Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Real Referee Shoes

As referees, I think it is time we get realistic about our footwear selection.  Selecting a pair of shoes to referee in is difficult as there just aren't many shoes available that meet both our cosmetic and performance requirements.
So what makes a good referee shoe?  We have to worry about two broad categories of requirements.  First, the shoe has to look appropriate for a referee.  If you refer to the Referee Administrative Handbook, you'll find a section called "Standards of Dress and Appearance Official U.S. Soccer Federation Referee Uniform."  In that section, appropriate referee shoes are described as follows:
"BLACK SHOES: (may have white manufacturers design) with black laces"
There isn't much room for interpretation in that.  Our shoes must be black, but can have some white in them.
Regarding performance, I want to address a myth here.  I think we would all agree that we are not players.  We have no reason to kick the ball.  So why do we often wear shoes designed for players?  Players don't normally run more than 1 game in a day.  I have often done 7 in a day.  Player shoes are designed for touch on the ball.  We don't kick the ball, ever.  Player shoes should be light weight, so they often don't have much in the way of comfort features.  Wearing player shoes as a referee never made much sense to me.  Yes, we require some traction on wet fields.  That said, I think a referee shoe needs to be more like a trail running shoe, supporting our primary active on the field...running. It is really tough to find a pair of shoes that meet these criteria.  There just aren't a lot of shoes that come in black anymore.  There are plenty of trail running shoes I could use for refereeing, but few come in black.  I have never found a pair of turf or soft ground shoes that had any kind of comfort features. They often have no support and no cushion.
My referee shoe
I was discussing this problem with my sons and they pointed out  Nike Id is a program offered by Nike, the shoe manufacturer.  The program allows the creation of semi-custom shoes by the customer.  The website allows you to select from a subset of the various Nike products, customize the product features and then order your creation.
Pictured, you will see the referee shoe I created.  It is a Nike Air Pegasus+ running shoe.  I added a trail running outsole and a "trail mesh" upper.  I then selected black for most of the colors, with the exception of the company logo and the sock liner.  I even added my initials to the tongue, in place of the Nike logo.  I visited a local retailer to try on a similar model to confirm my size.  It seems this model sizing runs similar to other running shoes.
It took about 2-3 weeks for the shoes to be manufactured and delivered.  First, I wore them around the house and out on a few errands to break them in a little.  To be honest, they really didn't need it.  They were comfortable from the moment I put them on.
I used them for 4 games this past weekend.  I really like them.  My feet didn't hurt as much as they often do after a bunch of games.  The shoes are really light and have great arch support and cushioning (maybe a little too much for me?)  The fabric seems like it will clean up easy.  The build quality of the shoe seems excellent.
The price of this particular model was $115.  At first, I thought that was kind of expensive.  After all, you can get other "referee shoes" for $70 or $80.  Then it occurred to me that I pay about $130 for my running shoes, and I buy 2 or 3 pairs of those in  a year.  When you look at it that way, it is a pretty good deal.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Success for the Young Referees

This will be a short post and serve as a quick reminder of the obligation we have to help young referees.
This weekend, I worked 2 games (U-11 and U-12) with a couple of high school age referees.  I've worked with them both before.  One is 18 and relatively new.  The other is 15, but has been around longer and seems a more savvy referee.
When we arrived at the field, I expressed my preference for them to do the games today.  The 18 year old had never done a large side game, so it was a great opportunity for her.  I worked with her enough to know she was ready.  The 15 year could easily handle the U-12 game.  I'm happy to say they both did really well.  The older referee seemed a little uncomfortable at first, but she did a fine job.  I offered a few words of advice on positioning at the half.  She adjusted and it seemed to help with her seeing a little more contact on the field.  Her biggest problem seems to be self confidence.  It improved over the course of the game. 
The younger referee did a great job on the U-12 game.  In fact, he made a terrific non-call.  From a corner kick, the defending team clearly handled a ball close to the goal line, and he saw it.  However, the ball headed toward goal so the referee "swallowed the whistle" just long enough for the ball to cross the goal line!  I was happy for him and he seemed proud of his decision.
I believe they both left that field as better referees.  As more experienced referees, I think it is important to try to help younger referees.  I often wonder why there isn't an official role for older referees to work with younger referees.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Real Disappointment Makes Me Suspicious

