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2009 Referee Week in Review - Week 31

The Referee Week in Review is designed to address the issues facing referees at all levels by using video highlights from professional games as well as the U.S. National Teams. Written by U.S. Soccer Director of Referee Development Paul Tamberino and U.S. Soccer Manager of Assessment and Training Brian Hall, the Referee Week in Review will highlight specific areas of focus and current U.S. Soccer initiatives designed to improve performance and aid in the development of officials across the country.

Week In Review
Week 31 – ending October 18, 2009
During the MLS season, U.S. Soccer’s “Week In Review” has stressed the importance of preparation, concentration, focus and teamwork, while always emphasizing U.S. Soccer’s 2009 Referee Program Directives. These qualities and characteristics are necessary for any successful match official but become even more vital near the end of the season when the meaning of each game is amplified. With the last week of games ahead, increased scrutiny will be placed not only on each game but on each decision by a match official. Consequently, officials must approach each game with renewed vigor and a sense of what is “on-the-line.”

Given the emphasis on preparation, this “Week In Review” will focus on pre-game preparation. Four of U.S. Soccer’s referees have provided insight into their pre-game rituals, mechanics and approach. Kevin Stott as well as U.S. Soccer full time referees Ricardo Salazar, Baldomero Toledo and Terry Vaughn all provide a synopsis of their approach to the “big game” and the post-season.

U.S. Soccer has recently made all prior “Week In Review” clips available for download and, therefore, for instructional purposes. At the conclusion of each month, the clips will be archived and available for use by “Week In Review” readers. Remember, each clip has a specific instructional message that has accompanied it in the “Week In Review.” The integrity of the message and the corresponding clip should be paramount as this will enable the soccer community to drive toward consistency in interpretation and application of the Laws of the Game.


Kevin Stott: “Every Decision in each match becomes magnified.”

The playoffs are an extension of the regular season where every decision in each match becomes magnified. I continue the routine that I have done during the regular season - understanding that this routine is a reason I am being considered to officiate a playoff match.

Pre-Match Summary:
My routine starts with writing up the pre-match summary. I write the summary by Tuesday night, including probable team lineups, probable subs, playing styles of the teams, individual player tendencies and bench personnel personalities. Once completed, I forward the summary to the referee team or assessor team to get everyone to start preparing for the upcoming match. While the summary is sent out a few days ahead of the MLS “preview,” it allows me to start thinking about matchups and when the “preview” is released, by MLS, it gives me a gauge of how well prepared I am for the upcoming match (not to say that the “preview” is always perfect). Note: The “MLS Preview” mentioned can be found a day or so prior to each game on the front page of as part of the game listings. The “preview” is an overview of the teams, projected line-ups and information regarding prior games.

Be Part of the Team:
The routine continues as the referee team meets for lunch on match day. While we will touch on some of the match in detail this is also an opportunity to continue the team building process by building trust with each other.

For me, the playoffs begin the opening night of the playoff season – not when (or if) I get my first playoff match assignment. This means that I am following each match being played whether I am watching it on TV or following it on MLS game tracker – because you do not know when you may be assigned. If I do not receive a playoff game, I do not consider the time I spent following all the playoff games as a waste a time but a necessary part of being prepared either for the current season or the next season. Not being assigned a playoff game means that I take a different role with the other referees: I now offer best wishes before the game and send messages after the game. Refereeing is a family and providing feedback before, during and after the game is a critical component of being a part of the family or team. The idea of continuing to strengthen the referees must continue whether you are directly part of a match or not. EACH AND EVERY referee's season is not over until that final whistle is blown by the referee working the MLS CUP FINAL.

Prepare Your Team:
Besides researching the two teams that I will have in a playoff match, I also research my own team. Are there any referees on my team who have not been involved in a playoff match? How much overall experience does my team have? What are the personalities on my team? How can I get the most out of my team members? This research also includes looking at the assessor appointed to the match and understanding the type of “coaching” he will provide.

Some assignments include assistant referees and/or fourth officials that have not worked a playoff match before. If I happen to get an assistant referee who has never worked a playoff match before, then I need to find the best way to remind this assistant referee that they are getting the match because of their successful season. I remind them that they need to just continue to do what you have done all season - nothing changes. During lunch, I gently remind this new playoff referee that the only difference in tonight’s playoff game and a regular season matchup is that there will be heightened emotions tonight.

Assistant Referee and Fourth Official Participation:
What would I expect from assistant referees and fourth officials? Allow the referee to lead the team but do your homework just as the referee will do. If the referee sends out a summary before the match, then feel empowered to offer insights beyond what the referee has written. Always be prepared to offer insights and other information, at the referee pre-game meeting, that will strengthen the overall team. Again, take the lead from the referee but be prepared to offer something! If emails are sent out, at the very least, give a response. Know your referee. How can you best support him? What does the referee's best game look like? What can I do or what should I do if the referee is not officiating as well as possible? Has the referee made me feel empowered to provide critical information during the game – if not then why not?

