Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Orion Reports on Youth Nationals

[Orion Stradford was selected to represent Region IV at the Youth Championships. Here's what he had to say about the experience...]

I'm back from the US Youth Soccer Championships in Little Rock, Arkansas. The tournament was from Monday, July 21st to Sunday, July 27th. We all flew in on Monday and met at the hotel to go out to eat. After dinner, the first referee meeting was at 10:00 pm. We discussed the tournament and received our first assignments. The games did not begin until Wednesday, leaving Tuesday for more meetings and the player luncheon.

On Tuesday, Brian Hall instructed us on refereeing with your personality, and using it to prevent fouls instead of solely relying on your whistle, and using your presence and body language while refereeing. One of the newer topics US Soccer is putting forward to referees is the balance of Game Control, Game Flow and Risk Taking. This topic was presented again at Tuesday's training. After the morning training we went to the player luncheon and trophy presentation. It was a very exciting presentation, as the 12 referees who worked last years' finals carried in the trophies. After the luncheon, we all drove out to Burns Park to check the fields. They all looked great and were all approximately 110 x 75.

Finally by Wednesday we'd have our first shot at games. My first match was U 16 Girls, on field #4 in the Center at 9:30 am. It was Sting Royal from North Texas vs Eclipse Select from Illinois. The final was 2-2, no cautions, no problems. A pretty mellow first game. Wednesday's training was at 2:00pm after the morning games. Brian Hall was the instructor again. His topics for this session were proper hydration and nutrition. Two referees had gone down in the heat already from the morning games, as the high temperatures had neared the 100s and humidity in the 80% range.

Thursday's match was another Center at 9:30 am, U 15 Boys, Baltimore Bays from Maryland vs Dallas Texans which the Bays won 2-0. In the first half I called a penalty kick for Baltimore. As their attacker got into the penalty area the goal keeper came out and tried to smother the ball, it began to bounce around with the attacker being able to come up with it. The keeper then swiped at the attacker's legs, fouling him. Baltimore converted the PK. Late in the first half, a Baltimore player was shielding the ball near the halfway line and the touch line. His achilles was raked by the cleat of the Dallas defender, the response being a push to the face which I deemed unsporting behavior (not violent conduct) and chewed him out and showed him a yellow card. In the second half, Baltimore scored their second goal. Dallas had the ball in their own half, and at an attempt to play a long ball, the ball hit a Baltimore player on the arm. My thought was "no handball as the ball did all of the work on that one" and allowed play to continue. The player spotted a teammate upfield, sent him a pass along the ground which he collected, and in one move was able to beat his defender and score, for the final score of 2-0. Needless to say, the Dallas coached were not very pleased at the end of this one!

On Friday, I did two ARs. U 18 Girls, Colorado Rush defeated the Sting from North Texas 1-0. U 17 Boys Ohio North defeated Cal North 2-1. The centers for these games were Dario Urrutia from New York, and Armando Villareal from South Texas. These two referees were absolutely fantastic and I imagine have very promising refereeing careers ahead of them!
Saturday was the first day of Championship Matches, for the U 14s and U15s. I did not receive an assignment for that night, so I was able to go out and just watch soccer for a change!
On Sunday I was assigned a "5th Official" for the U 16 Boys Final. Doug Wolff was in the Center. He is a grade 4 referee from Missouri, and a very good referee. He displayed a very positive demeanor with the players, and yet was authoritative and under control at all times in this match. The U 16 Boys championship was won by the Dallas Texas 2-0 over Cal North.
All-in-all this was a very great experience for me as a referee. It provided new challenges, new outlooks and perspectives on the game, and gave me a chance to make many new friends from all over the country.

Thanks for the report, Orion, and also for doing a great job representing all referees from NM. Its quite the honor and we appreciate all your hard work!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Director's Cup Report

Sometimes you don't know how a tournament is going to go until the last day.

This weekend I found myself in Kirkwood, Delaware for the Director's Cup. I will admit that my expectations were not that high; I still prepared myself mentally and physically to do my best. Boy did I need it. The quality of the games aside, there were many things that challenged the referees.

Weather. Most of us here in New Mexico are used to doing games when its hot outside. However, its rare that we're doing games when there is a heat advisory posted. The temperatures reached the upper 90's and with humidity in the upper 80's to say it was muggy was an understatement. Two referees dropped, one of whom had to be hospitalized. This stresses the importance of preparing by hydrating for a tournament. If you wait until the first day or even the night before you often are not ready.

Concentration. Sometimes its easy for us to be on a match that isn't the most challenging and lose focus. This leads to costly mistakes that not only impact the players (who are doing their best) but also the way you're rated. This applies to us here at home, too: when you are doing a match do your absolute best. While sometimes you may not feel like its the most important game of the day, the players deserve your best performance. Work hard and it will pay off.

Cooperation. I found myself in a few situations that felt awkward during the game, mainly because I had never worked with the other members of the crew before. If you are planning to take your game to the next level you have to be able to work well with others. In my case luckily there were no problems encountered but it reminded me how important it is to cover details in your pregame. When you're home and working with someone you do games with every week you can anticipate what they'll do. When its someone new (and this can happen at home, too) you need to talk it through before the match so you can avoid miscommunication.

Overall the tournament was a good experience. It was nice to "network" with other referees and see how they call things in Region I, II and III. I think everyone who attended learned a lot and certainly broadened their horizons. My helpful advice to you is when you go out of state to work a tournament always try to build relationships with other referees. Not only is it fun to interact with other people who share your passion but it also will open doors to future opportunities.

Finally, the adage that someone is always watching rings true. This weekend I saw that hard work pays off and often times in ways you wouldn't imagine at first. NEVER be discouraged and "give up" on a tournament. If you put in the effort you will be rewarded. Trust me.