Just doing a quick reflection on the mileage from the past few weekends.
If you looked at my move and mileage on the activity tracking watch, you’d possibly think I was doing 1/2 marathon prep. Instead, I’m just patrolling the soccer field with either flags, electronic whistle or my FOX-40 micro. The pandemic impacted soccer on so many levels. The Premier League, Europa, MLS and Pennsylvania youth/amateur soccer. The Spring 2020 season was cut short after the first official weekend with stay-at-home orders. In the fall scholastic soccer happened because the athletic departments took charge of Covid-19 protocols. As an official those are the easiest games since the PIAA and WPIAL manages all rostering, player identification and game reporting requirements we normally perform on USSF games. While the PIAA does not follow the rest of the football world with referees and assistant referees their two person and three person systems of control where every referee has a whistle, it does cut down on mileage per game.
Spring 2021, created a new problem. This is partly to blame on the Penn State, Sandusky/Spanier debacle. The result of the failure of the Pennsylvania State University system to report child abuse led to one of the most interesting clearance programs in the 50 states. 2021 would be the fifth year since the initial requirements went into place and made it the first year every person who did their background checks after the new laws were enacted would now need to redo all clearances. Side note- the biggest challenge in the clearances were working with the outsourced process.
After the clearance came the online recertification, first-year officials running away due to lack of support or crazed fans and Covid-retiring guardians of the game Western PA currently has a referee headcount problem. The current state of assignments for games is based on location, connections, personal knowledge of the region in Western PA for local, travel and adult clubs. There is no centralized assigning tool used by all assignors like WisRef used in Wisconsin. This makes transparency difficult when it comes to the number of games, number of teams with sportsmanship issues and players who are repeat offenders in the area of violent conduct. I’ve used over 5 different assigning tools in my time in Pennsylvania, whereas in Wisconsin it was only 2. The first step to understanding a problem is standardization and data, before any form of optimization can occur.
Lastly there is a pay issue. . .I’ve been turning back most of the games in a certain league because they still can’t pay the going rate in Pennsylvania and insist on the clubs in PA adhere to their regional scale. Newsflash the Pennsylvania pay rate hasn’t really changed much since 2010 when I first started. Every weekend away from home is a weekend, I need to outsource house projects work. I can tell you the average lawn, contractor, house cleaner and deck hand price has all gone up in those last 10 years. If you want to keep you adult referees active, involved, available and willing to mentor the next generation, then find a way to pay us for our knowledge and athleticism. The coaches in the pay-for-play leagues are all getting paid, find some room in the budget to make sure the beautiful game is officiated with well trained referees.
Physically, I’m at the point where doing 2 games per day is a perfect number. 4-5 is not ideal. Once I push my physical limits past two, my body requires a warmup ride/stretch along with an end of day cool down ride/stretch, ice on the knees while I catch up on all emails from the day and finished with epsom salt bath to a Kristen McGee meditation. I’ve been known to travel with the cup set and Theragun in order to get the knots out out of the IT, quads, calf, trap, glute areas before and after games. Pre-game, mid-game and post-game downward dogs and figure fours are standard operating procedures, along with the Gatorade and H2O combination. On days with more than two games the cooler is packed with protein, veggies and a slow converting carb. Really all this work and prep goes into getting on the field and staying on the field in top condition to keep up with players that are half my age.
Spiritually the biggest issue I see in the Pittsburgh region right now is the limited path to player development. The process that existed 30 years ago has only grown exponentially. Athletes are getting picked for premier teams at earlier ages and requested to play on all start teams where they pay for trained coaches. The local clubs then never get to use those players to develop skills and interaction with their friends. Since the local team is limited to only the players that don’t get picked for a premier team, the teams often struggle to field competitive teams. We continue to funnel the talent an stop making soccer for everybody. This is a sport that you can play for a lifetime. This is a sport that allows you to continue to train for life. We as communities need to figure out how to make soccer local for all.