It's dead, Jim

February 14, 2015
By TheRef
As the saying goes, "All good things come to an end"; and this statement is way overdue for this blog. It wasn't meant to go this way; I'm still reffing, just not soccer. And last year, by the time I had time to ref soccer, the season was almost done - and I couldn't even get any low-end games.

It happens. But how did it happen? I mean, I used to make a couple thousand dollars a year reffing soccer, and now I spend a couple thousand a year reffing roller derby, traveling across the country. The sad thing is that I find that I'm enjoying it more; I'm getting what I enjoy out of high level games, but without the emotional baggage that comes from doing it. When I started this blog, it was because I needed some sort of emotional venting, due to what I can now safely call abuse from players, coaches and (to a much lesser extent, because their invectives never bothered me), fans. And I went public because I thought it might be helpful for players to see the other side - to see the referee as a human, dealing with doubt, fears, and the aforementioned abuse.

During my time as a soccer referee, I had to quit playing because of that abuse, but learned that I enjoyed being a referee more. But doing the games I wanted to do, and often doing games regardless of the level, carried an emotional toll where I felt I had to vent in order to be able to go to sleep and function the next day. I've always been a bit of a writer (sadly, nothing professionally), and putting things down helps me sort things through and analyze them.

What happened when I started reffing other sports is that I could still to the games I want, without the abuse. So far in five years of reffing derby I've not had to have never had to call the police, never had to have an escort to my car, and never had to wonder if I was hit intentionally.

I love soccer, I still wish I was reffing it - I may still do a few games next year if I can squeeze them in - but as sad as I am to see that go. I'm not sad to see the emotional garbage that comes from reffing soccer rain down upon me. So congratulations, soccer, you've driven out another one. Because I've realized that I can still be a referee without feeling angry at people for being assholes; for doing a job that they wouldn't dream of doing, but have no compunction about abusing those who do.

I'm a referee, just not for soccer any more. And I feel good about that.

Best regards,
The Ref

PS - to that guy in Blaine years ago in a clinic, who asked me, "Have you seen that refblog thing? I swear he's from Minnesota." You were right. You were talking to the guy who wrote it. Read More »

Background Checks for Refs

June 17, 2013
By TheRef
I have to admit, the last couples years I've been thinking about not doing adult soccer games any more, and doing some more youth games. I figure I'd do more for the sport by at least taking a mentorship role with young refs; I may not be able to do higher-level games anymore (in soccer), but I remember the habits necessary; and if nothing else I can offer encouragement to younger refs. Want to know how to fix the officials shortage? Stop berating refs and start praising them for when they do good jobs! Get in the habit of that, and they're more likely to respond to constructive criticism (which isn't screaming your bloody head off) and actually improve. This should be a "duh": people will enjoy things more if they're treated nice; honest and calm feedback will elicit in people who want to ref a desire to improve rather than just quitting.

But it's been said for years, and fallen largely on deaf ears. I heard a (former?) referee today, from another sport, who also coaches call the referees, "the second opponent." Jeebus smegging smarst - I think I'm about to give up.

Anyway, back to kids. I mostly haven't done it, because the youth association has all their referees pay for background checks, every year. My opinion is that this is a scam. First, how much time does a referee spend with kids? 60-90 minutes depending on the game. They don't know the kids; unless the ref has really good memory they won't remember their names, let alone try to talk them into something dangerous; and the kids are required to be supervised by responsible adults. Those "responsible adults" (quotes because they're coaches, and I've seen far too many who don't qualify as responsible or adults) are, to be fair, also required to be vetted each year, although I'd argue that they're spending far more than just one game in close contact with the children. Further, I'd argue (but couldn't find anything other than anecdotal references, such as this) are actually independent leagues with lax rules to begin with - not professionally run leagues like the various USSF-affiliates and other sports-equivalents.

