Friday, August 28, 2015

What Soccer Referees Should Learn from #Deflategate - Part 5 of 5

For months now we have heard from the NFL and various pundits that the "integrity of the game" was violated in #deflategate as the closer you get to the field of play, the more serious an offense gets.

Let me please add my voice to the few have said this is complete and utter bull crap.

Integrity does not have a proximity setting, it does not bound itself by space or time, nor scenario. Situational integrity is an utter fantasy as well. "I had to in this case ... ." Bull crap. It was convenient.

Having integrity can be hard. Doing the right thing no matter what is a grueling exercise that at some point in ones life is bound to fail ... and that's okay ... because its how we learn. I've learned a bunch and am sure I will continue to.

J.C. Watts famously said, "Character is doing the right thing when nobody's looking. There are too many people who think that the only thing that's right is to get by, and the only thing that's wrong is to get caught."

Look at the state of sport today ... not just the NFL, although that league is a particularly (bad) example (look here for the USA Today arrest database). Players, coaches, management, owners, referees all ... what a mess. You have HOF players giving advice to basically get a "fall guy" for the screw ups you are going to have.

Here's a novel idea ... DO THE RIGHT THING.

Yes, it's hard sometimes.

Yes, it's inconvenient sometimes.

Yes, you may lose out sometimes.

But, you will be better for it.

Now, some may say, well that's great Mr. Goodie Two Shoes, but everyone screws up.

Yes, I agree, and am in the front of the line in that department. In such a case you have to own it. Fully. Completely. Unconditionally. You also have to sincerely apologies for he screw up, not this "I'm sorry if I offended anyone" crap.

Anyone remember Jim Joyce? Here is a reminder, with his response to a screw up from him:

If you ever need an example of owning it and doing the right thing, here it is.

Integrity of the game is a myth ... it is the integrity of the individuals that are involved in the game that counts.

My #protip in this area is BEFORE you give a player a second caution, CHECK TWICE. To accidentally give a player a second caution when they did not earn it has tragic results. I know, because I have done it before. Check before you do, and if you screwed it up, take it back right there. Don't punish a player for something they did not do. Own it. Apologize. Move on.

You will earn the respect of all involved and maintain your integrity in the process.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

What Soccer Referees Should Learn from #Deflategate - Part 4 of 5

In thinking about this post, I was recalling this scene from Red Planet, and how true it is.

In the particular scene, the Mars Explorer has crashed and they are an unknown distance from "Hab," their temporary habitat when on the surface of Mars. You have a small team of experts on the surface of Mars to solve this issue. There are others in orbit, and several back on Earth, but the team can't talk to them.

There is one obvious analog here with both #deflategate and our refereeing lives and it is a need to think laterally to solve a given problem and rely on your whole team to do so.

I commented yesterday that it was pretty clear to me the opposing sides on the #deflategate issue each has their own goal which do not overlap, with the exception "to win" for each individual. "Winning" however is in the eyes of the beholder.

As a referee you have to put faith in your team that they are doing their job and are there for the betterment of The Game, The Players, The Team, and themselves, in that order. I think both sides in #deflategate could have used changes to their roster as it also seems clear to me that not everyone is on the same page in what the best interests are and their relative priority. There are more than a couple of actors in that story that are all about "ME."

It can happen in refereeing too, and it is critical to keep a well honed team together for the duration of the match with a clear eye to what is critical ... The Game, The Players, The Team.

As a #protip a referee is empowered to dismiss a teammate under extreme circumstances. This is beyond the more regular practice of adjusting positions to avoid a possible conflict. A dismissal is a very difficult thing to do and requires courage and a clear set of reasoning why it must be done. I have had the unfortunate task of doing so only once in my career, and hope it never happens again. If you have to do this, make sure it is for all the right reasons, and be sure to make a report to the competition authority as to the why and the facts surrounding the dismissal. If at all possible though, work as a team to try to figure it out using every possible problem solving method and knowledge source you have.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

What Soccer Referees Should Learn from #Deflategate - Part 3 of 5

All too often this is a lesson folks forget about generally and referees, being human are subject to this as well.

Check your ego at the touchline.

#Deflategate is filled with BIG egos, and it is my opinion that if a few of these folks on both sides get over themselves, a compromise can be reached. Take a look here and here for two opposing examples. Same is true for referees both on and off the field.

In this vein it is critical to remember that The Game belongs to the players, and yes, some of them too have massive egos, but it is incumbent on the referees to see through that (much like the Honorable Richard M. Berman).

Consider the judges role in this contest ... he is sitting between two ego fueled parties, none of which has a common goal among them, except to win (all for different reasons). His Honor is trying nothing more than to get these folks to work with each other to come to a managed solution and do so without exerting his (substantial) power in the process.

Sound familiar?

Yes folks, that's refereeing. It is managing a match to a positive conclusion knowing one party will likely be the losing one.

Judge Berman recognizes that he is not the show. People are not lining up to hear him pontificate about the Natural Gas Law, or how long it takes a typical male to use a bathroom, or if a ball can be deflated in that time.

