Season Coming

It is that time again.  Time to prepare for the upcoming season.  I take the summer off from being a referee and do the things I don't get to do during soccer season.
As the Spring season comes to an end, I usually switch my fitness activities from a running emphasis to a cycling one.  I do this week long, 500 mile charity bike ride in the middle of the summer, so I have to prepare for it.  Now that the bike ride is over, I'm switching back to running, slowly but surely, in preparation for the new Fall season.
I'm the kind of person that needs a goal to get motivated, so I put in for a couple of early season tournaments.  If I don't commit myself, I can put off training harder, so I have to commit.
My first run in a month or so was...well...ugly.  I have the cardio fitness.  My legs, however, want to pedal a bicycle, not run.  My regimen consists of 2 or 3 walk/run workouts.  I'll run about a mile or so, and then I'll walk until my legs don't hurt.  I'll resume running until my legs tighten up again.  I continue this through my usual 5k route.  Eventually, I get back to being able to run the entire route again.  Once I've done that, I might do some longer runs and some speed work.  I like to be able to run 5 miles below a 9:00/mile pace.   I find that gives me the fitness required to do games as high as U-20.
I will be working with my older son and, at some point, my younger son as well.  He's been a grade 9 for a couple of years and will be taking his grade 8 class in late August.  I have my own tournament crew!
I'm looking forward to the Fall season.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Referee Criticism

I came across a video of Alexi Lalas discussing the quality of referees, specifically MLS referees compared to other leagues.  It got me thinking about the position of a referee and how we are completely open to criticism by observers that, for the most part, are completely biased and are generally lacking in any understanding of the LOTG.
Most of my readers referee youth soccer matches.  I'll guess the average reader of this blog has been a referee for a fairly short amount of time (less than 2 years) and works mostly U-16 and below games.  I know there are a few of you that work much harder games as some of you have contacting me with advice as well as constructive criticism (thanks, by the way).  Undoubtedly, we've all experienced criticism from fans, coaches and players.  I think this criticism can result from three major categories:
  1. A mistake in application of the LOTG or Rules of the Competition
  2. A disagreement with a judgment call or decision
  3. Ignorance of the LOTG
The first one is easy to fix.  Know the LOTG inside, outside, backward and forward.  Regardless of what games you are doing, you have to know the Laws.  There is no excuse for not knowing.  Know your competition rules.  Don't do a game in a particular league or tournament if you are not willing to review their rules before the game.  It's easy and prevents all issues related to this problem.  If you want to be particularly knowledgeable, go to the US Soccer store and get a copy of "Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game."
The second item is interesting.  Realize early in your career that very few participants in a soccer match are unbiased.  I'd venture to say the number is usually 3.  Coaches, players, parents and other observers always have an opinion about every call you make.  When you make a call, you will usually upset about 50% of the people observing the game.  That's just the way it is.  Since that is immutable, make sure you are making the best calls you can by knowing the LOTG (see above), being fit enough to be in a good position to make the call, and by doing the best you can with foul recognition and the like.
Also related to number 2 is the idea of view point.  You are the only one on the field with your view.  That goes for your assistants as well.  Realistically, in a perfect situation, you are only going to have 3 legitimate views on a given play.  Most of the time, you'll have 1 or 2.  You have to make the call on those views since the others (coaches, parents, players) don't count.  Keep in mind, that doesn't mean they didn't see something you didn't.  That different view on a play is the basis for a lot of referee criticism. Do the best you can with what you see and don't worry about the rest.  You can only call what you see.
From personal experience I can tell you that most coaches and nearly all parents and players have never read the Laws of the Game.  Even if they have, they certainly haven't read any of the documents available to interpret the laws.  Many coaches and almost everyone else at a game rely on their understanding of the laws, developed over years of being around the game.  This understanding includes the many myths of the game (no spin on the ball during a throw in, no foul if players gets the ball first, etc.).  I've never understood why coaches don't read the laws.  I just don't get that.  Did you know there is a watered down version of the laws available?  It's called "Laws of the Game Made Easy" and is sold by the US Soccer Federation.  Would things be a little different if all parents and players had to read this book?  It's hard to guess.
So, the next time you are working a game, remember the only thing that is important is you do the best job you can.  You are not there to please the spectators and coaches.  You are there to provide a safe, fair game for the players.  That is your only role.  The other stuff is not important.

