That’s the number of cautions I issued today in one game – a U14 Girls Division 1 game. Six. And they weren’t all for the same thing – in fact, five of them were for completely different issues (all of which were in the second half of the game):

  • Persistent Infringement – A26 was pushing her opponents in the back (or knocking over the opposing goalkeeper) all first half, and her first foul in the second half earned her a caution.
  • Unsporting Behavior / Tactical Foul – A39 first impeded, then held her opponent from being able to play a ball down the right sideline.
  • Unsporting Behavior / Deliberate Handling – in the penalty area, A35 jumped at least two feet in the air with both arms above her head, and contacted the ball with a forearm. She subsequently attempting to claim she was trying to protect her face (not when you jump up in the air), and then when that tactic failed, claimed that the ball actually hit her in the shoulder.
  • Unsporting Behavior / Late Tackle – A24 tried a hip-check about 5 yards in front of me way after the ball had left the area, then complained that the opponent was pushing her (not true).
  • Dissent – The Head Coach didn’t like the call on the late tackle and kept asking to “call it both ways”. I told her “That’s enough, you need to stop,” twice, then went over to her sideline and told her “I’ve asked you to stop twice, since you’ve decided to continue, here’s your caution. If I have to talk to you again, you will be finishing this game from the parking lot.”
  • Dissent – At the pre-game conference, both teams were warned that there would be no shenanigans related to parking oneself in front of a free kick and forcing the kicker to ask for the 10-yard distance. Both teams instead were to immediately back away or else be cautioned. So, in the 68th minute, a free kick is given just outside the penalty area near the right sideline. A30 parks herself about 7 yards from the ball and I tell her to move back because her captain had already been warned pre-game. The result? “Well you didn’t warn me.” So she got her warning.

Ok, so one would think that was the end of it after the game, right?

Nope.

I walked back to the referee tent with the referee assignor and received lots of congratulatory comments from the referees still there – mine was the last game of the day for this club and many of the referees were hanging out to watch the game after theirs had completed. I was asked to explain the caution to the HC and the caution at the end in the corner; several referees mentioned that they didn’t think they could have given the HC a card in that situation. I was doing so, and the HC happened to be walking by the tent. She starting glaring at me and talking in a very loud voice about red cards and how the other team got away with everything. It was obvious that, even though she was walking away with no one around her, she was talking to me.

Almost all the referees were watching her walk away, and after she was out of earshot, one of the other refs said, “Well, I don’t think she’s made many friends today for her future games.” No doubt!

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I’ve used this blog for many things over the years, from sarcastic wit to social commentary to just plain random thoughts. This year I am hoping to move in a more focused direction, as I am starting to gear up for getting back into writing. The kids are older, and I find that I actually have a little time each day to collect and gather thoughts.

I don’t hold any expectations of this blog getting a post every day, or even every other day, but I think weekly is definitely in the cards. I’d like to be able to write about the previous week and include a little soccer refereeing tidbit too, just so I won’t forget it.

As a good friend of mine, Dimitri, used to tell me, “It is what it is.”

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So this past weekend I was refereeing a Division III U14 girls game out at Paloma Fields in Mesa. I was the center, with two high schoolers as my assistant refs. This was allowed because as a minor referee, you can ref whatever level up your age minus two years. Both of these guys were barely 17, so it worked.

Once you’re an adult though – doesn’t really matter, as I’ve found out. I’ve had several games where the age group is U18 / U19, and my AR’s are 18-year-olds.

Anyway, I’ve been refereeing for a long time now, and though I always look forward to each game as an opportunity to learn something new, this time I actually did!

Scenario: With about 12 minutes left in a 0-0 tie, B2 complains to her coach about not being able to breathe too well. The field is dry grass – hey, it’s Arizona in winter – and her coach immediately tells her to get over to the bench. I overhear this exchange and glance over where B2 is trotting off the field. The coach sees me and tells me she’s got asthma and needs to come off now.

