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.