So far this season, I've had pretty easy games.  Generally, I will be assigned 2 or 3 games on a Sunday.  One of them is usually a U-little, short-sided game.  The others are U-11's or 12's.
This weekend, I was sent to a club in the area that is relatively new compared to some of the other clubs.  They have been around for 2 or 3 years.  It seems they are going through growing pains in that the same individuals seem to be more than one team.  Their facilities aren't great. They don't use much in the way of paid trainers and their knowledge of the game is somewhat below average.  We had a U-9 game, a U-11 game and a U-12 game.  I was assigned with two young referees.  One is a high school senior and the other is a college freshman.  The senior is a decent referee.  She needs a little more confidence, but is solid.  The college referee is very good.  He is one of the best ARs I have had.
We worked the games as usual.  Everything went very well.  In fact, the games were completely unremarkable.  The only controversy we had was finding an extra sand bag to put on the back of one of the short-sided goals.  I'm not sure any of the coaches present, on either side, said more than a dozen words to us.  It was a completely routine day of games.  The high school senior worked the U-9 game.  I did the U-11 game and the college freshman centered the U-12 game.
Later that night, I received an email from our assignor.  The coach of the U-12 game send him an email stating we were "horrible" and that we "missed 3 blatant hand balls" and there was "tons of pushing and shoving.  He actually said the club prefers a certain referee and "his crew."  More on that later.  Our assignor was looking for feedback, so I replied with comments similar to the above.
As some of you know, I work hard to try to be a quality referee as do the individuals I worked with this weekend.  We don't always get it right, but we try to do the right things for the players.  I am disturbed by this coach's actions.  It would be one thing if there was some controversial call that occurred with which he disagreed.  However, in this case, there was absolutely nothing to speak of.  I was AR1 in the game.  I didn't sense any disagreement from either team.
 2 weeks ago, I worked games at the same club.  In one of the games, the home side was completely dominating the visitors.  I was AR2 in the game.  During the half time break, AR1 made the comment that he had "encouraged" the home side coach to take a player off the field to make the match more fair.  He seemed proud that he had familiarity with the coach.  I was appalled that he had done this and expressed my concern that this was something he really shouldn't be doing.  It brings into question a referee's neutrality/impartiality.  This particular referee lives in the same town.  Going back to the email to our assignor, the referee mentioned specifically in the complaint as being preferred is also in the same town.  Perhaps I am cynical, but I am starting to wonder if perhaps this club is trying to lobby for "home" referees.  Yes, I recognize this is a tenuous connection, but it seems strange to me that a coach would express a preference for a referee that happens to live in the same town.
I really hope my assignor noticed this point.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Let's Get Going

It's been a long summer off.  I haven't done anything in the way of games as I was training for a charity bike ride with my son.  We didn't have any time for games or running.
I've spent the last 3 or 4 weeks getting my running legs going again.  I put in for a Labor Day weekend tournament and was accepted.  Unfortunately, I will doing short-side games both days.  On a side note, for those of you that are assignors:  How do you decide where to put referees in your schedule?  Do you look at grade and experience or is it based on something else?  I don't mind doing short-sided games at all, but honestly, it does make me question why I put in all the time and effort to get upgraded to 7.  It seems that assignors just don't care about grade.  I don't understand that.
Given that I want to make grade 6 some day (before I'm too old to pass the fitness test), I have asked to be assigned to some adult games.  Unfortunately, I have not figured out how to get the adult assignor to respond to me.  I tried email.  That doesn't seem to be the right communication channel for him.  More on that at another time.
Assault and Abuse
I came across this article on the web.  It describes a very disturbing incident involving the assault of a football referee in Sarasota county, Florida.  Here's another article that links to other stories of referee assault.  Do you think referee assaults are becoming more common?  Or are they just making the news more often?  I don't have an answer.  I believe there has been a decline in abuse from coaches, but I've seen an increase in problems with players.  Refer back to my 2011 State Cup post.  Those were some abusive players.  Occasionally, you will have teams that just do not want to play, but only want to instigate some sort of confrontation.  It is the referee's job to try to prevent that from happening, but through that prevention (by enforcing the LOTG), you may become the target of abuse and maybe even attacks.
Fortunately, the USSF has a policy for dealing with referee assault and abuse.  It is in the Referee Administrative Handbook.  See Policy 531-9.  It defines assault and abuse and also describes how to report it.  I encourage each and every one of you to report these issues when they occur.  It's the only way it is going to stop.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Referee Fired for Wearing Hijab

