Are young refs advancing too soon?

Before I answer the question and allow you to answer in the comments below, let me write about my early years as a ref as it was so different from young refs today.

I started reffing intramural games when I was 16 years old in 1978. My graduation from high school to college two years later correlated to my graduation from intramural to the travel team Long Island Junior Soccer League. At first, the increased speed of play in travel team soccer was challenging and it took me a season to adjust. It took me even longer to adjust to the challenges of adult soccer, especially since the players were older than me. And I was doing nearly all games by myself as the ref.

Refereeing was the old boy network at the time with little interest in advancing good, young refs so I was not formally assessed. But informally, I was being assessed by coaches, players and spectators every game. I heard criticism in some of my matches that I was calling the game too tight so I acted and learned to whistle less fouls while still maintaining game control.

Longtime ref administrator Jack McCabe, on the committee that brought the 1994 World Cup to the USA, heard good things about me so he came to watch me referee at a tournament. This was not a formal assessment and he gave me some pearls of wisdom at the conclusion of the game.

When it came time to re-certify that year, Jack said to me, “Randy, don’t you want to become a State Referee?”

I told Jack that I did but had no idea how to become one.

“Give me five more dollars,” Jack said, so I did. “Congratulations, you are now a State Referee.”

I was promoted from State Referee 2 to State Referee 1 a couple of years later when I noticed my new grade after receiving it in the mail. I remember being assessed but don’t recall requesting a promotion.

Today, besides passing the physical fitness and rules tests that refs for decades have needed to pass, refs must pass two field assessments before receiving the State badge. And pass two assessments every year to keep that badge. The standards are obviously higher for National and FIFA officials.

Approximately two decades ago, I noticed a real change in attitude of both U.S. Soccer and college soccer toward young refs, who are now spotted, scouted and assessed so they can advance up the ladder. Before they make it to MLS or the NWSL, they cut their teeth in the lower divisions of pro soccer and all divisions of adult soccer.

So I’ve seen young refs given the opportunity to sink or swim. Some swim and good for them. Yet some sink and they go down to doing youth games solely or quit altogether.

I officiated nearly 1,000 games before I ever did a pro game and a few thousand games before I officiated a national championship game –– both youth and adult –– during my long and winding referee career. And therefore had plenty of experience to draw on for those games.

With the level of maturity, or lack thereof, that I had as a very young adult, I could not have handled the pressure of officiating top games with thousands of people watching. So the fact that I did not advance quickly was truly a blessing in disguise.

The young refs today are advancing much more quickly and officiating top games sooner than I ever did. In many of these games today, whether pro level, adult or college, I see mistakes made by officials often due to a lack of experience. Maybe even it’s a lack of sleep the night before a big game. It’s often basic things such as allowing one player to foul too much without cautioning for persistent infringement, letting challenges become more robust without sanction or allowing a coach to give a commentary about the officiating throughout the match.

So my answer to the question in the headline is “Yes, many young refs are advancing before they are ready” and we need to slow down their advancement so the game slows down for them, for the good of everybody at the field.

(Randy Vogt, the author of "Preventive Officiating," has officiated more than 10,000 games. Go HERE for the archive of Vogt's referee Soccer America referee articles.

9 comments about "Are young refs advancing too soon?".
  1. Ben Myers, February 23, 2018 at 5:16 p.m.

    I want to ask different questions.  How fast do referees advance in the more advanced soccer countries?  What systems and support mechanisms are there to help younger referees in the more advanced countries?  Can we learn from referee practices in other countries, just like we are all too slowly learning about how the game is played by players and coached by coaches?

  2. R2 Dad, February 23, 2018 at 5:51 p.m.

    I don't see top young referees advancing too quickly, for a few reasons. I can only speak to the two examples I know of, who are two exceptional talents with what I see as the "right" disposition. Both guys are under 30. Personable, with social skills. Have played the sport all through their teens so understand how the game is played at higher levels. Humble, but authoritative. Not roadkill, not "it's all about me". But these two people I would be very comfortable throwing into the deep end, to see how they react, because only in the crucible do we see how they respond under pressure. I've seen that kind of pressure, had my own "Peter Principle" moment, and understand you're either learning lessons, pushing past and advancing or settling back to a level you are more comfortable with. I'd argue State and National assessors should want to know sooner rather than later if these young people are up to the challenge or will fall back, so giving them the opportunity to experience that sooner rather than later is a good thing. Of course, this isn't a simple straight-forward assessment. Referee soccer IQ is simillar to player soccer IQ--there are a bunch of intangibles that are difficult to measure so there is still plenty of art to the science. And as we know, scouting in this country is still weak and sporadic, whether it's for players or referees. Though I might argue it's actually easier to ferret out good referees than good players.

  3. James Madison, February 23, 2018 at 7:02 p.m.

    It depends.  Chronological age is not as important as (a) emotional/psychological maturity and (b) having officiated enough games and played enough games to develop a "feel" for the game and the players the young official is being asked to officiate.  Th up-and-coming referee will know  when he or she has reached that level.  It's like knowing when you can ride a brahma bull with assurance you will not fall mid-ride.

