Sunday, April 9, 2017

Got Pressure?

Here is an interesting article about the effect of outside pressures on referees in the National Football League.  The author includes data to back up the claim, and even a reference to a German study about soccer referees and the impact of crowd noise.  Worth reading..... 

Monday, March 27, 2017

A behind the scenes ... behind the scenes

Often times the discussion on this blog regards itself with refereeing or things related to that craft. At times this can get fairly monotonous and even at times "wonkish."

This latter term is not meant as a pejorative, but rather to describe an individual that is really in the weeds on a given topic. Refereeing itself at times is there as we concern ourselves with levels of detail most will never appreciate about The Game, this last weekend however at the 2017 US Soccer referee program workshop in Chicago took me to a whole new level.

At its highest level, this workshop is the place for all US Soccer state associations (there are currently 56 such associations in the US - CA, NY, PA, TX, VA have more than one) to share ideas, meet with the National Office, and generally reconnect with friends.

It was a reminder for me of a couple of things:

First, is US Soccer is generally operated under principles of federalism. Meaning specifically that while there is national governing body in US Soccer, specifically the National Referee Program (NRP), each state association is responsible for administrating their own program. This can have several effects, some good, some less good.

On the good side, while there is guidance provided by the NRP about how some things may be done at the state level, each state may provide as much support as they want into various types of programs. An one example, Massachusetts, and various other states in the US have an advanced referee academy that is supported entirely by the individual state. In Massachusetts this is the Alpha Project and is completely staffed and funded by the Massachusetts State Referee Association. This project is dedicated to creating advanced referees and is done through classroom work, match observation, group coaching, and individual mentoring.

On the less good side, each state is left to their own devices with little or no coordination with other states. This can be very detrimental as the development of referees in the US is not uniform across the US. While state referee programs are a factor, others exist such as the type, amount, and quality of play within the state itself. For example, without a professional team nearby, some referees may never get an opportunity to reach such a level if they were not exposed to it at the right time in their career.

Related to the Workshop, the behind the scenes, behind the scenes was a fascinating look into various state associations working together to make things better for referees in every state. I remain awestruck by the amount of time people are willing to volunteer of there own time and dedicate it to something they may never get back in an effort to make it better for all.

As one of many examples, serious discussion was given to the problem of rogue referee assignors who utilize US Soccer resources to assign referees to unaffiliated matches. There was yelling, screaming, cursing, and serious discussion about how to solve these issues. While so in the weeds it at times gave me a popsicle headache, it was great to see so much energy surround the issue.

When I was a younger referee I never really gave too much thought to what makes the program go, at the state or national levels. Since stepping out of the limelight, I am humbled by the time volunteered by so many.

Next time you get a chance, thank an administrator or volunteer of your choice. I know they would appreciate it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

What means Consistency?

Consistency is probably the most sought-after characteristic for a referee.  With everyone we encounter, from our first classroom instructor to the highest level coaches and players, we are enjoined to be consistent.  Consistency is king, writes my colleague PK in this very blog.  (See Kicking Back, August 25, 2015.)

Again in a more recent post, he comments about the encroaching influences to referees from outside forces:  "There is a larger issue at play here and it has to deal with the consistency regarding the officiating. There may be times that a 3rd party dispassionate view of things may be warranted. Goals are a good example. Either it crossed the line and was between the posts and under the crossbar - or it wasn't. There is no gray here - only black and white.  Beyond that, sorry folks, is gray..."

Without meaning to disagree with my colleague, whose opinion I respect greatly, I do want to ask one question:  Why?  Why allow some outside influences and not others?  Specifically with regard to his example, what makes the decision about the goal being scored any more important than the one to give the penalty kick, or to send off the central defender for DOGSO?

Do pro referees consider cumulative points before issuing a caution to a star player?  Of course they do.  Is this not an outside influence, even if the message is delivered before the game starts in the form of a stat sheet?

Do referees consider the time of the game, or location of the field, or even the score of the match when determining whether to give a simple foul, or escalate to misconduct?  Haven't we all kept a card in the pocket because we knew we had other ways to manage the moment?  What does that say about our consistency?