Wow, you can't make this stuff up.  Check out this news article.  Apparently, the Quebec Soccer Federation has upheld a local soccer association's decision to fire a teenage referee for wearing a religious head scarf while refereeing soccer.  The local association says they are "only following FIFA rules that say hijabs are a choking hazard."  Perhaps for players, but for the referee?  I looked on the FIFA site.  All I found was this article about an IFAB meeting.  At the bottom, you'll notice that the IFAB decided the hijab is addressed by Law 4 (Players equipment).  Obviously, this does not apply to referees.  What are your thoughts on this issue?  For me, I say she should be allowed to referee.  I don't see a problem.

Monday, May 23, 2011

2011 State Cup

I had a really interesting weekend at our State Cup.  I came away feeling very good about my performance.  The last time I was there, I didn't do well.  I feel like I made up for my previous poor showing.
I had a schedule of 3 games on Saturday:
  • 4th Official on a U-17 boys Semi-final
  • Referee on a U-16 boys Semi-final
  • AR1 on a U-15 girls Semi-final
On Sunday, I worked as
  • an AR on a U-15 boys final
  • an AR on a U-16 boys final
I have made an observation about our State Cup tournament.  I'm not sure it holds true for other states, but I think I'm correct in evaluating ours.  Teams often have problems related to misconduct when they get to the semi-final and final rounds.  In my state, the games before semi-finals are played at the home team's field.  The referees are selected by the local assignor.  The semi-final and final games are played at a central location and the referees are selected by the state committee.  Teams are accustomed to getting away with misconduct and irresponsible behavior in the technical area during their league games as well as the early state cup games.  I have seen it with my son's teams.  However, when a team arrives at the later games, they are getting referee crews were hand selected for their experience and high caliber of officiating.  Generally speaking, misconduct does not go unnoticed.
As a youth soccer referee, we don't often get to work as 4th officials.  The position can be really boring...or really challenging, depending on the teams and their behavior standards.  It gives one a great opportunity to use one's man-management skills.  It is not easy if you are not used to it.  When team staff are starting to get out of control, the 4th official must apply whatever skills they have to distract the attention of the individual to them and away from the referee.  The 4th official must be a calming influence.  When necessary, the 4th official must apply the "Ask, Tell, Remove" policy.  Some teams are accustomed to screaming and yelling in the technical area (see the above paragraph).  It sure is a rude awakening when they discover they have a crew that won't tolerate abuse.
My U16 semi final went well.  I thought I did a really good job, and the assessor seemed to agree.  He had a few things to point out, but they were tips for improvement, not "you got this wrong."
One of the lessons I want to impart here is that sometimes, teams just don't come to play soccer, even at a game as important as state cup.  One of my teams did not come to play (white).  It was obvious from the first whistle.  We had overly physical, cynical play from the start.  Again, perhaps this team was used to officials that let this sort of thing go.  I am not one of those officials.  The first half was an exercise in management skills.  The first few rough tackles were reward with a one-on-one conversation about how that sort of thing was not going to be tolerated.  Those conversations were followed by a caution.  By the end of the first half, I had already had one conversation with a previously cautioned player that started with "Please don't think for a second that I won't give you the 2nd caution..."
I had a conversation with the crew at the half and expressed my concern we were going to have a tough 2nd half.  The overly physical team was down 2-0 and already had 2 cautions.  They had little to lose so the game could go either way.
It turns out I was prescient.  Early in the 2nd half, we had a tackle or two that resulted in more conversations.  About midway through, one of the previously cautioned players started with very vocal dissent.  He received his second caution (after having been talked to twice before) and his second off.  This cooled the temperature of the gamed noticeably for some time.  Oddly enough, when the team started concentrate on the game, they had more success.  The game eventually got to 3-2.  White was still in the game.  Late in the game, one of white's forwards felt he had been fouled  (he clearly wasn't) and I expressed my disagreement.  White responded with an abusive statement.  I stopped play and sent him off immediately.  As a referee, you must be willing to make the tough decision.  It is not about being "hard" or "tough."  It's about enforcing the LOTG appropriately in order to make the game more enjoyable for all participants!
There was a funny incident related to the send off.  While I was writing in my notebook, one of the opponents asked me what I had sent the player of for.  I told him what the player had called me.  He said "I don't think that about you at all Sir!"  I had to chuckle at that one.
As I mentioned, the next day I had a couple of AR assignments.  The U-15 game was a tough one!  Not so much for me, but the referee.  He had 7 cautions and 4 send offs.  Yes, you read right...4.  One each for Serious Foul Play, Denies a goal scoring opportunity by foul, second caution and abusive language.  The abusive language was after the final whistle.  The player approached the referee and screamed all sorts of profanities at him.  For a moment, I thought he might be physical with him, but it didn't happen.  It was a tough game, but I thought the referee handled it as well as he could.  Again, sometimes, teams don't come to play.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Me? Really?

