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.