As We Lay Sleeping….

By: Bob Jones, NISOA, Maryland

With visions of a freshly mown, properly marked 110 by 65 yard meadow filled with enthusiastic young adults and the satisfaction of a well-called game in our minds, a quiet evolution is occurring in the “Beautiful Game” of Soccer. The game is changing rapidly and we must keep pace. Failure to do so is an injustice, and the possible result is that our dream may become a nightmare.

According to the National Federation of High Schools (NFHS) Participant Survey 2007-2008 soccer is the fifth most popular sport nationally, regardless of gender. Over 10,500 high schools field both boys and girls teams and the game continues to grow. As reflected in the NFHS Rules Book, many states encourage county boards of education to allow students with disabilities to have equal opportunity to participate in physical education and main stream athletic teams. The playing field is an extension of the classroom where the student athlete experiences several “life lessons” such as winning and losing, sportsmanship, team work and communications skills when dealing with peers and authoritarian figures.

The Referees.

Competent soccer refereeing at any level is challenging and complex. At the High School level the Referee Team takes on an expanded role – that of being a member of the educational team standing with the school administrators and the coaches to educate the players. The Soccer Referee ensures fair play by enforcing the NFHS Rules. This is a point of emphasis as we enter the 2009 season.

Referees are expected to exercise their authority in an impartial, firm, and controlled manner while minimizing player risk. Game management and control is not the sole responsibility of the Referee Team but includes the players, coaches and the school administrators.

The game.

The key components of the interscholastic soccer game include the fans, coaches, teams, players, and Referee Team, and the stage (i.e., field) it is played on. If the game is to realize its educational and student-athlete development goals, then there cannot be tensions or clashes of ideas between these components. They all must function together to reach the goals successfully. Yet some conflict is inevitable.

The fans.

When considering the role of fans it is understood that they attend and support the game for a variety of motives. Fans include both the student body and interested parents.

The teenage student body often displays a general lack of respect for authority. Each game is a social event. Student fans will often vocally protest inadequate play and also attempt to influence the Referee Team’s judgments.

Soccer parents have become more sophisticated about soccer over time. Their student-athletes may well have played the game for many seasons at the non-school youth level. The parents have a basic knowledge of the rules of the game and have made a substantial investment in their children’s involvement in the game. The familiar “soccer mom” has become somewhat of a professional in her own right.

Some parents look towards the expenses of college and see soccer as a way to either totally or partially defray the cost of higher education though an athletic scholarship.  These parents may be expected to express their passion for the game. According to Mark Hyman, Baltimore Sports Writer, only 18% of public college scholarships and 7% of private college scholarships are for sports.

The student-athlete.

The High School student-athlete is the “cream” of his or her sport. Selected in a competitive process, they are intelligent, and technically skilled with considerable game experience. In a May 21, 2009 article published in the Washington Post by B.J Koubaroullis several soccer participants who had played 140 games in a 16 month period were highlighted. Sami Kuykendall was quoted as saying “I made a decision, consciously when I was a lot younger, that this was the way to college soccer.” It was pointed out that she had played 90 games in the past calendar year including 3 club-league schedules and several tournaments. By comparison, D.C. United, the local men’s professional team, plays a schedule of 35-40 games a year. These High School athletes expect to play without the fear of intimidation in a game where they may demonstrate their skills.

The coaches.

In this world of limited resources coaches are slowly becoming part of the game’s evolution. Looked upon as educator-coaches they are increasingly being contracted as full-time coaches. They are being pressured to produce wins and are expected to field increasingly high-quality teams. Coaches are becoming increasingly more knowledgeable of the game, as a result of continuing education programs being offered. Expectations of coach performance include professionalism, fitness, best game effort, mechanics, knowledge of the interscholastic rules, and consistency. In their world they are confronted with the winning expectations of players, parents, alumni and the administration.

The challenge.

We Interscholastic Referees are just one more “alligator in the coach’s pond” for, because of our objectivity, we don’t care about any game result – win or lose.

Enter on this stage the Referee Team! Jeff Dahnert, CEO and President of the Sports Car Club of America, recognized that “there are some jobs in this world where the reward for a solid performance is to simply go unnoticed. One example would be the Referees and Umpires in sporting events. If they do a really good job, nobody will notice they are there. However, if they make a bad call, they instantly fall into the category whose descriptions include: “horrible” ”terrible”, and “incompetent”. The most they can hope for is to simply go unnoticed and achieve a grade of C.” However, is a “C” enough?

In the introduction of “Sports Officiating, A legal Guide” there is a quote that I believe brings the situation into perspective “As officials we are often threatened and sometimes attacked, both verbally and physically. The emphasis placed upon winning results is making challenging the referees decision more fashionable than ever.” Though people are basically honest, responsible and self motivated, the players, coaches and fans through gamesmanship will try to put the opponent off the game, influence the Referee Team and the course of the game. Verbal abuse of the Referees, and questions of judgment and integrity are not to be tolerated.

The successful Referee Team’s real potential lies in its passion, knowledge and excitement for the game. The Referee Team has chosen a tough avocation. When placed into the High School stadium, the team must exude professionalism through their mannerisms and unity. They must remain approachable, calm under pressure, and not draw attention to themselves. They must also make every effort to avoid conflict by being pro-active not reactive. A quiet word can be a powerful tool when applied properly.

As members of the Student-Athlete Education Team it is imperative that all Interscholastic Referees be students of the game. Merely reading the NFHS Soccer Rules Book is no longer sufficient. Their objective must be the provision of the best professional Referee Team available to the interscholastic game. Between seasons continuing education is a must. The NFHS offers a variety of on-line programs that will benefit us all. The recent activation of the Dartfish soccer program is but one example. The State High School Athletic Associations offer professional administration for the game. Also, participation in your Local NISOA Chapter, with its program of regular meetings, referee clinics, access to NISOA Referee Training Camps, assessment programs, and access to NISOA Continuing Education materials, serves to expose the Interscholastic Referees to the experiences of others in the same school-oriented avocation while pursuing relevant self-development activities. Interscholastic Referees owe no less to themselves and to the student-athletes who have invested so much.

A “C” is just not acceptable!