Wednesday, April 29, 2009

More (Boys) National Championship Series

It occurred to me over the last day or so that I really didn't pass on anything constructive about my first state cup experience, and I have to apologize for that. My stated purpose for this blog is to try and pass on things I experience and learn, so I'm going to make good on that.

Importance of Pre-Game

How often do you deliver any kind of pre-game talk when you are the referee? I suspect many of you give the 30-second, "stay on your offside line, don't let me screw-up" talk. I'm referring to a real thorough pre-game discussion. For an example, check out the pre-game article on
My pre-game talk is far from perfect. Here are just a few of the things I talk about:
  • Make eye contact all the time
  • Don't worry about "my area/your area." Make calls based on who had a better view.
  • Watch the players behind my back.
  • You may come on the field and set up ceremonial restarts.
  • What do we know about these teams?
  • Let's review the competition rules
In my opinion, the foundation to being a quality referee is to take seriously your obligation to know the Laws of the Game inside and out, backwards and forwards. You cannot be a good official without knowing the laws. Implied in that opinion is knowing the rules peculiar to whatever competition authority you find yourself working under. For example, if you go to a tournament, and they only want substitutions on goal kicks that occur in even numbered minutes, so be it (Before you ask, I have not come across anything that bizarre). You know the rules and you follow them, or you should not work the competition.
For my first state cup game as the referee, I had AR's that I did not know. My 4th official was a guy I have worked with at USSF Development Academy games. I noticed during my pre-game that he seemed more interested in the game on the next field over than what I had to say about our impending game. I politely asked him a few times to focus on me. I reviewed all the things above and more. During the game, he tried to get me to substitute players on the opposing teams throw-in, which is directly against competition rules. In hindsight, I should have absolutely insisted he pay attention to what I was saying before the game. You must assert yourself in these situations, even if the team member is more experienced than you.
If you read my previous post, you know my game didn't go as well as I had hoped. I take some of the blame for that. I probably could have clamped down on some of the more minor stuff. As one of my colleagues pointed out in his comments, perhaps I was taking too many risks for the sake of game flow. Check out the Game Management Model 2009 directive from the USSF if you don't know what I'm referring to. The more I think about it, my demeanor changed as the stress level of the game rose. I think the game would have gone much better had I talked to the players more often. In addition to more frequent talks, my tone should have been more "I need your help with this" than "You need to change your behavior now." Things go much better if you are the coolest head on the field.
I can't stress enough the direct relationship between your fitness and the quality of your game. I believe my fitness to be very good relative to other referees doing the same types of games as me. Even with my fitness level, I was struggling in parts of the game to be as close to play as I really wanted. It was a very hot day (93° F) and this takes it's toll on you. You must work on your fitness if you want to do better games. I try to run 3-5 miles at least twice a week. I'll often do it 4 times a week. Occasionally, I'll go to the track and do intervals to maintain my speed.

Fourth Official

Being the fourth official was interesting. It is not something, as youth soccer referees, we get to do very often. As the referee, having a quality fourth official is invaluable as it takes much of the "noise" off your shoulders and allows you to concentrate on the game. The responsibilities of the fourth official are outlines clearly in the USSF's "Guidelines to Procedures for Referees, Assistant Referees and Fourth Officials." If you don't have this publication, buy it. Once a year, review the book. Pay special attention to the items that refer to the fourth as you never know when you might get to do this.
It was an interesting experience because I got to observe the game without the direct responsibility of making any calls. I don't want to give you the impression that I was sitting in a chair, sipping a cool drink. It's not like that. You must pay strict attention to the game as the referee needs to know what you saw in the even of an incident. This position is also an exercise in man management when team staff gets a little worked up. You must learn to be calming, yet assertive at the same time. You must also be clear with your instructions to the players. As they come up to half way, I immediately walk to them, ask them to tuck in their jersey, observe their shin guards and lack of jewelry and indicate where I'd like them to stand while I wait for the next opportunity to get them in. Most of all, do not let them go on the field until their teammate comes off. This is the law and you must follow it. For more on managing the technical area, check out the 2009 directive, "Managing the Technical Area."

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