Saturday, March 31, 2007

My First Match (As the Center!)

I finally managed to get a match in as the center referee. It went pretty well and I learned quite a bit. I should point out, it was a U-9 match. Yes, it's not exactly World Cup, but I look at it a different way. First, I realize I have very little experience, so keeping me on a small field with slower players is a good idea. Second, the match is important to the players, regardless of the age or skill level.
Everything you read about becoming a referee points out that you need to demonstrate your authority before the match begins by doing a few important things. One is to be on time. On time in the referee world means 30 minutes before the match is scheduled to start. Also, I agree that it is critical to be dressed neatly, appropriately and professionally. Make sure you have the correct USSF referee uniform. The correct uniform is important, but it is just as important to wear it correctly. Make sure your uniform is clean, pressed neatly and your shirt is tucked in. It makes a difference, as the coaches perception of you is formed in the first 10 seconds of meeting each other.
The match was scheduled to start at 3:30. I arrived at the field around 2:50 and the preceding match was still being played. I walked around the field to the team side, noticing that both of my teams were starting to arrive. I introduced myself to both coaches. Interestingly enough, they both handed me their league-supplied game cards and payment for the match. I didn't have to ask, which was nice.
I had never done player check-in before. It's pretty straight forward and it went well. I merely asked the girls if they were wearing any jewelry. The funny thing is, they all checked, as if some jewelry may have appeared on them! I had to laugh at that one. Just so I had something to say, I asked the coaches to mind the substitution process and make sure their subs stayed on the sideline until the substituted players came off the field. Turns out that was a good idea, as the process went very smoothly throughout the match.
The match preliminaries were pretty smooth as well. Keep in mind, the players have been through this before, so they know the routine. As long as you go through it like you've been through it before, they won't know the difference.
Before your first match, you'll go through everything that you need to do 100 times. Ok, maybe even more than 100 times. Naturally, you'll make a mistake anyway. Mine was not asking the coaches to get club linesman to assist with the touch lines. Of course, I realized this just as I start the 1st half. Fortunately, this mistake wasn't that big of deal. I just had to make an effort to be closer to the ball than I otherwise might have had to.
After all that description, most readers would expect a detailed description of the actual match play. To be honest, the match went as expected, so there isn't much to say. However, I do have a few observations. It seems that even mundane calls can be controversial. I made a throw-in call that seem to set off one of the coaches. Did I miss something? Did I just zone out? I don't think so, but it does make you wonder. Parents don't know anything about the Laws of the Game and must be ignored. This was a very tame match, yet some of the things parents were yelling were comical. There were surprisingly few fouls I had to call in this match. I'm interested to know if this is typical of this age level, or just two non-physical teams. In one regard, the younger games are more difficult than the older levels. Young players are far more likely to commit more technical infractions of the law . For example, one of the goal kicks in my match was intercepted a few feet before it left the goal area. I don't think I've ever seen that happen in U-12 and above. You really need to pay attention with the young ones!
An issue I did not anticipate was how difficult it is to get direction correct after half time. My brain seemed to struggle with the change in the 2nd half. If anyone has suggestions on minimizing that issue, let me know! Suggestions are always appreciated.
Oh, and in case you're wondering, I think I did blow one call. A player put both of her hands up to blow a ball that was coming at her neck. I did hear a few parents scream for a "hand ball," but I didn't blow the whistle. In hind sight, I'm convinced it wasn't necessary as she was protecting herself, and these are U-9's afterall.
There was at least one positive decision I made. One player took a ball in the face maybe 8 yards in front of her own goal. I blew the whiste immediately as it was obvious she was not going to continue to play. I also immediately waved her coach on the field. She wasn't seriously injured, but no one questioned my choice to protect the players. As an added bonus, I managed the dropped ball correctly.
I read somewhere that many referees go over their match in their head after leaving the field. I didn't think I would do that, but I can't help it. I keep thinking that perhaps I did make a few poor calls, but I guess this is part of the learning process. My calls will be improved for my next match, and that's what it is all about, isn't it?

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