The other reason I think it's a scam is because of who we pay. Not the company running the background check, but the association. I sell services to my clients all the time (I'm an IT consultant); I make it a big deal, and mostly my clients appreciate, when I recommend a service and tell them they're not paying me for it; it means I really like the service, and I'm not just saying it to make a buck. And frankly, when I recommend something else that I do bill directly for, those same clients trust me that I'm not just selling the company line because of those past recommendations of using services that aren't billed by me. Everything I pay as a referee goes into the association; and while they say they're not making any money; I know a whole lot of people who say they're not making any money from their shipping and handling costs, but it still gets down a black ink on their profit and loss statement.

Finally, it involves credit checks, and each time that happens, your credit history gets dinged; and financially it's just not worth it given the number of games I do. It could be worse, I could live in Arizona where they're frickin' fingerprint referees! Oh course, then I wouldn't even bother to consider working youth games again like I do now. Read More »

Game canceled, so talking tournaments

June 12, 2013
By TheRef
It had been raining pretty much all day, but stopped about an hour ago as of my writing this, and I got a text that my game had been canceled. It must have rained a lot, because the field they were playing on has built-in drainage, and I've never ever seen standing water on it - perhaps it was more the facility worrying about torn up fields - but I've also never seen that stop the facility, either (they have some ankle-breakers when it comes to running lines there).

So, I'm going to diverge a bit, because I'm still in the mood to write, but don't have anything soccer-related to write about right now. Well, sort of. Recertification is all done online, unless you're a higher-up grade (which I'm not, and no longer pursuing), or just want to. So I did some of my hours online, and went to a clinic that was partially on concussions (which is something roller derby's been looking into a lot lately), and partially on referee leadership on the field.

The clinic was run by a guy I know (and worked with several times - nicest guy you'll ever meet), and he talked about the process of becoming a National Candidate and eventually trying to get the Grade 4 badge (which, sadly to say, he didn't get, he had all the requirements in, but pulled a hammy on the very last run on the physical). He talked about how he had to fly all over the place to get games that qualified for the badge; and how a couple other people, who are both now Nationals, still have to do the same thing. And I realized that I'm pretty doing the exact same thing he did (and our National friends are doing), and for the same reasons. Not to toot my own horn, but I'm the roller derby equivalent of a National (MUCH smaller pond to swim in, I grant you, and the ability to be promoted is much faster than with soccer, but I also have more overall referee experience: this is my 15th (!) year holding a whistle, and the very first roller derby team of the modern era just had it's 10th anniversary, with most officials in derby never reffing anything else prior to wearing stripes). In the last two years, I've reffed in 16 different states and 22 different cities, six of which I've returned to on multiple occasions. You can say my road to a "National equivalent" was easier (and I would agree), but I'm putting in the same hours and racking up the same miles... and I don't get paid (not that what they get paid covers expenses).

I actually do a lot more tournaments now than I ever did for soccer. Tournaments, except for the big ones: State Cups (not the State Tournaments, which were held for the non-elite teams - I did that twice and it gets grouped in with the other tournaments that don't give a rip about the officiating or officials), regional tournaments, and the USA Cup. The reasons are pretty obvious: most soccer tournaments will try to schedule you to work all day, no matter what you tell them, and then try to push you after you've explained that you're only available for two games - I did this for a very good reason. When I referee, I want to do a good job - I'm in it for the quality, not the quantity (which means for the money). Since there's a referee shortage, most tournaments would rather than the "for the money" referees (or those who don't know anything better), because it's easier to schedule fewer referees who won't or can't run, than a lot of referees who give it their all for 90 or 180 minutes, and then are done. This is why I've said on more than one occasion that their failure to find referees is not my problem. Derby tournaments, on the other hand, don't give out more games than you can physically do; and are OK with availability restrictions. And this way, since I don't get paid, I can do more qualifiable games than I normally would.

And I have to admit, I like going to some because there are a few referees that I've taken a special interest in, and want to see them improve (because they want to!). Sometimes I feel like "old man referee", but it's really nice to see the "kids" do well, too. Read More »

"It's a good jog"

June 12, 2013
By TheRef
Second game of the season, and I got put into the center for a division 1 women's game. I enjoy these games, always have. As a rule, they play as physical as they want to, don't whine much, and even if there's not a lot of fouls, they keep you moving. The strangest part of this game is that I felt really good in my positioning for all seventy minutes; felt like I got wide enough and deep enough and didn't get in the way of the game.