It's been a bit of a whirlwind couple of days.  First, I was selected to work my state's National Championship series semi-finals and finals.  I am scheduled to referee a semi-final game, run lines in two semi-final games and be the fourth official in another game.  The next day, I will be an AR in 2 final games.  Needless to say, I'm very pleased.
So you can imagine that I was quite overwhelmed when I finally received an assignment to referee a USSF Development Academy game!  I have worked as an AR on 12 or 14 of these games over the last 2 years or so. I have never been the referee in one of these game and I have been hoping I'd eventually get one.  Well, it happened!
Development academy is USSF's premier youth games.  The clubs that qualify to the academy must meet very rigid standards.  The games themselves have an extensive set of rules that must be followed.  For example, there is a specific brand and model of ball that must be used.  The referee manual specifies the inflation pressure of the ball (I'm not kidding!)  The game reporting standards are quite high and detailed.  These are, in my opinion, the best youth games you can do.
When you are assigned, you typically get two games.  The first game is U-18 and the second is U-16.  Teams at each age level are from the same club.  Presumably they travel together.  They are typically coached by the same set of coaches.  My experience has been that the U-18 game is officiated by a State Referee while the younger game is done by a grade 7.
The game I worked today was terrific!  I had two excellent AR's.  One is a grade 7 that I met when I was upgrading.  The other is a grade 5 that I've never met, but he was very helpful, offering a great deal of advice at half time.
The thing that is amazing about these games is how fast they are played.  They are even challenging as an AR. You cannot lose concentration for a moment or you will miss something.  I have not experienced this level of play anywhere else.  Getting accustomed to this speed of play is not easy.  I really didn't feel completely comfortable until 20 minutes into the first half.  I suppose if you do these games often, this isn't an issue, but that was my experience.  Also, you get a lot of chatter from the players.  They are very advanced players, so you will see all the things you hear about in certification.  There is simulation.  There is dissent.  Players will give you subtle feedback on a regular basis.  The players will try to get any advantage they can.  You have to manage free kicks to avoid any delays on restarts.  It is quite a challenge.  You must have great fitness so you can keep up.
Needless to say, this game was great preparation for my state cup game next week.  We also had a meeting this morning (it was a busy day) to go over some points of emphasis for state cup.  What I found interesting was an observation that I heard from two different people today.  At the meeting, one of the presenters, a national instructor, pointed out that controlling the technical area can be critical at state cup.  His thoughts are that this is a problem because the coaches are accustomed to being able to "game" the referee at their local field.  When they get to state cup, they end up dismissed as they are dealing with a higher level of official that will not tolerate irresponsible behavior in the technical area.  In discussing the state cup game with the referees I worked with today, they said similar things!  So, it sounds like state cup will not be quite as challenging as it relates to the level of play.  It seems there will be more of a need to exercise match control, so I'll need to think about that.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