Monday, May 17, 2010

It's OK, Because the Player is Talented

I wasn't going to put in availability this weekend. My older son's team made it to the state cup quarter finals and my younger son's team had a tournament. I got an email from my assignor basically saying he was short of referees AND he had a number of older teams playing, so he needs some experienced officials. I relented and put in for Sunday after getting the OK from my son to miss his game.
Our scheduled had us doing a U-14 girls league game, a U-18 women's state cup game and a U-18 men's league game. The games are played a few towns over. I had worked with one of the other officials before. The other was new to me.
I ended up doing both of the U-18 games. To be honest, I was wondering how I was going to perform, doing two long, fast games, back-to-back. It turned out OK. I guess my conditioning is better than I thought!
The first game for me was the U-18 state cup game. I like doing these games because there is a little more pressure to perform well, and I think good officiating is noticed and appreciated in these games. Unfortunately, the game turned out to be rather one-sided. The winning team had some real skill.
The second game was the U-18 men. One of the ARs mentioned to me that he had the same team last week and ended up sending off a player. Great. As usual with the 18's, we had to wait for a little while for players to show up. Again, this turned out to be a one-sided game. The visitors had some really good ball-handling skills. In fact, they were kind of fun to watch. Unfortunately, when you have a team like that playing against a weaker team, you can almost guarantee some issues.
The first half was fairly clean. The 2nd half was when the home team's frustration started to show. I sensed it coming. The away team used their skills and really was showing up the home team. That's a warning sign. I had a hard tackle early in the half that I cautioned right away. I started to notice a pattern of fouls against one of the away team's midfielders. A few minutes later, there was another hard tackle on the same player. I immediately cautioned that one as well, this time for persistent infringement. At that point, the home team coach started in on me about the cautions. He actually implied that the rough tackle was somehow justified because this midfielder was "show boating." Really? That's the first time I had heard that one! Playing well may be annoying, but it's not an infraction in the Laws of the Game.
Another interesting comment I heard again demonstrated that perhaps the home team needs to review the LOTG. After getting up by 5 goals, the visitors started just kicking the ball around. The repeatedly took the ball into the corners and just stood there. One of the home team players pointed this out to me as time wasting. Again...Really? I politely suggested he go in there and challenge for the ball.
Adding time in a one-sided game is always dicey. Sometimes the losing side wants all their time. Sometimes you're better off just ending the game to prevent any more embarrassment. You have to get a sense of what is the best option for that particular game. In this game, one of the visitors went down with a leg cramp. To be honest, I'm not convinced it was real, but you it's hard to say. The home team actually asked me if I was keeping track of the lost time. They made it clear, they wanted to try to get a goal, so I added all the time at the end. Again, be aware of the atmosphere of the game before you add time in a lop-sided match.
Fortunately, the game ended without a major incident, although we did have 4 cautions.
I received an interesting comment from the visiting coach after the game. The league has an optional referee rating on their web page. He said he felt we really controlled the match well and wanted to make the league aware of us. That's always nice.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Upgrade Soon

7! I can't really describe the happiness, and relief, that I feel today.  I finally passed my grade 7 assessment, so I should be upgraded shortly.  It's been a nearly 2 year long endeavor and I've gone through quite a few lows to get here, having failed 2 assessments along the way.  All of that said, I've really made a lot of improvement over the last 2 years as well.  The entire process has exposed me to a higher level of officiating that I would not have otherwise experienced.
In my state, the upgrade process happens like this:
  1. Submit your game log for inspection
  2. Register for the upgrade class and pass the written test
  3. Pass the fitness test
  4. Pass an upgrade assessment
 The process seems so simple, doesn't it?  Yeah, right.  That's what I thought.  Before continuing, I should point out that the upgrade process is described in detail in the Administrative Handbook.  Everything you need to know is in there.  Your state may implement the process differently, so work closely with your state committee.

Submit Your Game Log

You do keep a game log, right?  You should be logging every game you do.  I use Google Docs to keep mine.  Any spreadsheet application will work.  You can even use a piece of paper.  Whatever method you use, log your games, even if you have no intention of upgrading.  You never know.  Your log should include the date and time of the game, both team names, the location of the game, the names of the other referees, your role in the game (AR, Referee, or 4th) and the final score.  You can probably dream up a few other things you might want to track.  In order to upgrade, you're going to need this.  Currently, the 8-to-7 upgrade requires 75 games as the referee and 25 games as an assistant.