  4. Craig Cummings, February 23, 2018 at 9:45 p.m.

    Well said Randy.  I see this happening in So Cal all the time. They say, well we see he  can run, now lets see if he can fef. Some get Nat badge and crash out. pushed to quick , yes.

  5. R2 Dad replied, February 24, 2018 at 12:07 a.m.

    Craig, are these grade 5 referees that you think aren't making it? If they are they will have already been assessed formally at least 3 times. If that's the case, maybe the Cal-South state aseessors are the problem.

  6. Bill Riviere, February 24, 2018 at 1:17 p.m.

    Randy, Good stuff about advanced referees.  I have refereed for 20+ years and have observed a lot of youth referees 14-19 at various youth league levels.  What are your thoughts on how to provide better support/mentoring for them? 

    State-run assessment programs--at least in CT--are mostly focused on identifying/training the better referees through assessments, camps, etc., but never get to the thousands of other youth refs who need mentoring, assessing.  Shouldn't the state youth referee programs ID at least one experienced/good referee in every club and train them to mentor and assess the younger ones? CT runs some classes for youth referees and those are helpful, but, to learn, youth referees need to be observed "under fire" and critiqued. And, someone would need to fund the program....

    As a HS referee, our Board runs mandatory classes for referees in their first two years, regular meetings focus on rule interpretations, and certain ituations, newer refs are assigned to work with senior referees, plus referees can ask to be assessed. But, I beleive more on field support is needed at the youth referee level.

    Frankly, I see this as a much more serious problem for U. S. soccer than whether good referees are pushed up the line too quickly.

    How about an article addressing this critical issue? Are there states/clubs that you know of who have addressed the issue I outline?  I'd love to hear if/how it is being done elsewhere.

    I read all your articles and value your thoughts....  Thanks!

  7. uffe gustafsson, February 24, 2018 at 5:38 p.m.

    The one missing item is the support of experienced AR.
    if you know you have your back covered by really good AR then why not let the young ref get the center experience. But more often you don’t have that support and it can get very diffecult.

  8. Ric Fonseca, February 25, 2018 at 1:38 a.m.

    I do and of course, don't agree with the article and some of the comments.  I literally "fell into refereeing" a little later in life than I would have preferred, when I was in grad school.  Some of my referee seniors were the likes of Toros Kibritjian, Heinz Wolmerath, Dan Goldman, Dio Corerdo, etc., of the Grater Los Angeles SL.  When I first put on the then only black uniform, I was nervous as hell, as I was literally "thrown to the wolves" in the old GLASL (when Tony Morejon was the head honcho of the league) and was assigned to run lines in the field in San Pedro, J. Robinson field, East LA's "Pit", before I was assigned to do games in the middle, etc. I was also assigned, after a short three years to do the middle at the LA Coliseum in a preliminary game before one of those famous "international games."  And I can tell you that I made some mistakes worthy of historical note, and received my share of verbal as well as physical abuse, yet, I wish to heck that I'd had the time to learn how to officiate, in fact I remember having Toros tell me after a written excam, that I'd done not too high and not too poorly, he was a very kind instructor but very strict in his own right, and let me tell ya, I learned.  As for the main topic, Ref. Randy is correct to a point, however, with the rapid expanse and growth of the sport, I for one am glad to see the younger official running lines or being in the middle and I can uncategorically tell you that there is no better school or ojt (on the job training) than the fields of Southern California. If I had my druthers, I'd make it a requirement to begin the training processes during middle and high school, and making it mandatory that the players themselves receive first several lectures on the LOT, and then put them on the fields for scrimmages and every single player be required to officiate a certain percentage of games (not their own teams, of course!!!) and then slowly but surely entice them to call games and get paid for doing something they'll end up enjoying, or in the other extreme, abhor doing.  It is only wishful thinking and hope, but could be more pleasing and attractive if the very LOT or FIFA LOTare uniform and made applicable at all levels, from youth, recreational/competitive, scholastic, collegiate, and amateur and or semi-pro games.

  9. Randy Vogt, February 27, 2018 at 9:07 a.m.

    Young refs are going through a good deal of life changes as many are getting married, becoming parents and changing jobs and sometimes home states. We lose some refs to these changes as they do not have the time to ref and train for it with all these changes and that’s a shame but there is nothing the referee community can do about that. But there is plenty of time for refs in their twenties and early 30’s to advance. I just wish that the incline was not as steep in many cases as I’ve seen at least half sink rather than swim when put into the crucible and for those who sink, we often lose those refs entirely from officiating. If we made the incline not as steep, I believe most would swim. I would have sunk in the environment today, and as I point out in the column above, not advancing as quickly was truly a blessing in disguise for me as there were so many things I did not know. Regarding Uffe’s point, experienced AR’s can certainly help a ref and Bill Riviere has a good idea for an article in the near future on how to retain refs. I’m sure Soccer Americans will have some ideas on that topic as well.

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