New Faces and Ugly Weather

This past weekend, I was assigned to a girl's college showcase in the area.  The tournament takes place over several sites.  I was assigned to different sites on each day, which is something new for me.
I have stated in other posts that one needs to be careful, especially when you are new, about following the advice and example of other referees.  Be sure the advice or example is sound before you adopt it as your own.  Case in point from this weekend: I was on a four man crew and we had mostly U-17 girls all day.  It seemed we probably had the higher quality brackets as well as I recognized a few top 5 ranked teams in the mix.  I worked with 3 guys that apparently work together all the time.  One of the guys was a relatively new referee, having been certified only a couple of years.  The other two guys had been around for some time.  One was even a State Referee Emeritus.  For those of you that are not familiar with this grade, it is only attainable by referees that have been a State Referee for 3 years or more.  It basically means you are no longer a State Referee, but you were for quite some time.
The last guy I have seen around before.  He's very experienced.  I noticed that the newer guy clearly looked to the other two for guidance.  Apparently, they worked together often in league games and he respected their ability.
In observing the other three, I noticed something interesting.  The young guy had new uniforms.  He had a very positive attitude.  He called an excellent game.  The more experienced guy (the one with the grade 8/7 badge) was put together well.  He called a solid game, although he looked like maybe he had lost a step or two (I found out later he was recovering from a major medical problem).   My expectation would be that the State Referee Emeritus would be the one setting the example.  Not in this case.  This individual barely spoke a word to me.  I watched him running his line in the first game.  He wasn't staying even close to his offside position.  He seemed like he was easily distracted by the other games and the parents on his side of the field.  I had the second game and he was my AR.  I immediately noticed that his mechanics were so poor I was not completely sure what he was trying to signal at times.  I felt like I had no help on that end of the field.  Watching him do the center wasn't any better.
My point is this:  Just because someone has experience and rank doesn't mean you should use them as a role model.  When you are new, you might see that emeritus badge and assume this is a good example for a referee.  That is not necessarily the truth.  At one time, he must have been very good.  You don't get to that grade by being a terrible referee.  However, it seemed to me like he had given up and was ready to (should?) retire.
That evening, I noticed the weather report for the next day looked, well, awful.  It seemed unlikely we were going to get the day in.  Sure enough, I awoke to the sound of rain.  You can't assume things, so I proceeded to the days assignment.  We waited around a bit as the tournament was on a delay.  I finally received a field assignment and quickly got the field.  The rest of the crew arrived and we got started.  From the start, it was obvious we were not going to get the full slate of games in.  It was about 50 deg and raining almost constantly.  We got through two games and they tournament was ended.  I was not disappointed.  By that time, I was absolutely soaked and getting cold, even though I had all my cold weather gear on.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Starting Again

The horrible Winter we experienced in the Northeast appears to be over.  Time for soccer!
I have had a bit of a slow start to the season.  I was not invited to a tournament that I have done several times this year.  It seems the number of teams attending the tournament is down significantly (20%+).  I wonder, is it the economy?  Are teams forgoing tournaments they deem to be optional?
The good news is I managed to get a single day at the boys version of the same tournament this past weekend.  We had U-16 boys all day.  It was windy and cold, but I got games!  That's always a plus.  I ended up doing 2 in the middle and 4 on the sides.  That first tournament of the year is always tough!  My feet are still sore.
We had a very interesting situation arise that brought up a question about the Laws of the Game.  I was in Assistant Referee in the match.  The ball went out of play for a corner kick with seconds left.  The player taking the kick retrieved  the ball and was running back with it when the Referee whistled for half time.  There is no added time allowed in this tournament.  I turned toward the player and held out my hand waiting for the ball.  He put it on the ground, kicked it away and said "Go get your own ball!"  Obviously, there is no question of misconduct.  He was sent off for foul and abusive language.  
When we started the 2nd half, the referee asked me if the team now plays short.  I told him absolutely, they do.  We played the rest of the game that way.  When talking about the send-off with the tournament assignor, he criticized us for making the team play short.  I politely insisted that was the correct action.  The question is this:  Does this team play short in the 2nd half?
Let's see what the various documents from the federation say.  First, we know this player is to be sent off for foul and abusive language.  ATR tells us, in section 12.29:

A player who commits any of the following actions will also be sent from the
• Uses offensive, insulting, or abusive language (including nonverbal language or actions)
The added emphasis is mine.  It seems the real question is when does this person cease to be a player?  Was he a player after the whistle blew for half time?
Again, referring to the ATR, we find this is section 3.4:
Regardless of other deviations from the correct substitution procedure which the referee may allow, a substitute becomes a player for purposes of determining the consequences of misconduct when the substitute enters the field after being beckoned by the referee. When the substitute has become a player as a consequence of meeting this requirement, the player being replaced ceases to be a player.
That seems pretty clear to me.  A player ceases to be a player after they have been substituted.  In other words, one is still a player at the end of the half. 
It took some time, but I also found this item: is an official USSF site, so this is definitive advice. The team plays short.