Upgrade Class

Next, you have to get 5 hours of "Intermediate Level Training."  In my state, there is a formal "upgrade class."  I understand that some states have an intermediate class, open to all who want to attend.  Whatever the case may be, you need the 5 hours.  You must also pass the written test with a score of 85% or better.  I've never understood why new referees only need a 75%.  It seems to me, 80% or 85% for new referees isn't asking for a lot.  I got a 99% this time.  That perfect score is eluding me.  I always get within 1 or 2 points and then zone out on some ridiculous question!
The content of the class itself is more advanced than what you'll experience at your annual re-certification.  You probably won't see any review of the LOTG.  You will see presentations on more abstract topics like game flow and player management.  If you can get the intermediate class, do it.  It's worth it.  The content will make you a better referee, regardless of your desire to upgrade.

Fitness Test

I find many referees are terrified of the fitness test.  In reality, it's not that hard.  For grades 7, 6 and 5, there are 3 parts of the fitness test:
  1. 12 minute run (Cooper Test)
  2. 50m dash
  3. 200m dash
First, a 12 minute run, or "Cooper Test", is performed.  Basically, you run around a track for 12 minutes, and you are measured on the distance you are able to cover.  At my age, I am required to run 2000m, or 5 laps, on a track.  It's really not that hard.  That amounts to about 9:30 per mile pace.  That bar is pretty low.  This year, I managed about 2500m.  My first time through, I went a little further, but I realized there wasn't any point to that and I think it hurt my sprints.
After the long run, there are 2 sprints; One is 50m and the other is 200m.  My requirements are 9.0 seconds and 40 seconds, respectively.  I do OK on the 200m, beating the time handily, but I struggle a bit on the shorter sprint.  I really need to concentrate on going all out to make sure I get that time.


Ah, the assessment process...the bane of a referee's existence...
If you've never been assessed, I suggest trying to get one done.  Basically, it works like this:  You contact your State Director of Assessment with the details of a game you are going to referee.  They send out an assessor and this person watches the game.  After the game, you have a post-game debrief where the assessor will give you feedback about your performance.  You then receive an assessment form. Upgrade assessments have a score that indicates whether or not you passed.  Developmental assessments do not indicate a score, but are very useful in getting an idea of the things you need to improve.
In the case of an upgrade assessment, the game can be deemed un-ratable, meaning you didn't fail, the game just wasn't adequate to get a good idea of your abilities.  Because assessments can be tough to arrange for some, this can be quite frustrating.  For an upgrade, the game must be U-17 or better, with 45 minute halves and you must have ARs.  In my area, there are not that many of those games, so they aren't easy to get.  Once you get it, you have to get the assessor out to see it.  That is not guaranteed.  So, to go through all that and have the game be un-ratable is tough.  Fortunately, it didn't happen to me.  However, I know MANY referees that have had un-ratable games.
Last year, I failed two assessments.  For upgrade, you are required to pass one.  If you fail it, you must pass two.  That's why I had two.  My first one was at state cup.  Honestly, I had a horrible game.  I was so focused on the assessment that I made myself very nervous and didn't do well at all.  Also, I don't think I was ready.  I didn't have enough U-17+ games under my belt.  A few months later, I had another assessment on a U-20 game that honestly, I felt I should have passed.  The thing about assessments is they are very subjective, just like refereeing a game.  That second failure ended my upgrade effort last year.
Interestingly enough, when I did the ODP tournament last spring, I received several developmental assessments.  Two of the assessors actually asked me why I wasn't a 7 yet!  It just shows you that the process can be frustrating, but you have to stick with it and keep going.  I'm proof of that.
Starting in 2010, there is a new assessment grading system in place.  I don't know all the details, but the new form is clearly based on the 2009 directives and is far less subjective, in my opinion.  I had my passing assessment this year on a U-19 game.  The game wasn't that hard (it was rated "easy"), but hard enough to be ratable, fortunately.
So, there is is!  I'm finally done with the requirements for my grade 7 upgrade.  In the next couple of weeks, I have to be sure to follow up with my SDA to make sure the "administrative upgrade" paperwork is done, but that should be it.


