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Lawrence was born in Las Vegas and lived there for 11 years before moving to the Memphis area in 2005.  He has been refereeing for the past ten years. In addition to being a referee I also do high school football commentary in the fall, as well as working as a legal assistant at a law firm.

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Build-out Lines - Referee's Worst Nightmare?

Build-out LinesIn the fall of 2016, US Soccer introduced “build-out lines” for small sided youth games in order to help teach young kids how to play the ball out from the back in an unpressured setting.  The build-out lines are painted on the filed exactly halfway between the midfield line and the edge of the penalty area (some complexes have them as a solid line while others have them as a dashed or dotted line).   It’s a commendable idea in terms of long term player development but it’s really and truly a nightmare for referees to have to deal with.  Here’s a variety of reasons why. 

 

The first and perhaps most significant rule (for the players) is that once the goalkeeper has the ball (or it goes out for a goal kick) the attacking team must retreat to behind the build-out line.  Once the attacking team is behind the build-out line the goal kick can be taken or the keeper can play the ball by throwing or passing the ball out (punting is not allowed).  Once the ball is put into play, the attacking team can then cross the build-out line and go after the ball.  Again, this is in some way a commendable effort by US Soccer to teach kids at an early age the importance of playing the ball out from the back.  Here’s where this part of the rule has the potential to be a problem for the referees.  Say that the keeper catches the ball and instead of waiting for the attacking players to get across the build-out line, immediately plays it and it gets stolen by an attacking player who scores.  What happens then?  The parents and coaches go crazy (which is something that happens way too much anyway so this extra, unneeded stress is not appreciated) and berate the referee because the attacking players weren’t on the other side of the build-out line.  Here’s the thing though: it’s not the job of the referee to make sure the keeper waits for everybody to get back across.  The ball is in play when the keeper plays it.  If the keeper choses to play it quickly, that’s not the referee’s problem. 

 

The biggest issue with the build-out lines though is how it affects the way the ARs will call offside.  Calling offside has always been relatively simple for an AR.  If the attacking player is in the attacking half of the field, ahead of the ball and behind the second to last defender, it’s offside.  But now with these new build-out lines there’s a catch to that.  The catch is that from the midfield line to the build-out line the attacking player cannot be offside, even if all of the criteria for being in the offside position are met.  The reasoning behind this is not clear but one possibility is that it helps to offset the disadvantage of not being able to cross the build-out line to attack in the first place.  For ARs, especially ones that are new to being referees, this is a nightmare.  The best thing to do in this situation is probably just to run the line the way it’s meant to be run and just mentally note the build-out lines and remember that there is no offside between midfield and the build-out line. 

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How to get ready for a weekend long tournament.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Soccer-Goal.jpgTournaments are currently what makes youth soccer go.  It’s where the kids get to play the bulk of their high level games and it’s where referees get to work the bulk of their top games.  Tournaments are usually played in any and all kinds of weather: sun, rain, heat, cold, snow, etc.  They can also be a lot of fun with the proper preparation.  Here are some handy tips on how to be properly prepared for a weekend tournament.  

 

First and foremost is to have all of the proper gear and equipment.  Just like the players can’t play without the proper equipment, the referees can’t work without the requisite gear.  Most important is to have more than one jersey.  Lots of younger and newer referees attempt to do tournaments with just the gold/yellow jersey.  This may work for the local league, but at a tournament there are many more teams and thus a higher likelihood of teams wearing yellow.  It is highly recommended that referees have all five jerseys, but not all young referees can afford them or have the need for them.  In that case, try to have at least three (usually gold/yellow, red and green).  After jerseys, shorts and socks are also very important.  Black shorts with no logos or excess stripes are required.  For the socks, again all black are required.  Three stripe socks are still acceptable.  Always have an extra pair of socks handy as well.  It may be wet and running around in soggy socks for a whole weekend is no fun.  Proper, comfortable shoes are very important.  Also, make sure to have cold weather gear handy at all times, just in case.  Again, make sure it’s all black.  In terms of non-wearable gear, make sure to have at least one working watch, a pair of flags, a booklet with yellow and red cards (they tend to be necessary from time to time) a coin (preferably a referee coin and not just US currency) and a sturdy bag to hold all of this stuff.  In the case that any of these items have become dilapidated or gone missing, check out refereestore.com for all of your referee equipment needs.  

