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Top 10 Things a new referee should learn and know:

Chris Muzio 1/17/2006

1) When you're just starting out, buy your Referee apparel on the cheap! You don't have to go out and buy the $50, extra-expensive, extra special, USSF logo's (assuming, of course, you Ref in the United States of America) Official Sports jerseys. Epic Soccer (to name but one merchant) sells good quality jerseys at around $20 or less apiece! I've also heard that Score is a good place to go (though I've never visited them myself). If you're really out to buy all eight shirts to start (long sleeve and short sleeve), that's a savings of around $240! The only thing I would very strongly recommend on these jerseys is a Velcro pocket flap on each of the two pockets which completely closes the pocket, and a button collar. Some really cheap Referee jerseys have no flaps on the pockets, and no buttons on the collar. In my opinion, even if those jerseys only cost $1 per shirt, that's still $1 too much.

2) Start out as an Assistant Referee if you can. When you're doing your first few Centers, ask your Scheduler (very politely) if s/he would please place you with a couple of senior Referees who can offer good advice. You'll have the confidence of two more experienced sets of eyes watching the game with you (excluding, of course, all the other "experts" present that day).

3) Recreational children's soccer is a great place to Center when you're on your own. The fact of the manner is that a lot of youth soccer leagues simply don't have the budget or resources to recruit or pay AR's, so they only assign Centers (and pay Centers) for their matches. To go along with suggestion number two, ask if you can serve as an AR for the Center in some of the children's games. The children will get a qualified, neutral AR (which they don't get at all otherwise), and even if you don't get paid cash, the experience will be payment enough for matches that you Center down the line.

4) Write yourself a decent set of pre-game instructions to give your AR's when you have them. Make them easy! When you work with State or National Referees, they'll likely give you a pre-game talk that lasts a full five minutes and will leave your head spinning. They can do that, they're State and National Referees, and they've presumably done this for a long time. But you need to make your instructions simple for you and your AR's to start. You can always add to them later. Understand with your pre-game that you are there to remind the AR's what their role is in calling offside (they own it!), fouls in their area/quadrant, throw-ins, corner kicks, etc. I'm not going to go into great detail about the pre-game here (that's a separate article that Ask The Ref is calling on somebody else to write!), but be sure to remind your AR's that you're a team, have fun, etc.

5) Arrive at the field at least a half hour before match time. This gives you plenty of time to walk the field and get your wits about you. If you notice a dangerous field condition, bring it to the attention of the coaches or tournament marshal ls (if you're at one of those). Do not hesitate to abandon a match before it starts if the field conditions aren't safe (and cannot be made safe before the match). Remember, it's all about your opinion. If you make the decision that a match cannot be played, stick with it. It's not subject to negotiation.

6) When you decide to Referee tournaments, you need to understand that the Assigner is a human being. Get your preferences in to him or her as early as you can as far as your availability is concerned. And another thing about tournaments, don't get pigeon-holed, railroaded, or whatever your other favorite terminology is into doing too many games. The Assigner, as good a person as s/he is, is faced with a lot of games and a very limited number of Referees. Don't take on more than you can honestly handle. I'm in decent shape, and I do no more than three matches at a tournament, and most of the time, two matches. And this leads in to point number 7.

7) Treat every match as though it is the most important thing in the world for those players. It is. If you take too many matches in a tournament or league day, you can't do this, you'll be too tired and your focus will be elsewhere.

8) Items you need to have in your kit bag: 2 whistles, two yellow cards, two red cards, twine and scissors (to tie down nets and make them safe before match time), your USSF (or applicable) badge, two flipping coins (at least, for some reason they disappear), at least two pens, plenty of paper or game cards to record information about the match including goals and misconduct, all of your jerseys -- I find it helpful to bag the jerseys separately in Zip Lock bags if you can, and to label those bags with a permanent marker so you can easily find the color and sleeve length you need, plenty of bottles of water or other stuff to drink, a clipboard for reconciling a team's roster with the actual players present on a team, a copy of the current FIFA Laws of the Game, and personally, I keep a couple of trash bags, the large ones, in my bag so I can "bag" my bag if it starts raining (to keep everything dry). I'm sure others could add more to the list, but when you start thinking about it, it's no wonder some Referees carry kit bags that are larger than the luggage bags that a lot of people take on their vacations.

9) Remember, you are there for the PLAYERS. Nobody else. Not the fans, the parents, not even the coaches.

10) If you see or hear something in your match that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up, deal with it. Remember, you do carry yellow cards and red cards. Don't be afraid to use your authority, it's why you're there. If you have a coach begging to be expelled or a player begging to be sent off, who are you to deny their request. And along those lines, write the report the day of the match and forward it to the proper person or people. In most cases, that's how you get paid, and it's very important for the league or tournament authority to have that information as soon as possible to deal with problems if there are any.

And point number 11 on this list of 10 is this: have fun! Smile! When you have fun, usually, the players have fun, and that makes for a really nice time on the pitch.


Chris is a "lowly" USSF Grade 8 Referee. He has been refereeing for about four or five years now, and is strongly considering upgrading to a Grade 7 within a couple of years. He is a member of the Albuquerque Soccer Referee Association (ASRA), and referees adult, youth, and High School matches.

Chris Muzio

"If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude. Don't complain."
--Maya Angelou

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