When teaching a person how to play golf, if you put the ball on the tee 300 yards from the hole and ask the newbie to swing, most likely he or she would become frustrated very quickly. Instead, you place the ball a yard from the hole. Once the new golfer can consistently putt the ball in the hole, confidence will grow and you move the ball farther away. Eventually, the ball will wind up on the tee, 300 yards from the hole.
Same deal with referees who have just become certified as you give them the most basic assignment with support to start out. So their first game should be as an AR with an experienced ref in the middle to give pointers. Or as a ref in a pee-wee game but with an experienced ref observing and giving pointers to the ref at halftime and after the game as well as controlling the adults on the touchline as these are the people who short-circuit many referee careers.
A word about the experienced ref. Most are very good instructors but a small minority do not have teaching ability and will only confuse the new official. Keep these people away from our new officials.
The experienced ref watching the game need not be an assessor as they are as overstretched as referees on busy weekends. Because of this, generally only the best refs looking to advance or the worst refs who are receiving the lion’s share of complaints are assessed at the start of their careers. I was refereeing for five years before an assessor, Jack McCabe, who was a national instructor and assessor, came to one of my games and saw that I had potential. Outside of professional games I officiated ages ago, I’ve been assessed approximately 10 times in a career that spans 37 years.
Although very few games might be assessed by a person trained to do so, the ref is being assessed every game by players, coaches and spectators. Refs need to at least listen to criticism that they might have and, most importantly, if they see patterns of criticism developing, act on them.
When I started refereeing, I heard comments like “Ref, let us play,” “The teams are playing nicely, so could you call less fouls?” and “You meant well, but you interrupted play too much.” I learned to whistle fewer fouls while still maintaining control of the game, to everyone’s benefit.
Where I live, the Long Island Soccer Referee Association has a wildly successful AR program where over 90% of the ARs are teenagers. I understand that officials, particularly teens, could be timid at first. But even as they develop as ARs, many of them expect the refs to do the heavy lifting by keeping control of the game and making all the important decisions not involving offside or the ball going out-of-play. There comes a point when the good AR must accept some more responsibility by signaling (a twirl of the flag) for fouls right in front of the AR, then taking the Grade 8 certification course and being assigned in the middle as a ref. Although passing the Grade 9 course allows refs to officiate all recreational youth games as ref or AR from Under-14 and below, the Grade 8 course is a good next step for those who are good and have become serious about officiating.
When that day comes with assignments in the middle, their ARs should be experienced refs to give guidance. If only we had so many officials that we could develop them using this sensible progression of more challenging games but always with support at the field.
To get there, we’re going to need the help of all Soccer Americans as well as all adults at the field. Most officials quit within their first two years of officiating with verbal abuse by kids’ parents being the No. 1 reason for quitting. Everybody is learning and wanting to have fun, including your kids and the officials, so keep quiet and enjoy the game because when you yell at an official, you could be contributing to our referee shortage.
(Randy Vogt has officiated over 9,000 games during the past three decades, from professional matches in front of thousands to 6-year-olds being cheered on by very enthusiastic parents. In "Preventive Officiating," he shares his wisdom gleaned from thousands of games and hundreds of clinics to help referees not only survive but thrive on the soccer field. You can visit the book’s website at www.preventiveofficiating.com.)