Wait? Seventy minutes? Yes. Both teams showed up to game-time very short (one with seven players, one with nine), and they agreed last-second, to play 35-minute halves with no prompting on my part. Eventually, both teams came to, if not regret it, kind of wish they had more time; the team with seven had five more show up by the end of the half; the other filled out their roster with an even 11.

As far as the game itself goes - not much to report other than it was a good jog for a little more than an hour; only two offside calls, no fouls, and only one where maaaaaaybe, if I really stretched things, could I have called one. Read More »

Holy Crap, a new entry! Or, first game of the season 2013.

June 12, 2013
By TheRef
No, I'm not completely retired yet from this blog, but as I wind down the games (and types of games) I do for soccer, there's not really the internal need for me to write like I did in years past. With derby I have other avenues to vent; and there seems to be a better understanding of what referees do with players in derby than soccer.

But soccer - yes, I did it again: I registered and signed up for some games. In years by I'd be getting division 1 and 2 men's games; but today it's a division 3 women's game, which is fine. The season is already well underway, but since I had to do a lot of traveling out of state, I just wasn't in a place to do any of them. I've actually said in the past that I really felt like I should not do those higher games any more - I may have years of experience in them, but it's a long time gone, and it wouldn't do the players justice.

But what I have decided, and this applies to last few years, too, but it worth repeating (to myself at least), is that I'll try to run the games I have at the most professional, best way I can. Crab run all over the place, run to the goal line, good signals, etc.

More good news is that I've been running on a fairly regular basis (irony; it wasn't for soccer, but mostly because I needed to keep active while living in hotel rooms), so aside from, and I hate saying this but I feel I should come clean, getting a bit bored with the game, all went well. I do try to fight the boredom, but sometimes, when there's little to do (even when my "job" is watching the back-side of play when on the line), it's something I need to work at.

The game almost didn't go off - both fields in the complex were in use (one by our game), but there was a youth team that also thought they were supposed to play there. Fortunately, their opponent never showed up (our assignor said they spoke to them earlier and said they didn't have that field); maybe not telling them.

One really big gripe, though. Since it was my job to figure out what the heck was going on with the fields, I didn't participate in the check-ins; after the game started, I just dealt with the late-comers. And sure enough, one of them came with earrings in and I simply said that she could check in once she took them out; oldest rule in the league, even older than "No Pass, no play". She never said anything, just didn't go in for the first half, and then the center referee let her in. Sigh... oldest rule ever and he just made it harder for everyone else. Read More »

It needs to come from the top down

February 10, 2013
By TheRef
First, apologies for the site weirdness over the last few days: the site got moved to a new server (among other things) - there might be some hiccups in the site itself, but the DNS and sever appears to be more normal now.

So, just a little mini-rant. I'm in the process of going through my soccer re-certification, and there's an online section of referee abuse. So far, everything on how to deal with it is good - except that the USSF still fails to realize that the issue is a top down one; while yelling and abuse is allowed at the highest levels of the game, it will not stop at the lowest. I know the USSF can't do anything about international games, but saying that professional games are "entertainment" and thus allows them to yell at referees just kills me. I saw very little shirt pulling until the 2002 World Cup, where it was allowed without repercussion; even before the cup was over, leagues that had none went to stretched fabric all over the place.

Parents are the example to their children. Professional soccer is the example to the lower levels. If the players and coaches are being paid, then they should have that added responsibility to behave properly. But no, the presentation is a "zero tolerance approach to abuse of soccer officials" in the "youth game."

Sigh. Read More »

What happened to the NFL replacement refs?

January 3, 2013
By admin
Way back in 2007, I wrote about a dream where I was unexpectedly put into a professional game, and what would happen. No big glory story, just a dream where I could say, "I did that". Then I compared it to a game one level below professional that I actually did work, and how reality rather clashes with dreams.