So what does it mean to be consistent?  What is the elusive target here?  If a foul is a foul is a foul, then why do the players and spectators get so upset with us for calling them as we see them?  I can understand that we may miss one here or there, due to poor positioning or just the nature of dynamic play, but surely we are getting the vast majority of the calls correct.  Yet if you ask most observers, they will rail about the referees' inconsistencies.  It seems like being inconsistent is about the only thing we can do consistently.

For insight, look no further than the rest of my esteemed colleague's comment when he goes on to say that, "[Referees] are the only ones who can truly feel what is going on at any time and need the freedom to manage that emotion how they see fit."  Now we are getting someplace!

So, if a referee calls a foul at one end of the field, or in the first half, that he does not also call in the second, does that mean he is being inconsistent?  Maybe.  But it could also mean that he is serving the higher purpose of managing the game, and ultimately that in itself is being consistent - consistent to the mission of the game!   

Something to think about.  And as PK says in closing, "For any referee who thinks it's all about "the rules" ... think again."

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The sad passing of Wally Russell

Wally Russell via Facebook
Soccer friends,

I am both shocked and saddened to learn of the sudden passing of one of the soccer communities most existential members, Wally Russell.

I was first introduced to Wally very early in my refereeing career and had the immediate thought that the man was a bit too "free spirited" for me with all his swagger, outspoken opinions, and waist length hair that was neatly braided to the small of his back.

We had the pleasure of working several youth matches together and his passion for The Game and infectious love for life quickly won me over and had me seriously rethinking his approach to things ... including The Game.

Shortly thereafter Wally took me under his wing at the South Shore Sports Center, one of the very first, and very few facilities of the type at the time to serve as a referee. It was here, Wally had the foresight to pair me with Tom Supple, FIFA AR extraordinaire, and put me on a path that I would follow for the rest of my life.

While Wally single handedly has watched me referee more matches that anyone ever will in my entire life, his musings generally avoided the technical aspects of The Game (this while intentional was not due to a lack of subject matter expertise as Wally was particularly well versed in The Game). Rather, he would opine about the human side of The Game and how management of players was the key - not a demand of "respect" or "control" I so often strived for in my 20's inside the field.

Lessons were delivered slowly to allow me time to catch up, as each lesson was the result of an emotional bruising inside the field. A match gone bad, a situation not handled well. Slow and deliberate learning, week, after week, after week. Hundreds of matches he watched and after so many, a lesson learned and reinforced. Some of the most poignant lessons were treated with helpings of chicken fingers with copious amount of duck sauce and hot mustard, in equal portions. This was generally followed by a Pepsi chaser and a heated game of Risk with Wally, Max, Fred, and myself. More than once Tommy was there and we dumped the Risk and just talked until 2 or 3AM. It was a fabulous time in my life.

Lessons included things like:

"Leave your ego on the bench.",
"You're not really that good, they just don't have anyone else right now."

While on the surface these may seem harsh (especially that last one), the underlying message was clear. A referee can not put themselves above The Game. 

Later in life when we would talk, I grew to realize this was true as a life lesson as well. There is a larger thing that binds us all and one person should not put themselves above others in that quest.

Wally would find me throughout my professional career and touch base, always making sure my head was on my shoulders and not someplace it did not belong.

Even after my active days he would spend time supporting me in my endeavors with various town soccer organizations by providing equipment, such as whistles, through his business Mere Cie. Even there, he was always quick to teach:

"If we budgeted more time to reading and correcting body language and listening to and perfecting nuanced whistles tones for effect and match control, our performance as referees would evolve limitlessly."

Our community will miss you Wally. You served it in your own way for so long. While you walked your own path, our intersections could not have been more meaningful and filled with a life you loved so much.

I for one will miss you and always remember what you taught.

With love and respect,


WAYLAND: Wally John Russell, 67, died unexpectedly on Sunday, January 15, 2017 after being stricken at his Wayland residence.

He was born in Paris, France on April 9, 1949 the son of the late John C. Russell and Juliette J. (Rodiere) Russell of France.

Besides his mother, he is survived by his wife of 46 years, Grace M. (Giuffrida) Russell of Wayland. He was the father of Aimee K. Russell of Wayland and Nathan Wally Russell of Alameda, CA. He was the brother of John Russell of Tampa, FL; Fred Russell of Fontainebleau, France and the late Pierre Russell.