Unfortunately, Team A has possession of the ball and is moving upfield with it. They have taken advantage of B2’s absence on the field. I yell at Team A coach “If your player is in dire need, drop to the ground and I will deal with it.” I glance over again and B2 has stepped off the field and is headed for the bench seats. I turn my attention back to the play at hand and yell out “B2 get back on the field and wait there.” Team B coach is getting agitated and reiterates louder that she is an asthmatic and needs to come off. Team A has now moved to beyond midfield and is poised to bounce the ball outside and make a run. Team A’s coach, realizing the situation, yells out to his team to kick the ball out, which they dutifully do.

After indicating the throw-in, and blowing the whistle to stop play, I jog over to the Team B bench where the Coach is about to step on the field to meet me to “discuss” his player. I motion for him to stay where he is, go right to the edge of the touchline and tell B2 in a loud voice “Do not ignore my instructions. If you are on the field and not feeling well or get hurt, you are to drop to the ground and wait for my whistle to stop play. You do not just walk off the field without my permission. I gave you the chance to come back to the field and wait and you deliberately ignored my instruction. Therefore, you are cautioned for leaving the field of play without the referee’s permission.” And then I show her the yellow. Her face just drops into her shoes and her coach is livid.

“She is allowed to leave the field!”

“During the normal course of play in going for a ball or making herself available for a pass, yes. Making a beeline for the bench and ignoring my warning to the contrary is NOT normal course of play. I gave her the opportunity to come back and make it right, and she didn’t. Therefore, she’s been cautioned.”

The coach sighs and says, “Can I sub her then?”

I said, “It’s your throw-in, you can sub anyone you want,” and jogged back over to where my AR was standing with the ball.

First time I ever had to make the entry “L” on my game card (which is code for “Leaving the Field Without Permission”).

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Things I’ve learned from refereeing this weekend at a regional tournament (and some things I already knew but just wanted to state them anyway):

  1. The phrase most used by parents is “Just let them play.”

    * When the referees do “let them play”, this is changed to “Where’s the yellow card?”

  2. Certain clubs’ coaches have made a name for themselves within the referee community – for better or for worse.

    * Word gets around quickly if a coach is riding a ref all game.

    * Continuing to ride a ref about a specific type of call (ie. “kicking his ankles”, “push in the back”, etc.) will usually result in the ref making that next call in an unfavourable position AGAINST that coach’s team.

    * When the referee tells the coach that he’s heard enough from him and that the coach should walk back to his bench, the coach should take the hint that he’s found the line marked DO NOT CROSS.

  3. Compared to other club parents, parents of AYSO teams are generally friendlier/nicer, more knowledgeable of the Laws of the Game, and more supportive of their players – that is to say, when they cheer, they cheer positively, (ie. “Good run!”, “Great pass!”, “Good defense!”) not negatively (“Get rid of it sooner!”, “Stop playing with the ball!”, “Don’t ball-watch!”).

    * Underestimating an AYSO team is perilous. I watched and/or reffed 4 games where the AYSO team either won handily or pulled out a comeback win over an established club team. One parent actually asked “how many days a week does this team practice” and the bewilderment on his face when the AYSO coach answered “two” was priceless. I believe that parent’s club coach was about to get an earful later.

  4. U14 boys have no control over their bodies (ie. they haven’t yet gained the skillset to bump/charge without sending their opponents flying) or their mouths.

    For example (yes, this really happened in a post-game meeting):

    Coach: Why did my player receive a red card?
    Center Ref (CR): He received a red for his second yellow.
    Coach: What were they for?
    CR: The first yellow was for the dangerous play tackle, the second was for dissent – he was yelling at my Assistant Referee (AR) because he disagreed with the call.
    Coach: What did he say?
    CR: He called my AR an asshole.
    Player: No I didn’t! I called him an ass.
    CR: And you did it several times.
    Player: No! Just twice!
    Coach: …

    * They also believe that they are the most hilarious person on the planet.

