Sunday, February 8, 2009

Q&A - Terry Vaughn

This month there's a big game happening. You may have heard about it? You also may have heard about the cold weather, which has played a memorable part in the USA-Mexico rivalry in the past. With these things in mind, this month we're asking U.S. Soccer's full-time referees about officiating games in the cold and taking charge of games between heated rivalries. In part one we talked to Baldomero Toledo. In part 2 below, we speak with Terry Vaughn.

Official Take: How is refereeing in the cold different from refereeing a game in warm weather?

Terry Vaughn: Weather is a factor that we have to deal with every time we do a match outdoors. One of the keys to refereeing in any weather is to know that it is coming. Do your homework and know what the weather will be so you can bring the appropriate layers. If you are dealing with the cold, you need to have a cold gear tight shirt and shorts and then layer on top of that. Hand warmers are also a good thing to have.

You also need to make sure your warm up is efficient, as this helps get the body ready to work. You have to make sure you are ready so you do not pull a muscle with the cold. Lots of times you will do your run outside and then come back to the locker room to finish up your stretching.

When you are dealing with a bitterly cold environment, you have to be careful with your pen ink freezing and not working. When it is cold, I often use a pencil and I make sure that I have plenty of space to write, because by the end of the match I can not straighten my fingers to hold on to the pencil correctly, so it becomes writing with a closed fist. I make sure the rest of the crew records everything even more carefully knowing that the cold can cause by my to fingers to freeze up.

I do not use a pea in my whistle, but I know that when I used to I would have issues with it freezing to the side of the whistle because of the moisture. Referees that still use metal whistles find that they stick to the skin and tongue in the cold, so it is best to use a plastic whistle.

People from places where it is cold will tell you the trick to staying warm is not getting cold in the first place. Once you get cold it takes awhile to warm up, so try to keep that in mind when you are preparing to dress for this kind of cold.

Once you blow the whistle to start the game, it is like a switch and you have to forget about how cold you feel.

OT: How does an official prepare to referee a game in the cold? Do you train in cold weather?

TV: If it was warm where I lived and I had to go to a cold climate I would try to get a couple work outs in a air conditioned work out room (not the beach) and try to help help the body get a bit of an adjustment to the cold. You have to put the weather and the cold out of your mind so it does not become a distraction during the game. Your mind needs to be thinking about the issues of the match.

OT: Is it similar to, say, running or refereeing a game at high altitude?

TV: Yes, this is a good way of looking at. There a few things you can do to help, but the biggest is making sure you are fit to help your body deal with these extreme conditions.

OT: Can you think of an example from a game in the cold where a situation was either new to you or unexpected? How did you react?

TV: One of my first MLS centers was in Chicago in April [ed. note: when the Fire were still playing at Soldier Field], and a cold front came through. It dropped the temperature, the wind was blowing hard off the Lake and it poured rain the whole game (at one point it looked like it was raining horizontally). It was so cold and always threatening to snow, but I dug down and ran more to help me stay warm and focused. The lesson I learned was to make sure to have a change of uniforms for half time.

OT: What are a few helpful tips or reminders for referees who are going to ref a game in the cold?

TV: One important thing to keep in mind is when someone gets kicked or bumped when it is cold it feels different. In the cold weather, it is like everything is magnified and it hurts more. If the ground is frozen this effects a few things, for example when a player falls to the ground it will hurt more then usual. The bounce of the ball may be different, usually higher, and the traction for players' cleats will be different. All these things will effect how the game is played.

Keeping all these in mind will help you understand and be ready for things that may not be as obvious in the warm weather. If you see a player slipping or unable to get traction, good preparation can make you better equipped to adjust.

OT: At what point do you bring out the yellow ball?

TV: Once the players and my crew begin having issues with seeing the ball, we will bring out the yellow one. This is a last resort.

OT: What about a "rivalry" game? There are these big derby games all around the world. How does one prepare for a game between the biggest of rivals?

TV: Before and during these games you have to be prepared for everything. There is so much that takes place with gamesmanship, and in these types of games it happens even more because of the past interactions between them. Neither side wants to let down their fans. You have to work hard because it is going to take every bit of your fitness and your refereeing tools to make one of these games a successful match.

Do your homework so you are not surprised when something happens. If you have already prepared yourself for what may happen, you will be able to stay on top of their every move. You need to watch these teams on TV or tape so you know the team style and tendencies. This will help you become familiar with the goalscorers, the holding midfielders, the speedy player, the enforcers, and the playmakers. You'll also know if there are players missing due to injury or suspension.

Find out where the rivalry comes from, where it is today and who may be doing the trash talking in the media to stir the pot even more. Not only do you have to have all of that in your head, but you will also have to work hard in the game because it is going to take every bit of your fitness and your refereeing tools to make this a successful match.

OT: What 'rivalry' games have you done that were unique? What sticks out in your mind about these games between big rivals?

TV: Costa Rica playing away to Guatemala. As we drove to the stadium they had the roads blocked off for miles and there were fans everywhere more than two hours before kickoff. When we made it to the stadium and walked the field, the stands were full already. It turned out that all those people outside were just hanging around to be part of the game, but were not going to be in the stadium. Those fans outside the stadium also kept the Costa Rica bus from making to the stadium on time. Their locker room was locked and it took a while for them to find the key, both before and at half time. We made a decision before the match, that we were not coming out until the away team did.

During the game, any time a player from Costa Rica would go toward the sideline or toward the corner flag for a corner kick they were targeted with who knows what. The organizers had all the Costa Rican fans in one corner fenced off from the others, and whenever a Guatemalan player would take a corner kick on that side, about ten military officers would run over with their shields raised to protect the player from being hit by anything. The policed did not do this for when Costa Rica would take a corner.

In those games, you realize that all the chanting and songs definitely make for a home field advantage.

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