I had been scouting and got a text from a friend. He runs an u15 grass roots team and the ref has let them down. Could I help and nip over and ref his game? I thought for a minute. I've been coaching 18 years and never refereed a competitive game. (we've all done the odd mini soccer game as it was). Plus its a bit of exercise. You know what? Yes, why not?
The experience certainly satisfied my need for a bit of exercise but during the game and afterwards I thought, no way would I want to do that every week. It opened my eyes... and ears.
Perspective view as a coach
Early on, it was a football issue. Being in the middle I was very aware that their was a reluctance to get on the ball and in trying to keep up with play I was blowing after 10 minutes. I was running box to box constantly. They didn't know how to position them selves to assist getting on the ball. Yes, granted, the pitch was pretty awful but iv'e seen worse. At one point I thought the tactic was to just miss the pitch out. On several occasions I nearly forgot where I was, or who I was and wanted to blow the whistle to move the players in to better positions. Instead I was talking to myself. 'your gonna smash that up the pitch again arnt you?, yep, there it goes...and here it comes back again...whooo'
Eventually the game did settle down as they fatigued and in small patches both teams did try to pass the ball properly and with a purpose.
If I heard that once I heard it 400 hundred times and its that really annoying tone. Like Eric Cartman to his mum. "wreerrrrrrrrrrf"
There is a clear lack of knowledge of the rules of the game from the players. Like, its not handball unless its deemed deliberate. The ball struck a players arm but would have been impossible to be deliberate. They moaned and complained and I had to call a lad over to explain the rules. There was a penalty shout. Two players went for the ball honestly, not from behind. Face to face, both got something on the ball and both fell down in the process. Not a penalty for me. Not a deliberate foul or kick, or attempt to. "wreeeerrrrf" again for the next few minutes. Then there was free kicks. When someone pushes someone in the back, its a foul. But when they jump for the ball to head it, no hands, no barge there is contact yes, but its not a foul. Now I don't claim to have got every decision right. With the benefit of a video replay maybe it could be proven that I missed something. But everything decision I gave was honest and based on my interpretation of the rules. That includes me not blowing the whistle every two minutes because two players have simply came into contact and gone to ground. I also didn't give a goal where the boys claimed it was over the line. I was just outside the box and the keeper got a hand on it. It didn't look over to me. I looked at the assistant referee and he didn't flinch. So, I didn't give a goal. "wreeeeerrrf". In my mind I was thinking, if you put half as much energy into actually playing football as you do complaining and trying to gain decisions from the ref you would be twice the player.
You never know who's watching
Many players at this age still harbour dreams of being pro footballers. I always say to players ive coached, you never know who's watching. Well little did they know that the man in the middle does recruitment and coaching for a level 1 academy and been in pro football for 12 years. Yet, I would have ruled out half of the players purely on their poor attitude. I think they look at the premier league players complaining and harassing referees and each other and think that's acceptable or the way to play. They need to understand the key point. These players on £20k to £100k a week playing football have already got a reputation. You haven't, your trying to earn one. Also the pressures and dynamics are completely different. So, i'm looking to see what stands out. Technical, 1st touch, receiving, passing, range, awareness. Ability to handle the ball in tight scenarios and tempo. Do defenders know how to defend and are they good on the ball? Can the midfielder play 360 degrees under pressure and play the whole range of passes with both feet? Can the wingers take people on? Do they make good decisions? Tactical, Do they have good game understanding, do they have good organisation? Do they recognise different scenarios? Physical, all round fitness but specifically mobility and agility as well as speed and strength. Do they know how to protect the ball and use the body fairly in 1v1's? (I was aware that I ran past both teams midfielder's constantly to be closer to play). Psychological general attitude. Are they good communicators, do they have the desire and drive to do well? Well, most spent their energy focusing on moaning and general negative communication with each other, the opposition, the ref etc. Unfortunately that was what stood out to me rather than football capability. In contrast, the two best players that I identified who would certainly be not be too far away from earning identification, were also the ones I never heard negativity from. They were also smiling and enjoying football. That stands out to me. Standing out for the right reasons.
Afterwards it made me think how intimidating it must be for the young refs in grass roots football. To be fair, the managers were extremely sporting. This seems a lot better from when I had a mini soccer team and remember coaches berating young refs. But the players themselves need to realise their behaviour would potentially rule them out of ID situations. I'm well experienced so I could easily gain control of this. Also, as the game progressed I wanted to listen to it more for learning reasons. But for a young boy/girl that would be hard. I wonder if clubs and the FA could arrange tournaments/games where the players HAVE to ref other games between other teams? If that could ever happen it would be a real eye opener for them and perhaps make them consider their behaviour in the future.
Secondly for players, wherever and whenever you step on a football pitch always do your best and get your-self in a good frame of mind. Because you never know who's watching. Remember don't act like a premier league player now. You don't have a reputation, you've got to earn one.
Finally bear in mind. I would be very reluctant to recruit a player that doesn't show a top attitude. Self control and drive is paramount and if I don't see that then in my mind you will likely be simply released further down the road. So, I'll save you the heartache now.