    Player [during post-game handshake]: If “ass” is in the dictionary, then it should be allowed to be said on the field.

    * The quickest way to embarrass yourself as a player is to get whistled for a foul, immediately bring the hands and arms up in the “what did I do” pose, and turn around only to find the ref standing three yards behind you. Yeah, you got caught, just run back upfield.

    * The second quickest way to embarrass yourself as a player is after receiving a warning for a foul that the next one will result in a persistent infringement yellow card and then actually get that card not too long afterwards.

    ** Or getting the card for the exact same foul that garnered the warning in the first place.

  5. Most club coaches believe that every referee is a Grade 4 (MLS / Professional level) with ten years of service, when in fact the majority of referees are Grade 8 (Amateur youth level) with probably less than a year of service.

    * I have only met one Grade 5 (National service level) referee, and ironically he works at the same Very Large Bank as I do, but in a different area.

    * Little known fact, but a referee under the age of 19 can only work games where the age limit is two years or younger below their own age. So, a 19-year-old ref can only ref up to U17 games.

    * Grade 9 referees are only allowed to referee recreational games or U7/U8 small-sided games (6 or 7 players to a side).

  6. Coaches will try anything to get around the rules, including but not limited to, showing up with 22 kids, playing a player that received a red card earlier in the day (and thus would have an automatic one-game suspension), trying to substitute at times when they are not allowed (corner kicks, other team’s throw-in) then saying that “the other refs let them do it”, and even trying to use under-inflated balls so that the kids can kick the “soft” ball farther.

    * I wish I were making up the previous examples.

  7. Having the Regional Assessor (ie. Referee assessor for AZ, CO, NM, NV, and UT) observe your game as you work as the center referee and then tell you that you should have red-carded a kid instead of giving him a yellow is akin to being 5 years old again and getting your hand caught in the cookie jar.

    * Having the Regional Assessor tell you that he hasn’t seen a ref all weekend run the field like you do, that your positioning is near perfect, and that he believes that you should be at a Grade 7 this time next year is like winning the Powerball and MegaMillions in the same week.

  8. As an AR, if you take the time to explain some of the calls to the parents on the sideline in between running up and down the line, they will become better informed about the game AND stop making comments to your CR about how bad (in their opinion) his calls are.

    * Establishing a good rapport with the parents on the sidelines also means they will enjoy the game much more, even when calls don’t necessarily go their way. One of the easiest ways is to make a knowledgeable comment to the person wearing a college or pro team shirt regarding that team. (“How many more times are the Suns going to give up a last-second desperation three?”, or “Man U (Manchester United) seems to be on a winning streak now, don’t they?”)

    * If you make a mistake, like raising your flag quickly and it goes flying out of your hand, being able to laugh about it in front of the parents also goes a long way to making the game enjoyable. (No, it wasn’t me.)

  9. Somewhere ages ago, somebody taught a player that getting the ball first in a tackle meant that the play was legal and everything was ok, even if the opposing player was knocked down or injured. That fallacy has perpetuated to now.

    * Coaches and parents need to remember that the safety of the players is THE NUMBER ONE PRIORITY OF THE REF. “Getting the ball first” does not necessarily make a tackle legal. Getting it first while following through with the rest of the body in a careless or reckless manner or using excessive force DOES make the tackle ILLEGAL.

    and finally

  10. Intimidating/verbally abusive parents are the #1 reason why new young referees drop out of refereeing. There is a chronic shortage of eager, young, and fit referees, and every parent out there needs to remember that the newest refs will make mistakes. They have to learn on the job because instructional videos and classrooms only can teach so much. Be patient with them because there may be a time in the future when your kid is playing a high-level club game, and the game is rescheduled three times because no refs were available to work the game – who knows, that rescheduling nightmare could have been a direct result of the abuse of the new ref who decided to drop out instead of continuing to work.

    * There are also referees out there that are only doing it for the paycheck. You can usually tell who those guys are. Trust me when I say the referee assignor knows it too, and eventually those guys get passed up for the refs that want to be there.