I was having a conversation with a friend's mother in the hospital (thankfully everyone seems to be doing better now - I won't go into details other than the condition was mentioned on House, and then dismissed because it didn't happen to people of xyz ancestry - so much for TV doctors), who is from Wisconsin, and asked me my opinion about the replacement referees, and the call last September (if you're unfamiliar with the situation, just Google Green Bay Packers and Replacement Refs). I actually hadn't thought about it much, because I'm not a fan of American Football (or pointyball, or handegg, or 8.5 minutes of real action over three-and-a-half hours of broadcast time - but that's mostly aimed at people who try to shove the sport down my throat when it's just not a game that interests me). But I had a couple thoughts that popped into my head, that didn't seem to be answered or talked about anywhere:

First, what is the state of referee development for the NFL? I remember lots being said about the replacement refs being from high school, or the Lingerie Football League (don't get me started on that), and so-forth. There is no minor league, or secondary division structure like in proper football (soccer in this country), or even in baseball, hockey, or basketball. The NFL uses college sports for their player development, and those refs wouldn't risk losing their plumb assignments to be scabs for the NFL. Yes, there are minor league football leagues, I've seen some videos of them, and they're nowhere near the level of play.

Second, nobody compared the replacement refs to the replacement players in 1987. I seem to recall that the replacement players were widely ridiculed. From Wikipedia:

The replacement player teams were given mock names like "Chicago Spare Bears", "San Francisco Phoney Niners", "New Orleans Saint Elsewheres", "Washington ScabSkins", and "Seattle Sea-scabs".[1] Final television revenues were down by about 20%, a smaller drop than the networks had expected.[2] The defending Super Bowl Champion New York Giants went 0–3 in replacement games, ultimately costing them a chance to make the playoffs and repeat their championship.

And this kind of goes back to my original thought: if you were a dedicated referee, who knew this was your only change to officiate at the highest level possible, would you not take that opportunity? Take out all the political bullshit of scabs, lockouts, and greedy owners/players/refs/Uncle Grover. Would you blame them? If you have one shot for the brass ring? I don't blame them, and I can't say I wouldn't do the same thing. I only have one advantage over these guys: because soccer actually has a division system, I have an idea of just how over my head I would be - I don't think any of these guys could have.

So, less than a month after a conversation on opposite sides of a hospital bed, I see this article come out, about one of those fateful referees from the Packers-Seahawks game, and what's happening to him now. It's about as sad of an article about a referee as I've ever read, and I recommend you read it. Lance Easley is list most of us in the referee avocation: for some sick reason, he loves the heck out of it; it's his passion and he filled up most of his spare time. His wife said he was happiest when officiating; "He was healthier, more vibrant."

So he reached for the ring, worked the NFL's program for the replacement officials, and made it past the pre-season cut. Then the Seahawks-Packers game. Death threats against him and his family; suspicious packages mailed to him; a security guard stationed for just him at his work for a month; the freaking President of the United States puts you down

Now he's been blackballed from college reffing, and quit officiating entirely. Maybe he'll come back. Maybe not.

He reached for a dream. The football referee equivalent of Rudy. Sadly, there's no happy ending, or even the ability to say without regret that he was there. Read More »

Some follow-ups, and some depressing thoughts

July 21, 2012
By TheRef
It's been rather interesting checking in on stuff I've written eight or nine years ago (it's also a pretty slow process, so bear with me). But I found a couple things I decided I wanted to follow-up on; one was a Bedfordshire football club that beat a referee so badly that that he needed two metal plates and nine screws to fix his jaw; and the assistant referees needed to buy new kits, as theirs was burnt. Unfortunately, other than a weekend strike that had little effect (games apparently went on without referees - thank you for the support FA), I hadn't been able to find anything else.

One that made me stop in my tracks was a small saga I wrote several pieces on a Mr. John Runk, who, after being ejected from a U-little game (as in U-8) and failing to leave, assaulted the referee. I'd love to believe that there's more than one John Runk who coaches in Maryland, but I'm seeing his name pop up as a coach and manager of Maryland Sports United, a soccer club.

One reference is here, another here, and a third here.

