Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Three Games As A Soccer Referee

It's been a long time since I've shared stories about being a soccer referee. For those of you who don't know me very well (or know about this side of my life), I became a certified soccer referee in 1990. It was a great high school job since the pay was good, and I only worked on weekends giving me time to do homework and participate in activities during the week. I continued working as a referee when I returned home from college, and after taking a few years off, got recertified again around 2005. Before kids, I worked as a referee most weekends during the fall and spring seasons. In my mind, I get paid to exercise. Between all of the kids' activities, I don't work as much as I'd like, but I still try to get out when I can. I have two amazing primary assigners who I've known for years and understand my schedule. There are many times when I'll email them on Thursday to see if they have any availability for games on Sunday, and if they do, they slot me in. This post is about three games I worked this fall.

(That's not me in the picture.)

Game 1: Under 12 Girls

While I stopped working adult games at least 4-5 years ago, I generally referee games for middle school and high school aged kids meaning that this recreational league game was slightly younger than I usually work. This game featured one team with girls that were a foot taller and probably 30-50 pounds heavier than their opponents. While I probably called more fouls against the “bigger” team since it was warranted, many times, I let the teams play simply because players on the “smaller” team just bounced off players from the “bigger” team and hit the ground. After the bigger team scored a late goal on a penalty kick, one of the parents yelled for me to call it both ways. Then, as I was leaving the field, I overheard the “smaller” team’s coach explain that soccer is a physical game and that the players need to play through it sometimes. 

Most times, I forget a game as soon as it ends. This one stuck with me. Should I have called the game tighter based on the age and skill level? Would that have been unfair to the “bigger” team? I don't know, but both answers seem to be yes.

Game 2: Under 9 Boys

I gave my assigner very short notice about my availability, and while there was a U19 boys game that had an assistant referee (AR) opening , he really needed me to be an AR for a U10 girls game and then center a U9 boys game. He explained that this was the first ever game as a center for the teenage referee assigned to the U10 girls game, and he wanted me to be there as a mentor. The teenage referee did a great job, and I was able to give her some feedback both at halftime and then after the game. Then, I got to center a U9 game, and I loved it. Yes, I called fouls during the game and made sure that it kept moving, but I also explained fouls and helped kids understand the procedure for a goal kick and the proper way to do throw-ins. One of the team's coaches thanked me after the game, saying that although they try to teach this at practice, it's often better for the kids to get the real-time feedback during the game from someone other than them. I really enjoyed being able to teach the kids and be a mentor for a new referee.

Game 3: Under 11 Boys

My final games this fall were for a local all-star recreational tournament. I was by myself (instead of a normal 3-person crew) for three games with 25-minute halves. The temperature was about 37 when I started, but I warmed up quickly from all of the running.

(It wasn't actually as cold as it was from this picture.)

Before I arrived at the field, I noticed on the schedule that no one signed up for the game after mine. In emailing with the tournament assigner, I wrote that I would stay if no one took the game. No one took the game. The game itself was unremarkable with one team winning 5-0. The losing team had some chances, but the winning team controlled the game. As I walked off the field, I heard one or two of the kids complaining about me as the reason they lost the game. There was one goal scored on what may have been offsides. It was close, but I thought the attacking player was fine. Of course, in a one-person system, I can't be even with the next-to-the-last defender on both sides at all times (and especially not in the fourth of four games). If the tournament wanted a 3-person system for all games (and increased costs for the teams), the AR would have been in perfect position to determine if a player was offsides. If it's close, I'm giving the benefit of the doubt to the attacking team. Plus, that one goal had minimal to no impact on the final result.

Anyway, I packed up my bag and as I walked to my car, a player from the losing team asked how much the other team's coach paid me. I was a little stunned, so I didn't answer. The kid continued throwing out various amounts concluding with $1 million. 

I smiled and jokingly replied that I would certainly accept $1 million to help a team win an under-11 game. Do I make mistakes as a referee? Of course. There is constant action, and I miss things. However, I really don't appreciate anyone questioning my integrity. If it was a coach or maybe an older player, I would have given a post-game yellow card for dissent. For a 10 or 11 year-old, I just left the field and went home.

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