Sunday, March 15, 2009

Weekend of Soccer - Part 2

More Learning at the US Development Academy Games

On Sunday, I worked two more US Development Academy games. At the risk of repeating myself, this is some good soccer!
The crew for this weekend was an interesting contrast to other weekends. The highest rank official is a grade 6 (State Referee) and the other is a 7. Both are much younger than me. On past weekends, the officials were of the same grade, but typically around the same age or a little older. For the record, I'm in my early 40's.
Typically, development academy games consist of two games on the same day. The teams are from the same club. The first game is U-16 and the second is U-18. In my area, they are played on our finest local college fields, both of which happen to be artificial turf stadiums. So far, I've been the lowest graded official and assigned to the AR-2 spot every weekend.
I made an interesting observation. While the 7 was very put together, I noticed the highest grade referee had some, well, anomalies in his uniform. He was wearing unapproved socks and a short sleeve jersey with a long sleeve base layer that didn't quite match the color of the jersey. Even the shorts where a little questionable. I was quite shocked by this as I've heard the acceptable uniform list emphasized over and over again. It was a disappointing observation. It just goes to show you that referee grade is not always the best indicator of quality.
The games went OK, although there was some notable problems. In the first game (U-16), I would say the young guy did pretty well, with maybe 2 exceptions. Early in the game, there was a "one to beat" situation. The attacker got fouled from behind about 3 yards outside the penalty area. He had one defender still in front of him, but he was heading toward goal. Personally, I though it was denying a goal scoring opportunity. I think the middle thought so after the fact. We talked a little about it at the half. After the game, I heard him talking to a guy that had come out of the stands. This guy must have been another referee as I heard him ask "What did you see on that play..." Late in the game, there was some controversy over a defender handling the ball in the penalty area. The defender and attacker fell together just outside the goal area. Their backs were to me, so I saw nothing. The middle was on top of the play. He said there was contact with the ball, but he saw it as ball-to-hand, not the other way around. The attacking team's coach really ripped him over it and kept at him after the game. At one point, the coaches wandered away for awhile. They came back a few minutes later and started on him again. Foolishly, I stepped in the middle (it was obvious the young guy was getting tired of it) and just said words to the effect of "You've had your say. He's explained his opinion. Nothing else needs to be said so let it go." It didn't go over well, but I'm not going to stand there and watch a coach dig into a colleague.
I felt really good about my performance. Given my age and experience level, I feel like I put in a top notch AR performance. I'm always on my offside line. I stay with the players even at full speed. I never take my eyes off the field. At this level, you will often get outbursts from the players. You must have thick skin and avoid flaming any emotional fires by choosing your response, if any, carefully. The players will often challenge you with statements like "Who kept them onside ref?" You have to have an answer like "#5 and #3." Sometimes saying nothing at all is better.
The 2nd game was challenging in quite a few ways. First, the official that did the middle in the first game asked me to take the senior AR spot. He had had enough from the coaches from the first game and needed a break from the berating. I was glad for the opportunity to take a shot at the team side of the field. These games have limited substitutions so there is some work to do over there. You are truly doing both the AR job and the 4th official job.
Being a U-18 game, play is quite physical. This is were reading the players becomes important. For the most part, the players were not complaining in the 1st half of the game. However, the coach of the team right behind me...was. Every time two players came together on the field, this guy was bending my ear. I largely ignored his comments other than a few "I understand coach" type replies. As the half wore own however, the game became an example of why some of the trifling stuff matters. The game was getting increasing physical. Player frustration was starting to be demonstrated. The emotion of the game was rising.
In the 2nd half, things started tense right away. Contributing to the temperature rise, the referee had some hard tackles pretty close to him that perhaps could have been called fouls. Things were getting a little ugly. At one point, I made an offside call that was close, but definitely correct. I was in my correct position during fast moving play. The forward receiving the infraction had an outburst, directed at me, that involved some profanity. The middle said nothing. I found that quite disturbing because, even if you don't see this as dissent (I did), you must make a show of having a stern talking to the player starting with the phrase "My assistant is completely off limits..."
In hindsight, the middle should have started to notice the rising emotion and started to clamp down on physical contact and some dissent. I think that would have gone a long way to controlling things. Instead, his management of the game stayed on course. It wasn't bad, it just wasn't completely appropriate for this particular game.
As tense as this game was, there was some good news. The representative from the federation took me aside and commended me on a job well done in both games. Although he's not there specifically for the referees, he does make overall game comments, which can include performance of the officials. He made a point to tell me the federation would be made aware of my performance. That made me feel pretty good, especially as I enter my grade 7 upgrade effort.
Fortunately, the game ended without any serious incident, but you could feel the pressure on the field during play. I can see how games at this level and age can blow up in your face if you aren't paying attention to the overall player temperature.

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