    * If you’re unlucky enough to have one of those refs at your game that just mails it in, whether he’s the CR or an AR, just remember – the referee is just like the field and the weather. You have no control over field conditions or weather conditions, so play how the field and weather permits.

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So, I refereed several games this past weekend (3/29-30), 2 centers and an AR on Saturday, 3 centers on Sunday.

Saturday’s games weren’t bad – first game was a U12 girls game, nothing really out of the ordinary, game ended in a 1-1 tie, with both goals being scored on penalty kicks (one was a handball, the other was tripping).

Second game (U14 girls) was a handful. Team from Santa Barbara, CA, playing extremely physical. Warned a player twice about following through with the body way after the ball had moved on. Apparently, the player’s parent took exception to the warning (which was near the parents’ sideline) and complained to the referee tent during halftime that I was telling his daughter “don’t play so hard”. Riiiiiiight.

Third game, I was the AR for a U12 girls game. The center ref was having trouble remembering to look at his sidelines for offsides, so there were a couple of times I had to hold position and wave the flag to get his attention. However, nothing really was affected. In fact, multiple parents on my sideline seemed to have fun with it and asked me technical questions during the game about offsides, throw-ins, and specific fouls.

Sunday, all three of my games ended up being U14’s, only one of which was originally scheduled. The first was a referee change – one of the teams (green) had already been reffed by the referee scheduled and objected to having him again, feeling that he let too much go on. The other team (yellow) had two players out, one due to injury (fractured wrist), the other due to red card (dissent), so they had to play a man short (10 men). That game ended up as a blowout, 4-0 for green. Two yellow cards were issued, one for a reckless forearm, the other for a very late tackle.

The second game was also a blowout, but for the wrong reasons. This was a U14 girls’ game, and the blue team was well-represented by a large Hispanic/Mexican contingent of fans, who also derided any and all calls that went against them, including throw-ins! Blue wasn’t particularly stellar, winning 4-1, but one goal was an own goal by the red team, and the other was scored on a quick counterattack after red penalty kick was blocked by the keeper. Take away the OG and score the PK, and this game is 2-2. Also, blue had a player sent off for two yellow cards, the first for a blatently late charge, the second was for a tackle from behind endangering the safety of her opponent.

The last game was actually a really good game. U14 boys, blue vs white. Blue went up quickly 2-0 after the first half, and they were on another attack starting at midfield when I blew the halftime whistle. I was told in very angry voices that “we were going to score again, why did you stop it?” and I just simply replied, “It’s halftime. There is no extra time here.” In the second half, blue and white exchanged goals to put blue up 3-1 with about 10 minutes left, and that’s when everything changed. Blue was caught in an offside trap with THREE forwards offside. Flag went up, whistle blown, ball set quickly and kick taken before blue could set up. White outraced everyone to the ball, took control just outside the box on the left side of goal and beat the keeper with a nifty outside-of-the-foot shot into the bottom right corner. On the ensuing kickoff, blue took possession and did a pass back to their midfielders like usual, but white flooded blue’s half of the field with 7 players, leaving only their back three defenders. It only took two minutes to force a corner kick, and white beat the GK with a header off the corner into top right goal. Now, it’s 3-3 with about 6 minutes left. And for 5 of those minutes, it was just back-and-forth, no one really getting an edge on the other, and finally white decides to pull the desperation play off yet another offside trap (blue was caught offsides for the game about a dozen times, no kidding) and kicks deep to the right side of the field. One white player beats three blues to the ball, but the momentum carries him to the far side of the box away from goal. So, he turns, fakes one blue out, enters the box dribbling, beats the next blue player by putting the ball between blue’s legs, then attempts to spin and get around him, but blue reaches out and grabs his arm and jersey to prevent him from getting past. Flag up on the near side for infraction, whistle blown, PK given. White scores with 20 seconds left on the clock on the PK shot and ends the game a 4-3 winner.

I wish more tournaments had games like this. :)

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