Some people have asked me "What does the upgrade get for you?"  That's a really good question.  The reality is I probably won't get to grade 6.  The game requirements are such that I'd probably have to start doing adult games instead of youth to get to the required game count any time soon.  I'm not sure I'm willing to do that.  I'm in my 40's.  Although my fitness is excellent, I'm going to start slowing down at some point, so I have a time window to get the game requirement done.  I think getting the 7 upgrade has done a few things for me.  First, it is the "stamp of approval" I personally needed for taking this job seriously and making an effort to do it right. Second, it gives me the opportunity to become an assessor and maybe work with new referees and help them along.  Last, it gives me additional credibility to get better games when going to assignors that I haven't work for previously.
Going forward, to keep my new grade, I have to take the fitness test every year.  Some see it as a hassle, but I see it as a reason to keep my fitness up.  Some states require a maintenance assessment each year as well.  I don't believe mine does.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Working with Another New Referee

Last weekend (yes, I'm a little behind), I spent 3 games working with a good friend of mine that I had not seen in a while and a new referee.  Long time readers know I like to work with new referees.  I think it's important to get them started in the right direction.  I think a positive first couple games for a new referee goes a long way in getting retention numbers higher.  I also think it's important to have someone that (presumably) knows what they are doing to get rid of a new referee's bad habits right away, before they become permanent.
This young lady did a good job.  She was my AR for our first game.  Like all newly certified teenagers, her mechanics were tentative as she was unsure of herself and clearly was horrified at the idea of making a mistake.  I got the impression fairly quickly she knew the laws pretty well and just lacked confidence.  We tried to build her up at half time and we noticed some improvement in the second half.  My buddy, working as the other AR, noticed she seemed to be getting caught up watching the game when the ball got close to her and he pointed out that she needed to stay on her offside line, given that offside is her first priority.  She adjusted to his advice and did better.
For the second game, my friend was in the middle and I was an AR.  We noted more confidence in her mechanics.  She was taking a second to come square to the field and give a better signal.  This seemed to give her a chance to get her direction right in her mind as well.
We had one list game.  I was the referee again.  This was the oldest teams of the day (14 year old boys) and the speed picked up a little bit.  This new referee did well.  She even signaled for a couple of fouls and she was correct.
By the end of the three games, she was clearly mentally tired, but she still had a smile on her face and seemed happy with the day.  Hopefully, she sticks with it and we see her again soon.  With any luck, we'll get her in the middle on a short sided game and see how she likes it.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Good Day at the College Showcase

