Ref Watch: Mark Geiger's advice for ambitious young refs

He was initially drawn to officiating as a teenager to make some cash and he enjoyed being amid the game of soccer.

By the time Mark Geiger retired from refereeing at age 44, he had officiated in MLS for 15 seasons and worked more international competition than any U.S. ref ever.

His career included six games at two World Cups — unprecedented for an American ref and a rare accomplishment for refs of any country.

In addition to becoming in 2014 the first American to ref a men’s World Cup knockout stage game, Geiger worked four FIFA Club World Cups, three Gold Cups, and at the U-20 World Cup, Olympics, Confederations Cup and Copa America.

Since retiring, after the 2018 season, he has served as Director of Senior Match Officials for the Professional Referee Organization (PRO), which was launched a decade ago to manage refereeing for the pro levels in the USA and Canada.

In 2013, Geiger left his job as a New Jersey high school math teacher to join the first group of Americans to become full-time professional soccer officials under PRO.

“If you look at our roster of our officials, most of us started in the youth game at a young age looking to make a few bucks on the weekend,” says Geiger.

In his case, he began taking advantage of the various opportunities at the youth level.

"I would go to the regional tournaments," Geiger says. "I got invited to youth nationals and moved up the ranks the same way that a player would."

We asked Geiger to provide advice for ambitious young referees who may see themselves working in the pros or even in a World Cup.

Mark Geiger’s advice ...

1. You gotta do games. It's a long journey. With every single match, you're developing that skillset.

2. Go outside your comfort zone. Challenge yourself on the next level of the game. It's not going be perfect, and it doesn't have to be perfect, because that's where you really learn where your deficiencies are. And you can go back to your comfort zone and work on that skillset. As you continue to challenge yourself in those more difficult matches, those difficult matches become that next comfort zone and you continue to move up in that way.

Knowing what’s a foul, what's not a foul is obviously important, but you must know how to manage players, manage the game, and navigate through difficult situations.

3. Coping with mistakes. You have to own a mistake. If you want to become a better referee, you have to be honest with yourself with mistakes that you make. You can't think or portray that you're perfect all the time. And one of the tools that you can use on the field is to admit that you made a mistake. It's very difficult for a player to give you a bunch of grief if you say, “I may have missed that one.” Because what are they going say? It humanizes the referees.  It can diffuse the situation, but I wouldn't use it three times in a game.

One of the things that the players and coaches complain about, is that referees put up a wall. When they're used to getting attacked all the time, and when players come aggressively, yeah, they are going to put up a wall. But we tell the players, we tell the coaches, if you come in a normal way, you're going get a conversation, you're going get a human talking with you as opposed to somebody that's on defense all the time.

4. Abusive coaches and parents? We have to ignore it sometimes. But use the tools at your disposal to deal with the coaches. [Editor’s note: In 2019, IFAB finally enabled referees to yellow- and red-card coaches.]

5. Watch the game. Kevin Stott was always the person I looked up to. He was the model referee that I wanted to be. Many of the things that I did on the field at the youth or the amateur level at that time were things that I saw Kevin Stott doing. Then what I did is I modified that to fit my own personality and to fit what I needed to do in a game to manage a situation.

Find somebody who seems to have the same type of personality as you. Look to see what they're doing and how they're managing situations and adopt that to be part of your game.

6. Mentorship is huge. You're not going be able to move up through the ranks from the youth through amateurs up to professional without having a mentor. Having somebody you trust who’s going to be honest, who has been there and done that.

Through a referee's journeys, they're going to outgrow some mentors. There are going to be people who can just bring you so far who maybe have not experienced the level of soccer that you're going to next. Then you have to find a new mentor. Somebody who has been there who can tell you about the game and how to prepare and how to navigate through matches or certain situations.

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Refereeing in Soccer America and around the web

Among our recent ref, rules and officiating coverage and commentary:

1Offside needs a creative and comprehensive overhaul By Ian Plenderleith (Soccer America)

2. American Kathryn Nesbitt to work FIFA Club World Cup By Mike Woitalla (Soccer America)

What are the responsibilities of a captain? By Ian Plenderleith (Soccer America)

4Six U.S. officials headed to 2023 Women's World Cup By Mike Woitalla (Soccer America)

5Bam. Bam. Bam. Three red cards. I'd be fine with that. By Ian Plenderleith (Soccer America)

6MLS criticizes IFAB decision to not back temporary concussion substitutes trial By Jeff Rueter (The Athletic)

7NWSL, Hawk-Eye reach VAR first for women's soccer By Andrew Cohen (Sports Business Journal)

Michael Janosz/ISI Photos

2 comments about "Ref Watch: Mark Geiger's advice for ambitious young refs".
  1. humble 1, February 1, 2023 at 11:28 a.m.

    Great peice for future refs.  Lot's of good advice.  Being a math teach in HS, and the training that went along with that, probably was a good foundation to build from.  Not middle or elementary, but HS. Big difference.  Think about that too future refs.  Make it happen!

  2. R2 Dad, February 2, 2023 at 12:41 p.m.

    As far as getting high level amateur matches go in NorCal, it certainly helps to live near where all the state cup matches are played (Davis, Mateca, Central Valley). And that's where all the assessments happen, so if you live in the Bay Area you're gonna be driving rediculous miles for all that. Right now I see good referees not getting into the system until their late 20's. USSF should be able to identify good officials in their late teens, just like players.

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