What’s Next?

By Bill Wagner, NISOA National Clinician, Florida

There comes a time when a participant, whether a player or official, must decide that it’s time to ‘hang it up’ and change roles. For players, that decision is often dictated by illness or injury. Unsuccessful attempts to move to the next level may also be the event that leads a player to a different sport or a different role in the game. I suspect many readers can identify in their own experience a player who hung on too long.

There are those who felt that N.Y. Yankee great Babe Ruth tried to keep it going one season too many — and his reputation suffered for it. Champions of the Masters golf tournament are granted a lifetime exemption to be part of the field. Masters officials decided a few years ago to send letters to several past champions who they felt were no longer competitive — asking them to decline the invitation to play. Competitors are reluctant to call it quits, but eventually everyone must accept that it’s time for a different role.

I suggest it is the same for NISOA officials. We are all competitive and work hard to get to the next level. Each official wants to get assignments at the highest level possible. The NISOA National Referee Program offers a means to those most challenging assignments. It takes hard work and dedication to become a NISOA National Referee and continuous strong performances and personal commitment to remain there. There comes the time, however, when a role change to NISOA National Referee Emeritus becomes the right thing to do.

Deciding when a NISOA official should change roles is generally left to the individual official. That is unlike FIFA, which has a stated age at which referees must retire from refereeing at the highest level. Like players, the NISOA official may suffer from illness or injury that prompts a role change. Periodic feedback through the assessment program will give some the courage to say, “I’ve come as far as I am able and should now retire from the field before it is too late.” There are other possible triggers that result in an official deciding that it’s time to leave the field of play. The question then becomes “What’s next?”

Fortunately, for NISOA officials there are several possible answers to that question. Many local chapters have active mentor programs, which involve experienced referees working with newer members to develop them as referees. The NISOA Instruction and Assessment programs offer additional opportunities to give something back to the game. Those programs may be pursued prior to deciding to retire as a referee.

Entry into a mentor role is less formalized than Clinician or Assessor. Mentors just need to be willing to devote time to a younger, less-experienced referee and offer encouragement and support.

The road to becoming a NISOA Clinician or Assessor requires attendance at one or more formal clinics. You will be trained in the NISOA methodology to be used by Clinicians or Assessors. The instruction and assessment programs also require periodic attendance at refresher clinics to improve and to advance. Chapters need Local Clinicians and Assessors who can assist with its education objectives and through formal evaluations of on-field performances. Regional and National Assessors evaluate on-field performances of National Referee Candidates and National Referees. National Clinicians train Local Clinicians and conduct regional and national clinics across the country.

Those who decide that one of those avenues is the correct “What’s next” for them can begin checking things out before they actively retire from the field. If your Chapter has an active mentor program, check with the local coordinator and offer yourself as a mentor. You can move into a mentor role at your own pace and think about how much you appreciated the encouragement of someone who mentored you. If your interests lie in either the instruction or assessment programs, check them out on the NISOA website. The Directors of those programs are listed. Letting them know you are interested is the first step.

No one can be a soccer referee and expect to remain on the field forever. It should be encouraging to know that NISOA officials have several avenues to explore that permit them to remain involved in the game they love — but in an alternate role. It may not be as exciting as on the field, but the future needs people with experience to make room for the next generation. You have to assist them in continuing to make NISOA “The future of college officiating.”