His Honor is there to broker an agreement between the parties if at all possible and if not, apply the law straight down the middle based on the facts. That's it. He is seasoned enough to check his ego at the robing room because to do otherwise is counterproductive to resolving the issues. Also, frankly it would be unprofessional and undignified ... just as it would for a referee.

Trust me, referees have egos, and there are rare times when they can come out and use it effectively as while the larger egos may not belong to the players, no one is coming to see the referee do their job. Ask Zlatan ... and everyone else watching this match shown below.

This leads me to my #protip for the day (I learned this one the hard way):
It's okay to show a little ego, just don't be a jackass about it because it will backfire.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

What Soccer Referees Should Learn from #Deflategate - Part 2 of 5

Yet another lessons that referees can take away from #deflategate is that consistency is king.

Recent headlines have come up regarding open admissions by Aaron Rodgers on how he prefers his footballs prepared, yet the league has choose to do nothing about it.

Take a look here, among other places for this information. In a nutshell the league is saying they are not going to investigate.

Well as you can imagine, Patriot and not Patriot fans alike reacted poorly to this as it was clear that, if the NFL thought the deflation of balls was akin to performance enhancing, then all instances of it should be investigated as it would seem serious.


Nope, per Troy Vincent.

Let me assure you folks, there is no faster way to kill a match than to be inconsistent about what you are going to decide. Now, does that mean you can't change your mind about what you are going to call given the emotions surrounding the game. No absolutely not and look below for a very practical use of that method.

What I am saying is that if a referee calls a foul a particular way (like a handling) outside the penalty area, you have to call it the same way inside the penalty area. I can assure you, the laws of physics do not change in that 7128 sqf area. There is no faster way to earn the ire of players than decide to change the course of a match by calling or not a foul in a way not consistent with another part of the field. A foul is a foul no matter where it happens.

Don't be fooled though, the temperature of a match can change, and usually does during a match and it is critical for a referee to take note and deal with it accordingly. Some referees call this "pacing" of a match where there are times more action is needed than not. A referee that is really in tune with a match will help manage the pace to allow players the ability to fully demonstrate their abilities and stop opportunities for the destruction of them. This concept is very advanced but the basics of knowing when a player, or team, or match, is reaching a fever pitch is critical to referee development.

Here is a #protip that I have used late in my refereeing career.
  • As a referee don't ever try to manufacture controversy by creating calls to get a higher score on an assessment or to make it competitive. (Yes folks, some referees have been known to do this.) Not only is it unethical to call fouls for a referees benefit, most assessors will catch on and come down on you for it. Heck, if it is an "easy" match ... just leave it that way!

Monday, August 24, 2015

What Soccer Referees Should Learn from #Deflategate - Part 1 of 5

As #deflategate presses on it got me thinking about practical lessons from it that we can learn in our soccer refereeing lives. Over this next week we will explore a few thoughts on #deflategate, how it has evolved, how the parties have acted, and what we can learn from it.

Along the way I will throw in a #protip for each day that can be used in your every day refereeing, all the way to the international level..

Lesson 1: Measure all the balls

The Laws Of The Game (LOTG) require balls to be inflated within a particular range. In fact there are several requirement for a ball to be used in a match, they are:

The ball is:

• spherical (note this is different from round)
• made of leather or other suitable material
• of a circumference of not more than 70 cm (28 ins) and not less than 68 cm (27 ins)
• not more than 450 g (16 oz) and not less than 410 g (14 oz) in weight at the start of the match 
• of a pressure equal to 0.6 – 1.1 atmosphere (600 – 1,100 g/cm2 ) at sea level (8.5 lbs/sq in – 15.6 lbs/sq in)

Additionally for any match connected to FIFA, a ball must additionally bear:

• the official “FIFA APPROVED” logo
• the official “FIFA INSPECTED” logo

There are a few noteworthy things in here:

  1. This describes a "size 5" ball used for U-14 and above play in the US. A smaller size ball, does not match these requirements.
  2. There is both a weight and a pressure requirement for the ball.
  3. Pressure variability is very large, while the weight variability is not.
  4. FIFA has a substantial program around this can can be found here.
Before each match, every single ball should be checked that will come into play. A gauge such as this one from Official Sports do nicely even for large amounts of balls. You can get far less expensive ones that will do the trick in a pinch too. With the very large variability of pressure, most balls will fall within the range will little or no adjustments.

Balls outside these ranges can substantially affect play given the range. A ball on the lower end will act and feel flat and on the upper end no one will want to strike as it is so hard.

Note that the "Charmin Test" of squeezing the ball does not work in all cases and can provide incorrect result, especially with balls that are made of a hard plastic or are overinflated.

Once you get the pressure dialed in, you should be set for the match.

Here are a couple of #protips that I have used late in my refereeing career.
  • Give both keepers the chance to handle the match ball before the match, best at the introductions so they won't go far. They will appreciate the touch before the match.
  • Remember a ball is SPHERICAL, not round as the distinction is huge. It has also made its way on to National Referee exams.
  • What Law 2 does not cover is the most important aspect of the ball ... that it be safe. If a ball hurts a player (from a loose panel or similar) or if there is a large consensus to change the ball, just change it. It is a small thing that can get you big points with players. Remember, its their game ... let them use the (legal) ball they want.