I worked a really nice college showcase over the Easter weekend.  Going into the tournament, I wasn't sure how it was going to work out.  I had come down with a nasty cold earlier in the week and it was unseasonably warm.  I was very concerned how I was going to hold up.  Fortunately, for whatever reason, I did not get assigned on the Friday of the tournament so I only had one day to worry about.
As is the custom at this tournament, we received our field assignment upon arriving at the facility.  I was put with three very experienced referees, one of which I had worked with before.  At these higher level tournaments, it's always good to be with a quality crew because you can learn so much and expose yourself to other styles of game management.  Always be an observer when working with others. You can sort out the good and bad, but it's all good for your experience.
We had eight games scheduled for the day.  Someone likes me somewhere, because I was again scheduled for one of the bracket final games (in this case, U-17 boys).  After running my first two games on the side, I decided I felt decent (not great) and I'd make it through the day without passing out on the field!
As I mentioned earlier, I was working with quality officials.  The thing I noticed is how their game styles differed.  One guy had mechanics that were very, very crisp.  It was almost like he was used to working games in large stadiums where you have to be a little more theatrical with your mechanics so they can be seen from distance.  Also, he was very (maybe overly?) polite to everyone on the field.  I'd very much like to see him do a very physical, nasty game to see if he operates the same way and keeps that persona.  I think he might.
Another of the guys on the crew was very particular about things on the field.  He was bordering on "Blade of Grass Syndrome."  Kicks had to be taken from the exact spot of the foul and he called some things I thought were trifling.  That said, both of these guys were quite successful.  It shows you that different styles work for different officials.  I think you have to find your style that works for you.  It's helpful to see others work to discover your own personal style.
As is my nature, I go find my teams about 25 minutes before game time.  Remember, in a tournament, you almost never have enough time between games.  Most of the tournaments I work allow about five minutes.  In a four person rotation, you should be off right before you're in the middle, so there is no excuse for not having your teams checked-in and ready to go as soon as the current game is completed.  I collect the passes, make a cursory inspection of players equipment, remind the coaches about the duration of the halves and the tournament substitution procedures, collect a game ball and do the coin toss.  When the current game is done, we are walking onto the field.  The only thing we have to wait for is the two assistants to get some water and we're ready to go.
My first middle of the day developed into a decent game.  The two teams played well and it was a competitive match.  It was a one-goal differential most of the match so my decisions were critical in that they could effect the outcome.  At one point in the game, we were heading toward white's goal.  I was about 10 yards out from the left side of the penalty arc, almost directly behind the attacking player, heading toward the left corner flag.  As the attacker crosses the penalty area line, he is halted by two defenders, standing about four feet apart.  They kick at the ball.  The attacker takes an obvious (to me) dive to the ground, rolls over and holds his arms up as if to say "Did you see that foul?"  Every match has that "moment of truth" decision.  This one was easy.  I yell "Get on your feet!  I'm coming back to you!" as the ball heads toward the touch line.  The ball is played out and I immediately caution the player for Unsporting Behavior (simulation).  The funny thing is, as I'm writing the details down, one of the attacker's OWN TEAMMATES sidles up next to me and says "Sir, that was the worst dive I have ever seen."  Having not been fooled by the simulation, I felt like I had earned the respect of the players.
During one of the games were I served as an assistant, we had a serious injury.  A player was fouled (careless trip, nothing serious).  When he fell to the ground, he apparently separated his shoulder.  He was down on the field for some time, being dealt with by the tournament medical staff.  In a situation like this, it is important to note all the pertinent facts on the game card like the time of the injury, the player's number and any associated misconduct that might have occurred.  Leagues and tournaments have insurance for these situations.  If a claim is made, your game card will be used to validate the injury occurred on the field, during play.  Don't forget to file a complete game report!
The last game of the day was also my last game in the middle.  It was the final for the U-17 boys.  From the kick off, I knew this was going to be a good game.  Both teams moved down the field like gazelles, which was not good since I was just getting over a cold and I had already worked five games.  Fortunately, I'm the kind of person that can gut it out and go hard anyway.  It is one of my strong points.
Given the importance of the game, both teams were trying to get every call they could.  I think I did a good job managing the flow of the game by being very selective with fouls.  Neither team seemed to mind and played through the trifling stuff.  I met the occasional appeal with a quick word and moved on.
I will often attempt to manage players with a few words or a formal conversation before I go to the cards.  I find this to be effective in most cases, and this game was no exception.  The game was well under control through the first half.  In the second half, things got only slightly warmer and a caution at mid-field for an off the ball shove quickly calmed things down.  The push occurred almost right next to me as I was getting wide to see play, which had moved toward the goal.  A red defender shoved a white attacker while red was playing the ball in white's penalty area.  I blew the whistle for the foul and showed the red player the card.  Red's coach yells out to me that I can't move the ball all the way out to mid field for the foul!  WHAT!?  I didn't expect that from a fairly high level coach, but you hear it all when you are a referee.
Late in the game, white is down by a goal and playing hard to get the draw.  Red gets through at mid field and dribbles to the top of the right side of white's penalty area.  He beats the defender, and turns in toward the goal.  He is then tripped from behind.  Let's see:
  1. Defenders to beat?  none.
  2. Direction to goal? check.
  3. Distance to ball?  check.
  4. Distance to goal?  check.
Off went the defender.  He didn't seemed that surprised and neither did anyone else.  After the game, the coach unexpectedly said he agreed with me on the decision.  You don't hear that often.
I felt like I had a couple of really good games.  Lately, I have felt like my experiences over the last few years are really starting to pay off and I'm doing some solid officiating.  That's a good thing, but I won't lose sight of how quickly that can change.  Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Challenging Tournament Weekend