Wally has been a resident of Wayland for over 38 years and previously resided in Fontainebleau, France. He served with the United States Air Force during the Vietnam War and was stationed in Germany.

He was a youth soccer coach in Weston for many years and also a soccer referee throughout the metrowest area. For many years, he was associated with the South Shore Sports Center in Hingham.

He was an avid coin collector and enjoyed the English Premier Soccer League. He was devoted to his family and will be fondly remembered by all the lives that he touched.

His family will receive friends and family on Saturday, January 21, 2017 from 2:00 to 4:00 pm at the John C. Bryant Funeral Home, 56 Pemberton Road (Off Rte 30), Wayland.
A Celebration Remembrance Service will begin at 4:00 pm at the funeral home. 

In lieu of flowers, his family kindly suggests that memorial gifts in Wally’s memory may be sent to a charity to benefit youth soccer.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

FIFA Going to 48 Teams ... Winners and Losers

On 10-JAN-17, FIFA unanimously approved a plan to increase the number of participating teams in the World Cup from 32 teams (established in 1998) to 48 teams. It is my opinion there are some clear winners and some clear losers based on this move by FIFA. Based on FIFA's twitter feed, fans of The Game are not reacting well ... but it may not be all bad.


  • European Clubs: 
    • Between friendlies, tuners, qualifying, and tournament play, I believe European Clubs, and maybe more specifically, the individual players, are going to get stretched beyond all belief with this move. Even with 32 teams, Clubs have had to sacrifice significant portions of their schedule to accommodate (ultimately) FIFA to meet their requirements. A move to 48 teams I believe will compound this existing issue. 
  • Developing Countries:
    • While FIFA has erred substantially in awarding host privileges to countries that may not have the necessary infrastructure to host such an event (ahem Qatar), their move to 48 teams I believe is a death knell to any developing country with aspirations to host a World Cup. Such an increase in teams will now create a market uptick in necessary infrastructure to accommodate these teams, staff, media, fans ... At this point, only true "1st tier countries" (as FIFA puts it) can realistically be considered. On the flip side, I believe the US just got vaulted into a top spot for hosting 2026.
  • The World Cup:
    • I am hard pressed to believe that quality of play is going to increase with 16 more teams involved. To get the heart of this point is the question of how does this move increase the quality fo play worldwide? This is after all one of FIFA's goals, yes? How does 18 more teams in the World Cup help this?
  • FIFA's integrity:
    • This move serves to once again hit at FIFA's integrity. This is so not because there is anything inherently unethical about increasing the team pool, but because it would seem at first blush this move is not to better The Game, but to increase revenue. Consider this, FIFA's first move after coming off a historic ethics catastrophe is to increase the scope of the World Cup. I may have thought a far more benevolent first move from a scandal ridden FIFA may have been more appropriate.
  • Sponsors:
    • To me they are one of the largest winners. In a brilliant move, FIFA's new president found a way to provide more exposure to existing (and in some cases wavering) sponsor support for the World Cup. As the footprint for sponsors increases in at least 18 new countries, so goes their revenue opportunity. 
  • FIFA's bank account:
    • It is estimated that FIFA will net on the order of $500 million in revenue for the broadcast and marketing rights for the addition of these 16 new teams. This to add to the $1.4 Billion (yes with a B) reserve they have. Let's not fool ourselves kids, this is the highlighting reason why FIFA (in my opinion) is taking this move.
  • AFC, CAF, and OFC:
    • It is estimated that these football confederations will receive some or all of the 18 teams that will be joining the tournament. This is a huge win for these regions of the world and frankly FIFA's best arguement as to why they added these teams. 16 Additional berths to the World Cup is substantial for these regions of the world who are working to develop top quality teams. My contrary question is, will they be ready by 2026?
  • Referees:
    • Another big winner are the referees of the world and specifically UEFA referees who dominate the tournament. There will be a HUGE (relatively speaking) number of matches that will be played. Each will need a qualified FIFA referee team to manage the match. This in turn may also require particular national programs (such as within the new 18 countries) to develop a more robust FIFA referee program to assist in accommodating the sheer number of matches. FIFA may have backed themselves into an area of referee development as well.

In summary there are some clear winners and losers with this move. On balance I think this is not great for The Game, even with some good results for referees.