Thursday, April 30, 2009

Assessing Referees in Tijuana, Pt. 3

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!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Assessing Referees in Tijuana, Pt. 2

Sunday brought an end to the first round or group phase of the U-17 CONCACAF championships. This means four teams get to stay for the final round (semi-finals, final and third place game) while others must return home. This same is true for the referees. This is a sad time for officials as some of those that will return home have performed at a high level and the team of participating referees will be losing a friend and a “family” member. Many factors go into deciding who the lucky and unlucky ones are. Some of the factors are: the teams that have advanced, the official’s performance, the fit between the refs and the remaining teams and the projected match ups. Despite this being a sad time, it is part of the life of an elite referee.

Because the USA has advanced (and done so in convincing fashion), our representative, FIFA assistant referee Chris Strickland, will be returning to the States. Chris worked his second game yesterday when he was Assistant Referee 1 during Mexico's game against Costa Rica (Mexico won 1-0 on an own goal). Everyone can be proud of the manner in which Chris represented the U.S. Soccer family.

Today, I want to briefly discuss some of the issues that have been covered in the daily briefings with the referees. If you follow U.S. Soccer’s “Week in Review” (the 2008 version as well as this season’s), you will see that that Laws of the Game are truly universal. The issues we face at this tournament, or at any level for that matter, are issues that referees face in the United States. Here are a few of the major topics covered. As I said, most should sound familiar if you follow the “Week in Review” found at ussoccer.com.

1. The importance of details: Little things like the correct completion of the game report is critical. Each member of the referee team needs to review the game report prior to the referee signing and submitting it.

2. Managing the technical areas: Ensuring the behavior of the coaching staff is responsible is a big deal. Coaches must behave responsibly (note, in the U.S. we use the “ask, tell, remove” principle). Also, all personnel on the bench must be dressed differently from the players on the field. Consequently, all players on the bench must wear bibs and coaches who are standing must have a different shirt than either of the two teams. This is important so that Assistant Referee 2 (directly opposite one of the team benches) does not get confused when deciding offside.

3. Getting 100% misconduct correct: In the U.S., we have adopted the concept of 100% misconduct. It is interesting how the concept is applied in a major tournament just as U.S. Soccer is teaching. It has been stressed that a yellow card offense is a yellow card offense and a red card offense is a red card offense regardless of the time and the score. These 100% misconduct situations cannot be managed solely by the referee’s personality. They are situations in which the actions and/or Laws of the Game mandate the issuing of a card.

4. Proper positioning to make the correct call: U.S. Soccer has been teaching the importance of maximizing the referee’s angle of vision throughout the game. At this tournament, we have been stressing that referees must move on the field to ensure they are close to play but they must also be positioned so they have a clear vision of each challenge. Referees should position themselves so they are not looking at the back of players. They should try to position themselves so they can always see space or light between the two opposing players. This will enhance the referee’s ability to get the call correct.

5. Personality and presence: Just as it is taught in the U.S., referees must establish an early presence in the game by sending appropriate message. Lots of time has gone into examining how the participating referees can use their physical attributes and personality to manage the game and steer the game in a positive direction.

As I said above, soccer is a universal game with universal Laws. Consequently, Referees around the world face the same challenges that referees in the United States face. It is interesting to see similar solutions and methods are being taught regardless of national association.It’s been a long and tiring seven days thus far. With the semifinals and final just around the corner, it will be interesting to see how the officials adapt to the increased pressure. There is a young but eager and conscientious group of officials working this tournament. They have been taking positive steps from game to game and match day to match day. They are learning from their games and from the games of other officials. This is critical and is a sign of a solid referee.