I had a great weekend working a large tournament in the area.  With the decidedly Spring-like weather and good soccer, I couldn't have asked for more.
I was originally scheduled to work a tournament site that hosts the younger boys games, but at the last minute, I was moved to the site with the older teams.  I wasn't going to complain as I need the field time with the bigger boys.
In one of the games in which I was an AR, we had an interesting bit of play.  The white team came through alone about 30 yards out, making a run toward the left side of the goal.  The keeper came out to meet him and the attacker flicked the ball toward the right post.  He didn't get all of it and it slowly bounced toward the post.  A black defender got to the ball and instead of clearing it, kicked it straight up in the air.  Naturally, the keeper caught it coming down.  I popped the flag immediately.  The referee looked at me a little confused and came walking over.  I told him this play falls under the "deliberately kicked to the keeper" part of Law 12 and that it was an indirect kick to the attackers.  There was much protest as the defenders felt it wasn't a "pass-back" etc.  The indirect kick resulted in a goal.
I was a bit nervous about my decision, until I check the "Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game."  Section 12.20 tells us this:
A goalkeeper infringes Law 12 if he or she touches the ball with the hands directly after it has been deliberately kicked to him or her by a teammate. The requirement that the ball be kicked means only that it has been played with the foot. The requirement that the ball be "kicked to" the goalkeeper means only that the play is to or toward a place where the ‘keeper can legally handle the ball. The requirement that the ball be "deliberately kicked" means that the play on the ball is deliberate and does not include situations in which the ball has been, in the opinion of the referee, accidentally deflected or misdirected.
So, in this case, the defender deliberately kicked the ball.  Obviously, it was kicked to where the keeper could legally handle the ball.  We have to get away from calling this a "pass back" because that results in too much confusion.  This surely falls into the category of Myths of the Game.
When I was in the middle, there was 2 plays that were interesting when compared.  I got a lot of grief from one of the coaches on this.  In one case, we have a high ball come in on red's keeper.  Two gray players are in front of him and to either side.  As the ball comes down, the keeper reaches over the players and catches the ball before they can head it.  On the way down, he hits one of the gray players shoulders and that player falls to the ground.  All player eyes were on the ball.  To me, there was no hint of foul play.  About 2 minutes later, red is attacking and they come free at the top of the penalty area.  Gray's keeper comes out.  As red shoots, the keeper slides through the attacker.  This is not red tripping over the keeper.  This is the keeper sliding through the legs of the attacker.  I whistle hard and point to the spot.  The difference between the two plays, in my opinion, is the first case is the keeper playing the ball and inadvertently getting a player.  The 2nd play is the keeper taking the ball, or the player, or both in a careless fashion.  After the game, the coach ripped me pretty good.  His take was I needed to be "consistent" etc.  I've never understood that.  We penalize the team that commits the fouls without regard for making the count event out.  I feel confident I made the correct decisions here.  That said, it did get me thinking about how much leeway we give to keepers.  Do we let them get away with too much?  Do we do our best to make sure we protect them when necessary, but punish them when they take advantage of their position?  Give that some thought.  The laws make it clear that keepers are just like any other player, aside from their ability to handle the ball.
The next day, I was with another crew on an adjacent field.  I knew right away this was going to be a better day.  These guys were in real good shape, and based on the first game (I watched as I had the 2nd middle), they were also very experienced.
The 2nd game of the day was my first in the middle.  The game started pretty well, but it was clear one of the teams was weaker.  About midway through the half, I started to get a lot of complaining from that team's bench.  So much so that I gave the coach the "stop sign" hand and a run by saying "Enough coach!"  I was trying to be patient as it seemed they were getting frustrated.  Going into the 2nd half, all was going pretty well.  There was a routine careless charge in front of the benches which I immediately called.  Naturally, it was against the complaining coach's team.  The coach just starts screaming "what is the call?  WHAT IS THE CALL?"  I stopped play and motioned the coach onto the field.  I started the "Ask, Tell, Remove" procedure outlined in the 2009 directives by saying "Coach, I'm asking you to calm down.  I've already talked to you once."  Well, this guy was incensed I guess (by a trivial careless foul call).  He wouldn't stop.  I had enough, so I dismissed him.  I admit, I probably could have given him one more chance, but I've seen that back-fire previously.  The level of anger in this coach made it clear to me he wasn't going to get better, and I sensed he was getting his players wound up as well.  This is not good so off he went.  Interestingly enough, I got a little push back on that one from the assignor.  Personally, I'm starting to wonder if maybe the assignor is paying a little too much attention to the tournament organizers and the political aspect of the tournament and not enough to the behavior of the teams and coaches, but that's another post for another day.
About 5 minutes later, there was a reckless tackle by the same team.  It seemed to be a routine caution right up until the player told me "You're f-ing terrible!"  Yeah, it seemed to meet the criteria of "Public/Personal/Provocative" so off he went.  Fortunately, it was right in front of my AR as well, so he heard it.  I noticed his (remaining) coach didn't seemed surprised at all when I went to the back pocket.  That's usually a sign that the player has been there before.
The big news of the day was I was given the U-16 final game!  I guess I've been doing these tournaments long enough that the assignor recognizes I don't screw up too badly!
The highlight of the game for me was I had that "ah ha!" moment with a player and cautioned him for persistent infringement.  I noticed his pattern of fouling pretty early.  He was the white team's right back.  His play was kind of ugly when challenging for the ball near the flag.  Lots of arms over shoulders and hands on jerseys etc.  I talked to him after the 2 foul (and 1 or 2 triflings that I let go).  He committed another foul at about half way.  I called him over and was able to point to each spot on the field where he had committed all the fouls.  When you are able to do that, everyone on the field is OK with the caution and also knows you are paying attention.
It turned out the be a really interesting game.  The under-dog team went on to win, stunning the favored side!  It was a well played game and I felt like it was one of my better outings.  That's a nice way to end a tournament!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Stormy Spring Opener

