Monday, July 27, 2009

Refereeing my first Adult game

Our local league is very small. Its all co-ed, there are only four teams in each age division, and multiple ages play on the same team. I used to coach 'Old Timers' and had a range of kids from 12-17 on my team. After grade eleven they are supposed to move on to the 'Geriatric' division, where there are four adult teams.

I had been refereeing U12 and U10 this summer, but was finding the littler ones didn't present much of a challenge or much exercise. Their enthusiasm for the game was a refreshing recharge after giving up coaching, but I wanted some more competitive games to warm up for the boys high school season this fall.

I was extremely nervous beforehand. These guys (and girls) have never had a referee before! All our adult refs play in the division so there has never been someone available. They called all their own fouls, ball in/out, offsides, and whatnot themselves according to the collective understanding (or misunderstanding ;) of the laws of the game. Hard to walk into that and establish a presence.

It was not my best game by any means, but serviceable. I've been off for two weeks with a vacation and then the stomach flu, so didn't feel I had my legs yet. I did better than expected with keeping up with play, but much room for improvement there. It was a very back and forth game. One team would pressure, then the defending team would pound it down the field to their high forwards and off I'd charge to the other end of the field. The ball would turn over and be blasted back to the other half and I'd run all the way back again. I use a pedometer in all my games, I had as many steps in the first half as I normally do in a full match. More than a couple times in the game I didn't have the gas to get to the penalty area as quickly as I should have. Missed a few fouls and what probably should have been a penalty kick by being out of position.

I had coached about half of the players on one team, and maybe a quarter on the other, plus played recreationally with a handful more of the older players. Knowing the players, I went in expected an amount of dissent from certain ones, but turns out I expected it from the wrong guys. Blue team was playing with only 10 but made a very good game of it in the first half. Green's outstanding keeper was unbeatable. As his former high school coach, I wish I could take even the smallest amount of credit, but I can't. 2-0 Green at the half. Blue scored early in the second to make it close, but then Green got a third, and the wheels fell off.

That's when the chirping started. From some of my favourite boys I coached in high school. Nothing overt, but careful conversations within hearing about the unfairness of the ref and he called this why didn't he call that and blah blah blah. Funny how players always forget the calls that go their way whan complaining about bias. I unleashed one of the most powerful tools in my arsenal - selective listening. Figured ignoring was the best bet since they didn't use profanity and was quiet enough to not listen to. Ironic how much it reminded me of coaching them on the high school team. When we struggled, which was often, these were the guys who could never say "I need to work harder", or "I can do better". It was all about blaming teammates, the coach, the 4-4-2 system, or the referee. Hard to come back with that kind of attitude. 5-1 the final for Green.

The other thing that reminded me of coaching high school was the total lack of midfield presence by both teams, particularly in the second half. Used to drive me nuts as a coach. Drives me nuts as a referee because all the extra running. The attacking team would have all their forwards and midfielders up in the penalty area against the defending team's defence and some mids, and all their defence back in their own half marking the defending team's forwards and a mid or two. 30 yards of basically empty space in between the two groupings.

Anyway, things I need to work on for next game. Fitness obviously. 33 pounds down from my high, but another 10 or 12 would be a big help. I'm thinking some cycling so as not to put wear on my knees. I also need to work on foul recognition. I've had a lot of trouble with this. I'm still a new enough referee that it isn't instinctive. I see a possible foul, I process the possible foul, I consider if it was a foul or not, I think about blowing the whistle, but 3 seconds have gone by and the play has moved on. I'm hoping that as I gain experience I will instantly recognize fouls and not have to think about it. It would be nice to have an assessment or some kind of mentoring system in our league, but believe it or not, I'm the only certified referee in the league. I also want to get a little stricter next game. I'm usually a firm believer in letting the players play if both teams are happy the level of physicality, but there was a fair amount of fouling going on, not all of which I called. I figured I'd let them get used to the idea of having a referee before I start calling all kinds of fouls they've never seen fit to call themselves.

BTW 11550 steps at end of match. Not sure how this works out to distance. I have a GPS that I've been thinking about pocketing for an U12 match and then comparing linear distance on that vs steps on pedometer. I would guess each step averages out to about half a meter, or about 6 km over the course of the game.

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