On one hand, I still feel the anger from when I first wrote those articles, and when I see that the club has (among other things) this to offer: "Most clubs today focus on a 'win at all costs' mentality, at the expense of individual player development, creativity and performance....we do not" I get a little pissed too. But on the other hand, I'm not as angry about it as I was. Read More »

Three great online resources bite the dust

May 2, 2012
By TheRef
Thanks again for SocRef on letting me know.

The USSF saw fit to close two resources for the American referee recently:

The Week In Review was focused on MLS games, on what went right and what went wrong. Obviously there were things that were more likely to happen at a professional level, but since the Laws of the Game are the same from the international game to the sandlot-equivalent that most of us work in, it's a sad thing to see go. I remember when it was a big deal to wear the same jersey that MLS officials wore - now we don't even get the same training.

Likewise, Ask a Soccer Referee was a great place to get official USSF answers to questions from all levels, from U-little on up. Fortuantely, Jim Allen, National Instructor and retired National Assessor, still has the website up and is still taking questions. Previous answers, if you ask me, are still official, as they had the USSF approval when posted, but they no longer do no.

No idea why these two great resources have been killed off - nothing has been brought forward to replace them.

Sadly, a third resource has gone offline, the Corsham Ref, which had a mydriad of articles and unique perspectives. I can't see why is's gone offline. Read More »

USSF Recert, part one

April 19, 2012
By TheRef
This wasn't really meant to be divvied up into sections, but since the website that I need to connect to in order to continue my re-cert process is down (there's a requirement of three hours of online seminars and quizzes), I'm rather screwed. I've actually been trying to get this done for the last month-and-a-half. The next set of weekends for the next two months don't look good; and I'm not usually in a good mental spot late at night after work.

I got some of it down yesterday, though. Did two online classes (really powerpoint presentations, albeit good ones, with voiceovers and quizzes). The first was on being an assistant - which I good before I saw the intermediate topics after. As expected, I already knew 99% of everything in it - but it was nice that it covered a lot of stuff that I ended up having to pick up from working with higher-level referees, so in that respect, it was a good class, if just below my level of working.

By the way, I really don't like the AR signal for indicating a penalty kick (holding the flag waist-high, but otherwise in the same position as if signaling a substitution request). Using it to communicate if a penalty called by the referee was inside the penalty area is all good - but, at least in my opinion, not so much when the AR is calling the foul and the restart is a penalty kick. I don't like it for two reasons: it lack's urgency and it's different philosophically than what we use for the AR's other most important job (signaling a good goal).

This is the what the instructor indicated: AR sees a penal foul in the penalty area by a defender. The AR stops, raises his flag and waggles it. So far, no changes, but now we're instructed to make that signal, and "walk briskly" (their words) toward the corner flag.

It's the "walk briskly" bit I don't like Read More »

Why little kids should be carded

March 21, 2012
By TheRef
A tip of the hat to Referee Magazine for bringing up this clip. It got me thinking of one of those things I hear a lot regarding kids games: you don't card them, ever.

I understand where it's coming from: most of the time when we deal with U-littles they don't understand much more than kick the ball into the net and don't use your hands. But the game is getting steadily more sophisticated, even at the U-little level. Some people have said that instead of issuing a caution, you should have a brief word with the coach instead. It's hard to argue with that approach, but it only goes so far. With as many issues as I've had with coaches in my career (more philosophically, but there's plenty that went beyond that, too), most of them have a pretty good idea of what they're doing, and have a good chunk of experience behind them. U-little coaches tend to not have quite so much; the reason I bring it up is because I can totally see a coach not using that quiet word, and then the next time it happens - what then? All you're left with is a card; and if it happens to be the same player, a kid that should be removed from the game, but can't (unless it's a send-off offense).

I guess where I'm going at is that, be it by card or by private word, kids can be shits (god knows I was) and should be disciplined. Coaches may have a better idea of how to effectively do that, but we can't just assume that because it's kids (and I know some people who have the same idea for adult rec games), that they're angels and shouldn't be cautions or sent off.

I wish I knew how far into the game this was, and see if there was something that precipitated that, beyond them getting crushed the game before. Below is the clip Read More »