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Sean M.

I remember my Grade 8 class well. New Jersey did the class over two days and it mostly consisted of instructors reading off the USSF slides. We did not have a field session -- we watched videos instead. The lesson on mechanics consisted of the instructor putting on the Procedures video (which wasn't bad, I'll admit) and then asking if we had any questions after. What it had in "efficiency" (which is to say quickness), it lacked in preparing anyone for the field.

I remember I got out of the class not knowing how to blow a whistle. That is to say, I never learned how to make the sharp sounds I needed to control a match. You know the "but, but, but" three short blasts a referee makes when the wrong team goes to take the throw in? I embarrassed myself mightily in my first games until I finally learned how to do it.

The English FA seems to have a good idea, though I am not sure how it works in practice. Essentially, a referee takes the basic course and becomes a "probationary" referee until he is assessed and mentored on his first games. Then he becomes a full what we would call a Grade 8. It ensures practical feedback in those crucial first games where habits are made or broken.

USSF seems to figure that the first crews you work with will help train and mentor you. And while it is true that crews will give feedback, you have to be careful what sort of advice you take from well-meaning, but sometimes misguided referees.

One referee told me that I was great, except I should signal a goal kick with the flag in my left hand. (Goal kick is signaled with the flag in the right).

Another told me quite confidently that to award a penalty kick for a foul in the penalty area, the player had to have an "obvious goal scoring opportunity," and he only called it an IDK because the player was "going away from the goal" when she was fouled. My protestations fell on deaf ears.

While I know better, I fear for the referees that listen to and take this advice.

John P.

I can probably guess your opinion about establishing a grade 12.


I think one of the worst things my state has done is to follow along with USSF in promoting the grade 9 referee and sending people out to the fields with only 8 hours of instruction.

When I certified as a grade 8 what seems eons ago, no one even talked about a grade 9 referee. The 15 hours of training for Grade 8 was spread over 5 weeks in 3-hr chunks, and my USSF instructor, a grade 5 referee, had homework sheets that we had to fill out before the next class and turn in. There were assignments to be done out of class like (Name the 10 things that go wrong at a GK, CK, KO, etc.) We had a 10-question quiz at the start of class each week. And after all that, before the certification test, on opening weekend before the official USSF season, we went out to an AYSO game, 4 or 5 of us each with a an experienced USSF referee, and ran a quarter of the game as an AR or CR. During the game, the experienced referee showed the idle referees what was being done right and done wrong by those on the field, and then after you came off the field, he gave you a quick assessment of your job as the AR and CR. THEN, then, we went and took the written test and then ran the physical test for grade 7 so the results of the physical exam could be passed along to the assigner when considering what games you could work.

After all that, I still felt it took 2-3 years on the field working games to become an adequate referee. Now my state turns out Grade 9s, assign them to the worst possible games for coach/parent abuse - U8, U10, U12, and wonder why we have referee turnover and referees who have difficulty with basic refereeing skills. I see referees less and less prepared for their matches now - this is the foundation for the future?


Robert, I gotta say I actually think you're missing the bigger picture here. The problem really comes down to the ability to attract and retain quality referees in the first place. The harder it is to become and remain a referee, the harder it is to keep enough numbers to cover the many games that need officials. So we have things like the 2 day new referee certification.

In the end, what we need are referees that have the commitment to develop their skills of their own accord. The materials and resources are out there for the referees who take the initiative to improve themselves.

Yes there are definitely things that our associations can do to improve the training, assessing, assignment and mentoring of referees that would also help. But lets not count ourselves as referees as harmless in all this. Those referees who feel they can go to an 2 day certification and know everything they need to know to effectively referee a U18 Boys Premier match (or even a U12 rec match) are sorely mistaken. As referees, we share the responsibility of our own development and that of our peers. We don't need Chicago to revamp the training in order to institute continuing education or mentoring. We take each take action on our own to address those issues. Find a younger referee that you can help learn the ropes. Befriend a higher level referee that can help you learn from their experiences. Use the miriad of online resources and print/video/audio materials to further your education and your peers as well.

So I agree, there is much Chicago needs to address to help this situation. However they must balance that against their ability to get numbers in the seats (so to speak). We too must be a part of the solution and if there's one criticism I have of your blog (which I enjoy emensely) it's that the referee's responsibility in this often seems to get lost.


An observation: in other places I've been in the world, assistant referees in matches below U14-ish are unheard of. And what about organized rec soccer altogether? I suggest that below a certain level, maybe all the ceremony of freshly-painted fields, fancy uniforms, and (more importantly) trios of referees on U10 games serves little purpose other than to help people burn excess money, and of course to inflate the egos of parents who like to pretend their kids are playing in the World Cup. I suppose this is more of an opinion about society than a strictly referee-related issue, but it might explain in part why our resources at the grassroots level are apparently stretched so thinly all the time, and why even coming up with enough bodies sometimes seems to be too much to handle...

Jeff Forward

That's an unfortunate situation.....and, to make it worse, it's unfortunately occurring at all levels in every state in the US. Just read some referee blogs that are on the Intenet and you'll see the same things: referees not always receiving the best training and then making incorrect decisions and seeking help from conflicting sources of information on the game.
I was very fortunate when I began my referee career to be mentored by two awesome referees in Ohio South - Jim Reuther and Victor Popescu. They were passionate about the game and passed on the main tenet of doing what is right under the laws of the game and knowing what you're doing out there. We owe it to the players.
My first referee clinic (aside from certification class over two days) was with Freddy Usher. It was an eye opener and I remember his presentation to this day.
Mr. Usher had high standards, just like Mr. Evans, Mr. Hall, Mr. Bellion, and so many others out there who make a difference. I could go on, but many of you know who I am talking about...Pat Smith, Heinz Wolmerath, the Weyland brothers, Levon B., Ricardo Valenzuela and the list goes on...
We need to retain referees as one poster said; but also get more consistent training and instruction across the board all over the United States.
This blog is a great resource.


A while back in a monthly inservice meeting in Utah they did some training on foul recognition and misconduct. They used a video that showed several incidents from youth games.

My reaction was that I wished they had something like that when I first started. I had seen similar videos from professional and international matches. The cameras were oftern far from the field and the play was FAST, faster than anything a fresh Grade 8 would see.

The youth video was close to the action and it was not so fast. It looked like what a new referee would see on one of his games.

I think that more video for training materials taken from youth matches would be very good for newer referees.

Mike Visser

An invested assignor is key to referee development. In my first few years of refereeing I had the benefit of an assessor who was committed to developing referees. He filled the roles of employer and mentor, and it didn't hurt that he refereed a lot of games. He took a lot of low-level assignments (relative to his own abilities) just to watch and mentor new referees. On my first assignment, he worked the game with me (we were both AR's). At the time, I didn't recognize the significance of his mentorship, but soon after I moved away from his assigning region, I realized what he had done for me. I know that I wasn't the only referee to benefit from his commitment. He also wasn't the only good assignor that I encountered.

I think that online assignment software has made it much easier for assignors to shirk on the dimension of referee development. They can assign officials to games without ever speaking to them, let alone evaluating their ability. Certainly not all assignors are derelict of duty on the development front, and certainly not all misuse software. Online assigning can be useful as an administrative device, but we must make sure assignors know that they're really an important cog in the development machine.

It turns out that people are what matters most in this world, and the world of soccer is no exception.

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