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Question Number: 21646

Character, Attitude and Control 7/13/2009

RE: college/adult/high school ref Adult

Danelle Muresan of Dubuque, IA USA asks...

I am a female referee and I am trying to advance my referee career. I have just joined NISOA and I am doing increasingly challenging games all the time. I don't usually have problems officiating high school or the men's adult league in my city, however, when I do higher level games, especially games where the men are from countries where women do not participate in soccer, I have problems with the players respecting me. I give cards for dissent and foul/abusive language, but the number of cards gets to be ridiculous (10 yellow and 4 red in one game). I know that my appearance does not help things. I have long blond hair and I am small, even for a woman. I am a good referee, I love officiating, and I want to keep advancing to more and more challenging games. I observe successful officials and welcome their advice all the time, but the problem is that they are men, and, sorry to say, it is different when you are a man officiating a men's game and when you are a woman officiating a men's game. Please give me some advice on how to deal with this issue. If there is an experienced female ref who could give me some advice or tell me how you handle this, I would love to hear from you! Thanks.

Answer provided by Referee Michelle Maloney

There are two of us here, and I'll give you my thoughts, and I do so hope Ref Hoelscher will chime in here. Congratulations on making NISOA, and best wishes for a long and storied career!

One, develop a thicker skin. Reacting to what players say (which is what 10 yellow & 4 red in one game says to me) is a bad habit well worth losing. Players - all of them - are going to moan and groan and disagree with what you see and what you call. It's part of the game. Let it go unless it is interfering with your control of the match. Then, use as many tools as you have in your bag to deal with it before you have to resort to cards. It will teach you a lot. This topic has lots of booby traps and deserves a lot of discussion. Just remember, anybody can throw a card; not everyone can control a match without them - and that should be one of your goals. Use cards only when they are required, either by the LOTG or by the needs of the match - not because you personally feel offended. Don't take yourself too seriously.

Two, working with men is more conducive to using a sense of humor, in my experience, so develop one. Being able to laugh at yourself protects your dignity. When your dignity is safe, it is easier to remain unoffended and calm. My father used to tell me, and I have found it O so true as a referee: 'You can say anything to anyone, as long as you say it with a smile.' They never know if you are serious or not, but the message will be received - don't mess with me or else.

Three, state what will happen - never argue. I recall watching Kim Chalmers, an itty bitty, blonde FIFA from Canada, doing a highly competitive game of U19 boys at a tournament. One young man was trying to give her a hard time. She, never losing stride as she stayed with play, said loudly enough for everyone to hear her: ' I will be here for 90 minutes. Will you?' Needless to say, he was no more trouble, because he'd been warned (with a sense of humor) and everyone knew it.

Four, and this is so critical - learn to listen to what the players are saying - whether or not they use the right words. We refs are not perfect, we make mistakes and misjudge whether players need or want calls, etc. Hearing (meaning understanding what their problem is) the player may help you control the game. You don't have to agree or even disagree, but use the information to formulate a plan to keep the player in the game if at all possible (sometimes it is not possible - but make that his fault and not yours).

Maybe they don't think the fouls you're not calling are as trifling or doubtful as you do. Listen! Maybe they do or do not want the advantage you did or did not call - maybe they wanted a free kick instead. Listen and observe! Get comfortable telling the players what you see as you run the game - let them know you are nearby and watching closely.

Once upon a time, in a men's premier division match, a player was trying to get into my head and said 'Ref, you need more experience!' I smiled (never underestimate it's power) and replied 'I know! That's why I'm here!' Message received. He was a big help to me the rest of the game, and I mean that, and we enjoyed many games after that.

I have done games with all manner of teams/players from various ethnic and foreign backgrounds. It is all a matter of not becoming rattled, staying cool and not letting them get into your head or running the game instead of you. Respect them, and demand through your (developing) excellent management skills and thorough knowledge of the Laws of the Game that they play the beautiful game.

My mentor was a short, blond referee whose hair reached to her waist - she wore it in a braid during games. She was tough as nails, fair as the day is long, totally immune to bullshit and buffaloing and much in demand for her refereeing skills, her knowledge of the game, how is meant to be played and how she fit into that pattern. All of the above I learned from her, and I found them most helpful in making me a more effective referee. It's not easy and it's not fast, but all of the above suggestions work. I hope you find some of them useful.

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Answer provided by Referee Steve Montanino

Well, I am a man, but that isn't too much a handicap in answering your question, I hope...

That said, about two years ago I remember watching this short woman referee walk into the local USL-1 stadium and take charge of a USL 1st division game. A lot of the local refs knew she was coming to town for the game and there were many doubters.

Of course, there is a reason they give someone a FIFA badge... Sandra Sarafini turned out what I would arguably say was the best refereed match that year, and one of the best I've seen, ever. Here was a short, feminine appearing, woman taking control of a professional men's game and controlling it better than Leonard Bernstein contolled the NY Philharmonic Orchestra.

How did she do it? Well, I'm never 100% sure, but from my observations on the game... it was all in her personality and approach to the game. She was able to smile, frown, be friendly, or be a bitch all at the right times, in just the way the game demanded. So I think what ref Maloney says is spot on...

I will give you that there is a difference between a man refereeing men and a woman refereeing men. That said, I don't think the difference is as vast as you might think. Men tend to show women less respect intially, but I know several female referees who have quickly earned the respect of the men. Their anatomy was not a handicap by any means.

