Friday, April 24, 2009

Assessing Referees in Tijuana

"Hola" from south of the border! I'm in Tijuana, Mexico, where U. S. Soccer has given me the opportunity to accept CONCACAF’s appointment as a Referee Assessor for the U17 Championships. I have been in Tijuana since Monday, April 20. I will be here through the final of the tournament which is scheduled for May 2.

Joining me as U.S. Soccer’s match official representative is FIFA Assistant Referee Chris Strickland. Over the next week, I will periodically blog to give you a taste of what is occurring on the referee side of a major tournament. Sorry, no critique of referee performances here - just information that will pique your interest and give you a flavor of what the referees are going through and what I am doing as a Referee Assessor.

First, let me draw a picture for you so you can understand the environment the officials face. Games are held at the two-year-old Estadio Caliente. And let me tell you, the stadium has lived up to its name. On the first day of games, temperatures were in the 90s. I am told the 13,300 seat stadium has Central America’s only 2-star approved artificial turf field….so, you can imagine the on-field temperature for Tuesday’s match-ups. Games are held at 1:30 and 4:00pm (two games daily) as Estadio Caliente does not have lights. It is a great venue for games. The spectators are close to the action and the stadium is the right size to create an entertaining environment.

The stadium is home to a Mexican Second Division team called Club Tijuana Xoloitzcuintles De Caliente (do not ask me to pronounce it, as even Spanish speakers have troubles doing so) [Editor: The pronunciation is "sho-lo-ee-tsqueen-tles" and yes, we struggled tremendously with that]. Xoloitzcuintle is a breed of hairless dogs. Check out the picture that I have included. It is taken just outside the referee’s dressing room.

CONCACAF has assigned two Referee Assessors, a fitness trainer and an instructor to the tournament. For a major tournament like this, the staffing ensures all 20 referees have a support cast similar to the participating teams. This team format for officials has only been in place for the last year. It is amazing how much more attention match officials are receiving when compared to just a few years ago.

In this blog, I will give you a brief synopsis of the daily schedule so that you can get a feel for what occurs at a CONCACAF tournament (and FIFA tournaments for that matter).

6:30am: Bus leaves for training at the stadium (10 minute drive).

6:30 – 8:00am: A morning training session. Training consists of either fitness training that incorporates movements by the referee/assistant referee, technical training to review/correct issues that have been noted during the games or a combination of both. Referees who work the games that day are not required to attend as their rest is paramount.

8:00 – 9:15am: Breakfast.

9:15 – 11:00am: Game review. The referee assessors review the performances of the match officials. Once the review by the assessor is completed, the instructor reviews incidents using the game DVDs and provides solutions/recommendations.

11:45am: The referee crew for the first game (1:30pm) leaves for the stadium.

1:30 – 7:00pm: Games and time at the stadium completing paperwork.

8:00pm: Dinner.

As you can see, there is really no free time. Referees and the referee support team are constantly working. Even when they are not “officially working,” the exchange amongst the referees and staff is in full gear. Sometimes, these moments provide the best learning opportunities.

The structure of this tournament, for referees, is not unlike many of the Referee Training events (or Academies as they were once called) held by U.S. Soccer. Game review, performance analysis, technical training, and physical training are often components provided referees who participate in similar settings whether they be at the youth, amateur or professional level.

Stay tuned. Next blog we will discuss some of the “lessons learned” by the referees who are participating in the tournament. See how the issues faced by referees at the top compare to the issues addressed week in and week out in U.S. Soccer’s “Week In Review” found at