Fitness training:
This stays exactly as it has during the season. Nothing changes because I believe you should just keep doing what has been successful during the regular season in terms of fitness.

Ricardo Salazar: “Cannot lose sight of what has worked for us . . . .”

As we prepare for the regular season to end and for the playoff to start, there are some things to consider. I would like to share a few things with you that I keep in mind as we enter playoff time in MLS. With the league growing in number of teams, more teams are being left out of the playoffs. This year is the tightest playoff crunch I have ever seen in my 10 years in the league. As we prepare and get ready, we cannot lose sight of what has worked for us throughout the year.

It is important that you stick with what works for you as a referee. We need to work harder to allow the game to flow and sharpen our foul recognition/selection. By doing so, this will require the referee to work hard and use more personality to manage the game. Playoff games are played with increased intensity and the referee team must be ready to match the increased intensity displayed by the teams. Referees are given great responsibility when appointed to important games like the playoffs.

When it comes to preparing physically for the playoffs, I do not do anything too different. At this point in the season, I am match fit. I will do more stretching and add some lifting to my fitness work. Given my in-season fitness level, I only do one hard workout a week. This is done either on Tuesday or Wednesday to give my body time to recover for the game on Saturday. Monday and Thursday are used as recovery days. Friday and Sunday are travel days and I focus on hydration and nutrition.

Terry Vaughn: “Be prepared for anything and everything . . . .”

Just as the players and teams are doing more to prepare for the playoffs, referees need to be peaking right now. Our workouts should be showing that we are as fit as possible. The other day, I went out and did the FIFA fitness test, running 20 laps that included 30 second sprints followed by 30 second recoveries. Also, it is important that we do our recovery and get rest for the body by doing different things to take the impact off the body, such as elliptical or swimming. This makes sure we are fresh. A rested body prepares us to handle the situations dictated in a game.

Not only do we have to be physically ready, we have to be mentally prepared by watching and studying game tapes and talking to other referees that have officiated games that include the playoff teams to obtain the necessary information that will help us prepare for anything and everything that might happen. Part of the mental preparation is conversing with our own personal mentors or coaches. These are the people we regularly seek input from or just chat about the game. Our coaches can help us develop our game plan and identify areas of strength and improvement from prior games. Like the teams, referees must always be looking to improve and build upon prior performances.

The playoff pre-game referee meeting is very detailed, to ensure the referee team is on the same page. The “Week In Review” and U.S. Soccer’s 2009 Directives are always a good starting point to bring us together. We cover how we will communicate with the technology at our disposal and how we will communicate in situations in which the technology is not the best solution. We discuss player and team tendencies as well as cover things that may happen in the game that need special attention. Pre-game meetings (whether they are during a meal or in the stadium) are great opportunities to build camaraderie and teamwork. The meetings give us an opportunity to talk about soccer, ask each other questions, discuss the “Week In Reviews” or chat about other things that will help us be better prepared.

With colder weather more likely due to the seasonal timing of the playoffs and the games becoming faster, you have to make sure your body is ready to go right from the first whistle. You never know if you will need to make the “big decision” of the match in the first few seconds. During the pre-game warm up, we dress in training suits to help warm the muscles. Mechanically, the warm-up progresses from a slow start to get the body and blood moving to an active warm-up. Doing things like side stepping, high knees, heels up and backwards running is key. Most of what I do is ballistic warm-up to get the body prepared. With the colder weather, you may want to go inside to finish any static stretching. For me, when it is cold out, I prefer that my water is at room temperature. You are already cold you do not need the cold water to seemingly make your system colder. When it is really cold, drinking hot tea or hot chocolate helps me keep warm.

Overall, we have to step it up because the intensity from the teams will be increased. The referee team needs to enter the game having done everything to ensure that they are prepared to handle every situation.

Baldomero Toledo: “Maintain a consistent high level of concentration.”

After a long and intense season it’s important to maintain a consistent high level of concentration. For that, I follow the same routine of training that has given me the best results both physically and mentally during the season. This includes resting appropriately and eating healthy. I start my training for the next game immediately following my last game. On Sunday (the day after my game), I begin with a light training session (warm-up) of 10 minutes, which includes stretching. This warm-up is followed by 30 minutes of jogging. This light session is a “cool down” after my MLS game and helps my legs relax and while alleviating soreness

On Monday, I increase my level of intensity. My warm-up consists of 15 minutes of stretching and flexibility exercises. Some examples are abdominal crunches, hand-to-foot flexibility repetitions and leg squats. This type of exercise also helps me to mentally relax. Once my body is ready, I run 40 minutes on the track at a speed of 40 percent of max. This 40-minute session is followed by 10 minutes of push-ups and sit-ups.