I think the reason you perceive the problem is as large as you do might be impacted by two reasons.
1. You might feel that being female is inherently starting you out as a second class citizen. If you have this self-image, then you need to change your mind set. The best thing you can do is to walk on to the pitch with total confidence each and every time. If you show you're confident and prove it, then the players will respect you. But as Ref Maloney points out confidence means more than having the courage to show a card, sometimes its having the courage NOT to show a card and instead using your intellect to rise above their stupidity.
2. While what I am going to write might be contraversial, the fact is that there are very few female referees in the system. Sometimes women are 'pushed' at the wrong time and given a great many opportunities to shine, but sometimes this is done hastily. When assignors and administrators promote a female referee simply because she is female, they are doing her and the game a disservice.

As a male, I have often been told how it is harder to reach the highest levels of refereeing than it is for a woman, because there are more tracks open for women and it's easier to be promotoed and seen. I'm not sure how much I agree with that, but to a point, it's true. A man may have to toil around in lower divisions gaining valuable experience before they get opportunities at the next level. A woman might be given that bump too soon and lacking the experience of the male counterparts at the previous level, she will not be as prepared as they were. In essence, she starts out behind everyone else.

If you feel that you are in over your head it may be best to tell your local assignor to give you some games at the lower level while you build your experience and confidence. Of course, some administrators do the right thing and treat all the referees the same regardless of their sex and promote based on experience and ability. If you feel you're in that group, then ignore what I just wrote.

Lastly, I would suggest spending some time talking with other female referees at a higher level than you. In particular, ask them what they do, what works, and what doesn't. Also, I think it is important to discuss the difference between how male athletes think when they play than their female counterparts. (Men tend to seek retribution for certain actions, and usually do so immediately... Women may do it 5 games later... and I am sure you have noticed some differences yourself.) Learning from fellow female referees at home and away at tournaments is going to be one of the best ways I can think of to improve this part to your game.

I am fully confident that you can handle it and pretty soon you'll have the boys eating out of the palm of your hand. Good Luck in the seasons ahead.

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Answer provided by Referee Debbie Hoelscher

Hi Danelle
You are absolutely right that it's different. So we must figure out ways to adapt and overcome. I'm a grade 5 referee. I cut my teeth on the adult amateur league and the ODP in San Diego. I was honored to be part of WUSAs inaugural season prior to moving to Northern California, where for me, family was my priority -- an unfortunate competition in the eyes of the Federation. I can totally get where you are coming from. I had a male mentor, and learned a lot about dealing with men from him. I knew going into the match I was already down a notch, simply because I am female. I trained hard to keep up with play and prove to them that I could be there when necessary. I found that I gained credibility with them by letting them know (and not always by blowing the whistle) that I knew--that I saw what was going on. Awareness for any referee, male or female is crucial. My dearly departed friend often said: 'your situational awareness will make you if you have it, or break you, if you don't.' They, for the most part are reasonable and if they see that you know what you are doing, they respect that.

I went down the 'dissent cautions' road once or twice myself, and found that they didn't bring back to the game what I expect it would. So then I tried using my personality. My mentor used to tell me I could get away with doing things that he could never do - and vice-versa. I found that personality and quite frankly, taking on a 'disapproving mom' kind of approached worked. The only time cautions for dissent were effective is when the dissent was public and personal enough for me to 'legitimize' that caution. I agree with ref Maloney's comments and there are plenty of nuggets of wisdom found within them.

In some ways, you sort of have to become one of the guys. I once had a player delay the restart of play. I didn't caution him for it because the dynamic of the event didn't really lend itself to giving back to the game what I wanted to get from a caution. But during a stoppage in play, as soon as I was able, I got up next to him real close and spoke firmly but quietly, which then required him to tilt his head lower towards me. As soon as he did that, I knew he was keen on listening to me. I said: 'If you [word that starts with the sixth letter of the alphabet] ever pull that [male bovine's feces] again during this match I will book your ass so fast you won't know what happened. The surprise on his face was worth it. Then I looked at him dead in the eye and said: 'got it?' He nodded, I smiled and I said 'great, then we will have a great game together.' Now, I am of German-Scot descent, so I'm sure you can imagine what I look like. I'm short too. The player I was dealing with was the exact opposite.

Another time, I was doing an amateur international match. One team was from Nigeria, the other Guatemala. Yeah. At some point in the match I got a complaint that racial slurs were being bandied about. We were at a stoppage when the player came up to me. I told him that I hadn't heard what he was talking about, but that I would talk to the other team's captain and deal with it. Here I am, 5 foot nothing fair and blond, and the captain of the other team was nearly a foot taller than me, with beautiful ebony skin. I asked him to come walk with me and we walked together down the halfway line. He had draped his arm over my shoulder and I had his head down listening intently while I talked to him. I basically said 'look, I really don't know what happened, but it needs to stop. I also told him to just nod at me while I was talking to him because I wanted the other team to see that we were communicating and that their concerns were being addressed. We finished that match 11 players for the Nigerian team, 10 for the Guatemalan of their players committed a SFP offense later in the match and I sent him packing. I had smiles from everyone though--both teams.

Don't let them get you on the line either. Stand up for yourself and your confidence in your ability to make the right calls. Always be on that goal line when they look up wondering GK or CK. or whether the ball crossed over the line for goal. make sure you can sell you decisions for offside and tell them to pack sand (with a smile, of course) when they try to get you off balance. If you are working the same leagues on the line as in the middle, they will begin to get to know you on the line, and that helps for when you do their middles next.

I wish you every success as you continue your career. Keep your fitness, keep your style and learn to tell them off with a smile on your face and a twinkle in your eye.

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