I finally got out on the field this weekend.  To be honest, I didn't think it was going to happen.  I live in the mid-Atlantic region.  We were hit by rain and wind on Friday and Saturday that honestly had me contemplating building an ark in the back yard.  Seriously, it was really nasty.
Fortunately, my Sunday games were scheduled for a high school turf field, so I knew field conditions would not be an issue.  However, I did not completely anticipate the issue of getting to the field.  The high school is about 25 miles from my house, through relatively rural towns.
As is my habit, I time it so I arrive at the field at least 30 minutes before the game.  In this case, because of the distance, I decided to get there 40 minutes early.  That was a good decision.  The storm had caused so much chaos that it took me much longer to get to the field than usual.  One small town got hit hard by the storm.  There were downed trees literally everywhere.  I was detoured 3 times going through town.  I saw drooping utility lines in many places.  Traffic was tough on those 2-lane county roads.  Between two of the towns there are about 10 traffic lights.  Only 1 was functional.  It was chaos.  The lesson here is you must anticipate how long it will take to get to the field and plan accordingly.  Fortunately, I got there about 25 minutes before game time.  One of the teams was running significantly late so it worked out.
We had 3 games on Sunday, U-13 girls, U-19 boys and U-11 boys.  I always tell my assignor to send me wherever he needs me, regardless of distance.  I don't mind driving.  It was obvious why he sent me to this field.  One of the guys I worked with was a solid referee, but clearly did not have the fitness to run with U-19 boys and the other guy was a brand new official and only about 17 years old.
We kicked off the cob webs pretty quickly in the U-13 game.  It was very windy so we had to work a little harder to communicate on the field.  Everything went well.  We did have one issue I wanted to mention.  Just before the game started, I asked the guy in the middle about half-duration.  He said "35 minutes."  Since I didn't have the game card, I took his word for it.  It turns out this age plays 40 minute halves.  This was discovered at half time.  The correct solution is to get the teams right back on the field for the remaining 5 minutes, then break for the half.  This referee decided to do a 45 minute second half which is not the correct solution.  Section 7.3 in the "Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game" says this:
If the referee ends play early, then the teams must be called back onto the field and the remaining time must be played as soon as the error is detected.
Obviously, this could have been handled better.  I should have pushed harder for the correct solution, but I am reticent to be seen as a "know it all."  Otherwise, the game went well.
I am really starting to enjoy doing the older boys games.  I was looking forward to this test of my fitness.  I hope to upgrade to grade 7, so getting a U-19 game is a big deal.  Also, they are few and far between in this area.  The game was fairly straight forward.  The first half went well.  Play was fast, but not as fast as the Super Y League games I did in the summer.  My fitness was better than I had expected and I was able to keep up with play just fine.  It was a well matched game, arriving at the half, 3-0 in favor of the visitors.  In the second half, the home team managed a goal and I thought the game would get more competitive, but they ended up giving up a few and the game eventually ended 6-1.  A few positives came out of the game.  I mentioned in the Fall I was having positioning problems.  I was getting in the way of the players too often.  The issue seems to be better and I managed to stay out of the way for the most part.  I find it's actually a benefit to be further from play in the older games than I would be in the younger games.  Being further away (20 yards) gives you a wider view of what's going on and allows you to keep out of the way. 
Also, I felt good about my ability to set boundaries for the players early.  There was a few aerial balls early on that I yelled "Straight up guys!" while the ball was in the air.  In one case, a player went over the back of another.  I called the foul and said to the player "I said straight up..."  That was the last time I had to mention it for the rest of the game.  Proactive refereeing works.
The third game of the day was good.  The new guy that we worked with had never done a game in the middle.  He had a few on the side.  I encouraged him to do the last game.  We talked for a few minutes before.  I just told him to run flag to flag and call the simple, obvious falls.  Leave the rest to us and he'd be fine.  I gave him a whistle and let him borrow one of my watches and coin (Yes, he's a young guy and doesn't have all his stuff yet).  He did pretty well.  His position was a little awkward.  He had his back to his AR's a little too often.  At the half, I told him a trick someone told me.  When you cross mid-field, always run along the left side of the center circle.  This forces you to get wide enough.  I also told him to try to stay behind play a little more and keep his chest square to the goal line so he can see play and his AR at the same time.  It worked really well.  His 2nd half was much better.  He even made a couple solid foul decisions.  I really enjoy working with new referees.  I think I can make a significant contribution doing this if the opportunity comes up.
It was great to get out on the field again.  Let me know how your Spring season starts!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Spring 2010

