It’s been a goal of mine for quite some time now to do a series of articles on soccer refereeing. It’s a huge part of the sport that gets very little attention except when there is a controversial call. Finally this week I reached out to a few officials and am bringing them onboard to talk about their experiences and also to talk about rules and interpretations of soccer rules.
Today we meet Roberto Alvarez, the Washington State Youth Referee Administrator. Roberto has the floor to tell us about his career in soccer and what he thinks is one of the most misunderstood aspects of being a soccer ref.
Alvarez will be joining us often in 2011 to talk about refereeing, rules and the beautiful game.
A part of his daily life
“I’ve been involved with soccer since I was a kid – it’s a basic part of my identity,” Alvarez begins. “I was born and raised in Mexico City, so soccer was always part of my daily life. I’ve been a UNAM Pumas fan as far back as I can remember, attending lots of games with my buddies. I played pick-up matches every day with my friends on the streets, at recess, in the stadium parking lot, in parks, wherever there was a ball.”
Roberto played goalkeeper in college. “I realized early on that I was a natural at goalkeeper – no fear, very focused, and willing to do what others did not want to do. So I played for my school all the way through college (Lewis & Clark College in Portland). This was back in the late 70’s, so the NASL was in full swing, and even then I preferred Seattle over Portland (much to the chagrin of my classmates).”
Alvarez began his officiating career in Mexico, but brought the passion and skill for it to America. “I became a referee very early – in my teens in Mexico City – and stopped when I came to the US for college. As with many people, there is so much going on in college and during your 20’s that refereeing takes a back seat. I then got back into refereeing in the mid 90’s (this time with US Soccer) once my kids started playing and the team needed a volunteer referee. I’ve always seen myself as a referee, even back when I was in high school – the most palpable reason was and still is a need to be a guardian of the game itself; to make sure it is played fairly, safely and enjoyably.”
Started in high school
Alvarez takes us back to his early days as a ref. “I started out doing matches in high school. We would earn ten pesos a match (or five pesos as an AR -assistant referee-). That was good money for a teen in Mexico City, so I was happy to be part of a game I loved and get paid for it as well. When I took it up again here in Seattle, I just picked up where I had left off sixteen years earlier. I started doing kids’ rec (recreational) matches, then moving up the ladder over a number of years to do kids premier, adult, adult premier and even some pro matches before my knees gave out and had to be replaced (which, by the way, I highly recommend to anyone with lots of knee pain. Titanium knees are very comfortable.)”
Still open to remaining a part of the soccer referee family, Alvarez eventually worked his way into the administrative side of things. “Someone in the late 90’s volunteered me to help the State Referee Committee put together some newfangled “Referee camps” to be held during the State Cup semifinals weekend. Apparently I did a decent job, because they kept asking me to be involved every year. Then I slowly got “voluntold” (as in, told I had been volunteered) for more and more administrative duties – Referee Instructor, Referee Assessor, Referee Assignor… until I was named the State Youth Referee Administrator in 2004. Now I get to “voluntell” others. As the SYRA, I am one of the people in charge of referee development in this State. I try to help young up-and-coming referees navigate their way through the various levels of refereeing and to prepare them for the pro ranks, if they are willing to put in the time and hard work it takes to get there.”
‘A complex layering…of shades of gray’
Roberto will have a pulpit here at Seattle Soccer Examiner, including answering some of your questions in future post. So I ask him to begin by talking about how fans and parents view officials.
“That’s what I think is one of the most misunderstood things about refereeing; the misconception that “any genius in the stands can do it better than those inept fools on the field.” To begin with, this simple game with simple rules cannot be seen in black and white, but rather as a complex layering of varying shades of gray. The true art in refereeing is not the ability to blow a whistle or show a card; a master referee has the ability to feel the game’s intensity and emotion, and let it build to a fine balancing act between enjoyment and safety, with a good dose of fairness tossed in. It’s like a conductor leading a symphony of soloists and trying to get them playing the same tune, or like an airline pilot doing all the heavy-duty work prior to and during the take-off, then cruising through the flight (with occasional bumps and turbulence), before having to really work hard to land the plane safely.”
“The average spectator has no idea that the referee crew is looking at their match on several different levels – some visible, others not. Like a duck on a pond, the match may be gliding along, seemingly without effort, but under the surface the duck’s legs are paddling like crazy. That’s refereeing – managing each individual paddle stroke under the surface so that the full match moves ahead smoothly.”
Alvarez can tell it like he sees it.
“And that’s why I hate the buffoons who criticize the referee. Especially the parents and coaches who yell at teenage referees. I have a very good friend, the mom of a 13-year-old ref, who handles this like a pro. She accompanies her son to his referee assignments, and if an adult starts to get obnoxious, she will identify which player this parent supports. She then starts yelling at the player, criticizing his abilities until the parent inevitably confronts her – at which point she says, “why can’t I yell at your kid? You are yelling at mine!”
Do you have a soccer refereeing question for Roberto? Send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and maybe he will tackle it in a future “Behind the Whistle” column.