Expect the unexpected! A theme that has become synonymous with officiating. Well, Tuesday brought the unexpected and, for most of us, it caught us off guard. CONCACAF decided to cancel the semifinal, final and third place game of the U-17 championships in Tijuana, Mexico. It was determined that the potential negative effects from the swine flu virus and the health of the participants outweighed the need to complete the games. As it was, all of the final four participants (United States, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Honduras) had qualified for the U-17 World Cup anyway.
At 3:10pm, after a 10:30am organization meeting to plan the balance of the tournament’s activities, the unexpected happened: I received notification that I would be leaving for San Diego airport at 4:00pm. In other words, I had 50 minutes to pack. That was the fastest I have moved since I hung my boots up.
All referees, players and tournament administrators were heading home without delay. An unexpected decision but one that seemed to make sense.
It was a disappointing moment for the five referees and five assistant referees that had been selected to stay through the final and it must have been devastating for the players and teams. To have worked so hard and then not have the opportunity to show your “stuff” in the final round is an emotional let down. As officials, we have to learn to train ourselves to be able to manage the emotional and performance-related ups and downs associated with our job as a match official. This is much easier said than done.
I can remember many a sleepless night hitting myself over the head over a decision. Playing, replaying, replaying and replaying the situation over and over and asking myself, “Why?”, “Was there a better way?”, “How do I get it right next time?” This is part of the passion each of you have for what is, for the majority of you, a “professional avocation” -- not a professional job. It is amazing how much officials care! How much we can allow an avocation to trap our mind in an endless circle of questioning ourselves. It is funny but this is what makes referees a special breed. We beat ourselves up more than the media, more than the players, more than the coaches and more than the spectators. All for the love of the game and a few sore knees and stiff muscles.
Despite the early end to a tournament in which the U.S. team sparkled (check out some of the goals they scored over on the YNT Blog - they were classics), it was a great opportunity to see many young and/or new referees and assistant referees from around CONCACAF compete in a challenging tournament. There were match officials representing the following countries: USA, Canada, Mexico, Guyana, Belize, Jamaica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago, Honduras, Barbados, Panama and Cuba. My Spanish (probably better described as “spanglish”) was really tested. I had lots of empty stares and often wondered why people were snickering after some of my attempts at Spanish.
I hope that many of you take the opportunity to attend a tournament or a U.S. Soccer Development Academy Showcase event in which mentoring and feedback is offered especially the level at which it is provided at the Development Academy Showcases. This is an invaluable opportunity to not only learn from your own games but to learn from the experiences and feedback provided others. I look forward to seeing you on the field!