Tuesday means slight changes in my routine. I go to the gym and I try to exercise using different machines to strengthen my legs as well as doing endurance lifting. It takes about 40-minutes to do this routine and I finish up in the sauna for about 20 minutes.

The Wednesday workout consists of a 15-minute warm-up in the same manner as Monday, but on the track I do 10 sprints of 50 meters with a two-minute rest in between. Then, I keep moving my body very smoothly for about five minutes before I start running around the track for one minute at a maximum heart rate speed of 80 percent with a one-minute rest per lap. I repeat this segment 10 times. I finish this session with 10 minutes of jogging.

Normally, Thursday involves a light training session but I use the field of play to practice positions on the corner kicks, free kicks, throw-ins and situations when I have to make eye contact with the assistant referees for possible offside. These types of exercises help me practice the movements and reactions associated with game situations.

Training and preparing myself for the playoffs requires me to know the intensity level and the difficulty level associated with the playoff atmosphere. As a professional referee, I must understand how important it is to be prepared physically and mentally for each playoff assignment. As part of my preparation, I gather information about the teams who are involved in the playoff games. I watch videos of each of these teams from games that I have refereed in the past to analyze the style of play, the formation teams tend to employ, skillful players, tough players and talkative players. I pay special attention to newly acquired players since I do not have a history of the way they play. All this allows me to have a good tactical approach going into the game and eliminates surprises on game day. Hopefully this information can help referees prepare themselves for every game. But, remember, the most important factor is the referee’s personal discipline to ensure they do what it takes to be prepared.

Outside Agents: Law 3

In a recent match, a controversial goal was scored after a shot struck a beach ball that was on the field of play, prior to entering the goal. The goal was allowed to stand. Image 1 shows the match ball in flight to the goal while Image 2 shows the ball striking the beach ball (“outside agent”) just prior to its entering the goal.

Week 31 Figure 1The FIFA Laws of the Game cover situations where “outside agents” are on the field of play. The idea of “outside agents” is also covered in U.S. Soccer’s “Advise to Referees on the Laws of the Game.” In this U.S. Soccer publication, the concept of “outside agent” is examined and its true meaning is explored. On April 3, 2008, U.S. Soccer also issued a position paper entitled “Objects of the Field.” This position paper addresses the exact issue raised by the match ball contacting the beach ball on the field of play.

Tradition and common usage have defined “outside agent” as “anyone not indicated on the team list as a player, substitute or team official as is a player who has been sent off.” However, modern use has extended the definition (under any portion of the Laws of the Game) as indicated in the “Advise to Referees on the Laws of the Game.”

An “outside agent” can be:

Anything that enters the field without the permission of the referee and plays or misdirects the ball or otherwise interferes with the game.

Week 31 Figure 2This means that outside agents can be animals, coaches, spectators, or items tossed onto the field of play. In this case, the “outside agent” is a beach ball thrown on to the field of play.

Interference by any outside agent other than a substitute legally on the field will result in the referee declaring a stoppage of play, restarting with a dropped ball where the ball was when play was stopped. The referee may not allow a goal based on where the ball might have gone in the absence of such contact or interference.

Given this information, the referee, upon seeing the match ball hit the “outside agent”, should immediately stop play and restart with a dropped ball. In order to ensure the correct decision is made, should the referee fail to see the contact, he must consult the remaining members of the referee team (assistant referees and fourth official) to get their perspective so that the correct decision can be made.

The use of preventative refereeing is a key lesson in this situation. Upon observing an “outside agent” moving into the penalty area and into a location that it has the possibility of interfering with play (the ball or players), the referee should immediately stop play and have the outside agent removed from the field of play and restart the game with a dropped ball at the spot of the ball when he whistled to stop play. Should the referee judge that an “outside agent” could have influenced or interfered with play (like the players or the ball) earlier, the referee would be within his rights to take preventative measures by stopping play sooner.

Remember, when play is stopped when the ball is in the goal area and it is to be restarted with a dropped ball, the referee must drop the ball on the goal area line parallel to the goal line at the point nearest to where the ball was located when play was stopped.

Looking Forward – Week 32
Preparation and teamwork. Following up on the insights provided by the professional referees, game performance can be enhanced with the correct approach, preparation and teamwork.

As seen from their personal accounts, each referee has a different path to excel in the “big game.” Despite their differences, each official has a common theme revolving around establishing teamwork and being prepared for the increased intensity and demands of the playoff-type game. Officials must find their own path, but the path must be deliberate and include solid teamwork which will lead to the ultimate goal of a well managed match.