I Am Not Ready to Hang Them Up!

By:  John Van de Vaarst

Most intercollegiate soccer officials move up the ranks to the college level because they love the game and want to remain a part of it.  The thrill of officiating the top level game with the stands full is a rush for every official that ever walked on the field.  Each and every game the officiating team has the opportunity that many only dream of having in their future.  What happens when the official has gone beyond their prime and can no longer do justice to the game?

Some officials give up officiating without a choice.  Injury, health problems, career moves all factor in to an official not being able to continue their career.  This is the hardest situation to deal with because it was not planned.  An official is on top of their game and a physician tells them that they can no longer continue because of a physical ailment is devastating.   The official was not mentally prepared to end their career and now must make a complete transition from a very active official to not working any games.  This impacts the every aspect of their life.  When this happens it is important for the official to relay on their family, friends and fellow referees with the transition.   Talking to others who may have been in the same situation may help.  Staying involved in the college game in some other capacity may also help.  Later in this article there will be some ideas on ways an official can stay involved.

Officials must recognize when they are ready to step down.  This is hard for those that are very active and in good health.  However, they have lost a step or two and should not be working at the top level of play.  There have been cases when a quality official remained on the field for  one too many years.  That last year was a struggle and coaches, who previously respected the official, now think less of him/her.  Also, the fine reputation that was built over the years is now being diminished.   The worst case scenario is when this official is assigned a top level game or playoff and cannot do the game justice.  One example is the official assigned could no longer get deep down field or make a quick transition.  A critical play occurs in the penalty area and the referee is not in the best position to make the call.  This could have a significant impact on the game.  The referee calls a penalty and that teams wins by one goal.  A review of the play clearly indicates that no foul occurred.  Another example is  an assistant referee who can no longer sprint and keep up with the second from the last defender is involved in a very close offside decision.  The call is not made and a goal results.  The outcome of the game is decided because of an assistant who could no longer cover the ground needed to be in the best position.

Intercollegiate officials should develop their own timetable for stepping down from the game.  This will allow them to “retire” from the field on their terms and make an easier transition.  This will also mean that they will not lose respect of coaches or fellow officials.  Knowing when it is time to end a career will go a long way to help an official move on to the next steps in their overall officiating career.

So what is next for the top official who leaves the active career?  There are many options.  Mentoring younger officials is very rewarding.   Helping others reach the ranks the senior official did will allow for succession planning and good officials on future top games.  Another opportunity is becoming a clinician.  This provides the senior official the opportunity to speak in a formal manner to others and help them develop the skills the senior official exhibited when active and on the field.  Imparting lifelong lessons to others is most valuable.  Assessment is yet another way to stay involved in the game and help others.  Providing feedback and working with others so they can learn new tools will help the game in general.

An official who knows when it is time to step off the field has a much greater opportunity to make a smooth transition to other areas.  This includes having time to  spend with family, children and grandchildren.  Being ready to have weekends free and wanting to spend the quality time comes much easier when it is planned in advance.

In closing, the an important thing to remember is “I left when they were still applauding.”