Well, it's finally here!  No, I'm not referring to Spring.  That's a few weeks off.  I am talking about the impending Spring season.  I live in the Northeastern United States.  The amount of snow we had this year was unbelievable so I can assure you I'm ready for soccer.
Last night we had our pre-season, local league meeting for referees.  It went well, although I would say these meetings are most useful for the referees that are not going to show up in the first place.  The state committe was there reviewing some points of emphasis which I found useful.  The league reviews issues about filling out game cards and the like, but the neglect to review competition rules.  You would think they would take advantage of having everyone in the same room.  The referee assignors go over things like showing up to the field properly dressed and how to make nice with coaches.  Again, these items are really not for the 80% that show up at the meeting.  They are targeted to the 20% that do not.
With all the bad weather we've been having, I've been working like a crazy man to get my fitness level to an acceptable level.  It has been tough between missing days because of snow covered roads, family schedule conflicts and just plain laziness.  That said, I'm back up to 3 or 4 miles of running so I should be OK.
I put in availability for the first weekend (3/14), but the weather forecast is not looking good.  I'm guessing we'll be rained out.  Sooner or later, I'll be back on the field!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

2010 Recertification

That time of year has rolled around once again.  I attended the 2010 recertification this weekend.
I don't look at recertification as a hassle or something I just have to get through.  I see it as an opportunity to see friends, off the field and to spend some time talking about something we all enjoy:  the beautiful game.  I'm always interested in what the instructors have to say at recertification.  It gives one an indication of the kinds of things we, as referees, aren't doing well.
This year's certification was formatted a little different than previous years.  First, we went through the procedures for handling infractions on penalty kicks.  Apparently, this is a really big problem as we went through this last year as well.  It seems that referees don't understand the indirect free kick result when the attacking team breaks the rules.  Here is a table that I found in the "Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game":
Consequences of an Infringement of Law 14

Who Infringed?

Ball goes into goal

Ball does not go into goal



Indirect Free Kick at Spot of Infringement




Both Attacker and Defender


I think the key "take away" from this is the indirect kick results when the attacking team infringes and the ball does not go into the goal. What happens to the ball otherwise is irrelevant. For example, if the goalkeeper makes a save, it's still an indirect kick for the defenders. If the ball goes over the goal, out of play, it's still an indirect kick.
After this quick review, we took our test.  The test is funny.  I'm happy to say I always score very high...but I never get 100%.  It drives me crazy.  There is always 1 or 2 questions I don't read carefully, or that are worded strangely enough to cause me to get them wrong.
It appears there isn't much that has changed with the LOTG this year.  I found a few very minor things that probably won't affect anyone doing youth games.  There is a change regarding the certification of youth fields.  There is a change to the procedures for kicks from the mark as it relates to excluded players.  It seems they cannot participate once they are excluded.  I suppose this refers to them possibly getting back on the list due to a goalkeeper injury.  There's also a change to the Technical Area section.  I couldn't figure out what changed here but I found another web site that says a section was deleted that specified the person has to sit down when they are done with their tactical instructions.  Again, nothing of real concern to the youth referee.
(Not Really) New Assistant Referee Mechanics
We reviewed the new "flag across the hips" mechanic again. Apparently, referees in my state didn't get it last year when we reviewed it.  Are you familiar with this new mechanic?  It is used in 3 situations:
  1. When an Assistant Referee indicates a foul, the mechanic is used to tell the referee the foul occurred in the penalty area.
  2. When the referee calls a foul, the assistant referee uses the mechanic to tell the referee the foul occurred in the penalty area.
  3. During a penalty kick, the assistant referee uses the mechanic to indicate the goalkeeper came off the goal line.
The flag is held horizontally across the thighs. has a good explanation here.
So there you have it.  I'm certified for another year.