 

After having all of the required gear, the next most important thing to be prepared for a tournament is to be physically prepared.  Now, this does not mean being in peak physical shape and ready to go run a marathon, though that is not at all discouraged.  However, signing up to work a tournament after spending all summer on the couch watching TV is not acceptable.  If a referee is physically unprepared to work a tournament, he or she can potentially injure themselves and thereby put the assignor in a bad spot trying to fill all the holes in the schedule.  To avoid this from happening, at least try to do something during the offseason to keep in decent shape.  It’s also a good idea to have worked some other, low intensity games (possibly rec or church league) to get games back in the legs.  For further physical preparedness advice visit this site's Referee Forum.  

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Parental abuse of referees must stop! Now!

b2ap3_thumbnail_referee-abuse.jpgIt’s been established that referee abuse in the world’s top soccer leagues is a major problem that needs to be stopped.  But it’s not just a problem at the top of the soccer world.  It’s also an issue in youth leagues all across the country. It’s an issue that could lead to a large number of younger and newer referees not wanting to deal with it and just quitting.

 

Parental behavior at any youth sporting event has forever been an issue, but in recent years it’s become a very concerning one especially at soccer events.  It’s perfectly acceptable for parents to disagree with whatever call the referees make because referees are human too.  But what tends to happen is a few brief seconds of reasonable disagreement somehow morphs into an entire game long feud with the referee.  In far too many instances the disagreement explodes into a variety of personal insults, profanity laced tirades, arguments with parents from the opposing team and worst of all, physical attacks upon the referee.  It’s one thing to do any of this to an adult referee who is capable of defending themselves.  It’s absolutely disgraceful for any parent to ever do this to a new and young referee.

 

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Will US Soccer's attempt to prevent head injuries cause more problems than it solves?

b2ap3_thumbnail_Head-Injuries.jpgIn November of 2015 US Soccer adopted new rules banning players age eleven and under from heading the ball as part of its campaign for player safety.  This specific measure was adopted in an attempt to curb the rising number of concussions in youth soccer.  While US Soccer has been mostly commended for trying to make the game (and the long term health of the players) safer, it has created some confusion for referees and some unintended consequences/side effects.

 

The first issue is that many referees are just not used to having to award an indirect free kick because somebody headed the ball.  They’ve called the game a certain way for however many years and it will take some getting used to.  Similarly, a number of the players in the affected age groups are not used to not being able to head the ball as they’ve played the game a certain way for however many years.  Luckily, this is a small issue and one that will be resolved with the passing of time as players and referees get used to the new rules.

 

 

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Referee abuse has to stop!

Referee AbuseReferee abuse has to stop.  Plain and simple.  Coaches and players complaining about the way the referees call the game is nothing new.  In fact, something would seem just a little bit off if they weren’t doing it.  But in the last two or three years (and 2015 especially) it almost appeared as if there was a directive stating that referee abuse needed to be ramped up to new heights.  And it’s not just players, coaches and fans: most of the soccer media have jumped on the anti-referee bandwagon writing piece after piece about this referee not being good enough or that decision being wrong, etc (my personal favorite is every commentator saying every send off is “harsh”).  It has to stop.  

 

The problem starts in youth leagues.  Players, coaches and parents all want to win.  When things don’t go their way the referees usually take the brunt of whatever went wrong.  Players are told by coaches and their parents (at a more alarming rate than ever) that it’s not their fault they lost, it’s the referee’s fault because of a penalty that was or wasn’t given or any number of contentious decisions that happen during the course of a game.  So, when they don’t get the calls they want they start mouthing off to the referee.  Eventually everybody starts to do it over and over again until it snowballs out of control.  Until corrective action is taken, the problem will only continue to get worse.  

 

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