Sunday, February 1, 2009

Adventures in reffing

I've had a quite eventful last... well, two months, but in particular the last three days in my role as high school referee. I had my confidence raised, shattered and raised again, which I guess is all part of the learning process.

Thursday I had a junior varsity girls game. This was a fairly high-level JV girls game as the two high schools have traditionally had strong varsity girls teams. I was doing well, active, making all the right calls and getting no flak from the coaches and/or parents in attendance. With about five minutes left and the score at 0-0, that all changed. The visiting team had the ball in the hosts' penalty area. A girl dribbled the ball around some defenders when one of them stuck her leg out and tripped the attacking player, who fell to the ground as the ball went away from her.

I blew my whistle and pointed to the spot. PK. I was certain it was the right call. It wasn't a blatant foul; the defender didn't elbow her or knock her down from behind, but nonetheless it was a foul. The visitors converted the penalty and took a 1-0 lead. About three minutes elapsed by the time play resumed, and for those three minutes I took quite a bit of heat from the losing coach. She was complaining about everything from that point on, to the point that I nearly cautioned her. Still, I figured what would be best would to keep control of the game, blow the whistle as soon as the 35 minutes were up and get the hell out of dodge.

After I ended the game, I jogged over to get my stuff. Sometimes I change out of my cleats and slip back into something more foot-friendly but this time I didn't bother. I figured I'd rather leave without giving people time to complain or whatever. Well, that didn't happen. As I'm walking out towards the gate I hear the coach racing towards me.


Well shit, here comes the coach, I thought. This was a first. I was involved in a game earlier this year when a parent waited for me and my partner in the parking lot after his son was sent off (I didn't send him off but that didn't matter to that guy) but this was the first time a coach ran to me after a game to complain about a call.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" I asked her twice. Maybe that took some of the edge off because she seemed to pause for a second before she ripped into me.

"How could you call that? The girl tripped over her own feet? Did you not see that?!?!?!?"

I didn't stop walking. No way. But I didn't speed up or anything, just kept at my pace. I probably should have just not said anything but that probably would have pissed her off even more so I told her that I had the best vantage point, that she was on the sideline and that her player tripped the other girl. She said something else before she turned away but at that point I just put my head down and tried to leave before anyone else confronted me. Luckily, there were a lot of people coming and going as the varsity game was set to start later and I sort of just blended in at some point.

Although I think I handled the confrontation well, what I should have done was carded her. As a high school referee, I can card people after I've blown the final whistle. And really, she crossed the line. She completely lost it, lost control, displayed poor sportsmanship and set a bad example to her players. I should have red-carded her ass and given her a game off to think about her actions and force her to explain herself to her principal, since that's what HS coaches have to do after receiving a red card (at least in my area). But, of course, I was unclear on whether or not I could have carded her at all. It was the first time it came up, so after talking to other referees about it I am now more up-to-speed on that.

On Friday I was slated to ref a varsity girls game between a pair of mid-level area girls teams. I couldn't stop thinking about the day before. Had I made the right call? Should I have let play go on? Did I do what I never want to do and decide the game? That stupid confrontation made things worse. Had the coach not approached me I may not have second-guessed myself so much, but she went all Dominic Kinnear on me so it rattled me a bit. I was nervous then before Friday's game so I called a referee buddy of mine to talk about it and hopefully settle my nerves.

It was a great call, actually, as he had reffed the varsity game afterward. The same coach, who was on the bench as an assistant coach for that game, had continued her shenanigans as she was complaining about the calls so much so that my friend had to tell her to be quiet. Maybe she was still seething over the PK or whatever. Anyway, the team had earned five yellow cards and a red card that game and lost. The school apparently has a reputation for being like that and the coach hasn't been that great to other officials as well. So apparently I didn't force a rational coach into doing something irrational.

Anyway, in Friday's game I was doing well at the start. I was keeping up with the speed of play, making all the right calls, ignoring incidental contact, etc. Still, the one thing I did not want was to have the players put me in a position where I either needed to call a penalty or let contact in the area slide. I didn't know how I would react.

Of course, that happened with about 10 minutes left. Ahead 1-0, a girl dribbled the ball into the penalty area and two defenders sandwiched her and knocked her on her back. I didn't hesitate and immediately blew my whistle and pointed to the spot. It was 100 percent the right call. The opposing coach did not complain. Later, the other ref said that I had made a good call.

That kind of made me feel better. I don't like to play mind games with myself and always try to stay focused and make the right calls. But when your confidence is down, it's hard to do that. I was fine and Friday's game restored whatever faith that had been lost from the end of the previous day's game to the start of the other.

It's situations like that that have helped me learn about refereeing games, and have given me the knowledge and experience necessary to improve. As bad as those things are, it's the only way to continue evolving and developing.


Anonymous said...


Thanks for sharing these stories of your reffing! One of my old college professors was a high school soccer ref here in Jersey, and my college roommate was a high school basketball ref in New York City (which is a high stakes world...parents threatening damage to body and property, fights both on and off the court), and from hearing them and you talk it makes me appreciate the hard work good refs put in.

Although that sometimes doesn't stop me from yelling when Abbey or Marrufo make an awful call...

JkR said...

I like these stories, keep them coming. My son has graduated and I miss the angst you portray in these games.

Great stuff.

Rudy said...

Obviously you're probably not doing it for the money, but what do you pull down per match? (If anything)

Anonymous said...

Very entertaining, keep them comming Luis.

soy said...

i like to meet with coaches before the game (if possible) to let them know they will get carded if they cross the line. that way, its not on me, its on them. also, big ups to you for making your calls WITHOUT HESITATION.

enjoyable, interesting read.

Matthew said...

I enjoy hearing about these experiences. I did a few years of refereeing when I was younger and have to admit that dealing with parents and coaches (who often had little or no knowledge of the rules) was among the most frustrating parts of the job. Doing men's league games was also no picnic. I swear some of those guys sit in their office all week waiting for the opportunity to kick someone on Sunday. In any case, the experience of reffing is invaluable and I think should be required of anyone who wants to be involved with the game. I've always thought it would be a lot of fun have MLS players (particularly those who scream after every call) officiate a youth match. A sampling of rabid parents might be just what's needed for a little perspective. Or it might just be fun to see them being yelled at for a change.