PAL referee Bob Pizzi says being a Zen Buddhist helps him stay alert and clear on the field.
Bob Pizzi hasn’t scored a goal all year, won’t do a header, and backs off whenever the ball comes near — but he holds the most important position on the soccer field.
Pizzi is one of a small group of longtime, seasoned referees, and his role on the soccer field is indispensable. Unfortunately, despite their importance to the game, soccer referees are greatly underappreciated and in short supply.
“There’s never enough,” says Joanna Doyle of PAL. Currently there are 119 referees on file. Doyle says that number should be closer to 150 if PAL is to make it through the spring season without a hitch.
What’s more, there’s an acute shortage of older, more experienced referees. Currently, some 75 percent of refs are 18 and under. Among the young referees, particularly those under 16, turnover is especially high.
“Reffing is not for everyone,” says Rich Fern, Referee Coordinator for District 1, which encompasses San Francisco. “You have to have some free time and really love the game of soccer.”
Fern would like to see more young people sign up as referees. For kids, it can be challenging but also rewarding. It also can help therm improve their own soccer game and give them some extra spending money to boot.
So what does it take to become a soccer referee in San Francisco?
The job requires a referee license — either a Grade 9 or Grade 8 license to start. PAL offers Grade 9 referee clinics, usually just before the spring season, in February or March. These are open to everyone from age 12 up. The cost is $50.
The easier Grade 9 license involves six hours of classroom training, a written test of 50 questions, and on-the-field training. Referees with a Grade 9 license can only ref at recreational soccer.
The Grade 8 license involves 18 hours of classroom training, a written test of 100 questions (you have to score 75 percent or above), and on-the-field training.
Pay for referees has gone up a little in recent years. Refs today get paid between $15 and $30 per game. Fern think the shaky California economy may spur more people to sign up.
THE BUDDHIST REFEREE
Pizzi, 62, never played soccer himself as a kid. But after coaching his daughter Nikki’s middle-school soccer team, he took the next logical step and became a referee.
He went for his referee license as a way of helping his daughter’s team nab a spot at competitive tournaments. He had heard that teams that can provide referees gain a bit of an edge for those coveted tournament spots. (The referees in question would not ref their sponsoring team’s games.)
He started with a Grade 9 license and later upgraded to Grade 8.
Pizzi says was fascinated by the referee’s role, and quickly found the job to be fun and challenging.
Today his daughter is 20 and no longer playing soccer with her club team. But Pizzi is still on the soccer field most weekends in the fall and spring — and winter, when the Catholic high schools play. He also refs at a few summer tournaments.
“I really love it,” he says. “There’s not a downside at all to it. It’s really good for character building.”
He says he usually refs three to four games a week, including some mid-week high school games, working around his UCSF job where he manages the university computer system.
Pizzi is unusual in that he is a practicing Zen Buddhist. He says being a Buddhist helps him to be a better referee.
“It makes you be mindful and attentive,” he says. “You have to assess and see things clearly.”
A referee “needs to bring sanity to the chaos …You have to take a stand and you have to administer justice,” he adds. “If you don’t administer justice, they (the kids) won’t administer justice.”
Referees who routinely make bad calls create a situation where players are impatient and upset. The play may get out of balance, or kids may retaliate against rough opponents.
“Kids will only take it for so long,” he says. Sooner or later, consciously or unconsciously, they signal to the referee that he or she needs to starting making better calls.
A big problem in youth soccer these days is the behavior of spectators on the sidelines. Every ref has had to deal with parents who are loud and abusive. While Pizzi says he can handle most rowdy crowds, not all referees are so thick-skinned. Parent criticism is almost always out of line.
“Most parents don’t know anything about the game and they act as if they do,” Pizzi says. “Unless you’re standing on my shoulder you don’t have any right to say anything …
He says spectators don’t always appreciate how complex the job of soccer referee is.
“When you’ve got to look at the whole field, and at both teams at the same, a lot of stuff is happening.”
Bob Pizzi’s suggestions for beginner referees:
• Don’t start out issuing yellow or red cards; give kids a warning first. Otherwise, you have no place to go if the play gets really rough. A yellow or red card should be reserved for repeated and/or flagrant abuses on the field.
• Explain to the coaches and players how tough you are likely to be on the field. If you are going to be lax and not call a lot of fouls, let them know ahead of time.
• Be clear with players. They should know what your call is, and have no doubt what happened to warrant that call.
• Go over the law book every season to stay fresh.
• Don’t be afraid to make a judgment. That’s your job.
• Be polite to parents, but if you need to rein them in, the proper procedure is to talk to the coach.
Bob Pizzi’s suggestions for parents:
• Treat every game day like Silent Saturday. It’s OK to cheer, but not OK to be loud and abusive. Remember, kids are easily embarrassed by screaming parents on the sidelines.
• Unless you’re standing on the ref’s shoulder and see exactly what he or she sees, it’s wrong to second-guess a ref’s calls. Assume the ref saw something you didn’t, and let it go.
• Sometimes a call goes your way, sometimes it doesn’t. Things have a way of evening out over time. Don’t gripe about one bad call; the next one could be to your advantage.
• Be especially kind to young referees. They are sensitive to criticism, and many quit because of repeated abuse. Everyone makes mistakes. Young refs need encouragement, not attacks.
• There’s a proper way to voice a complaint about a referee. Let your coach or team manager handle the complaint. It’s their job to report any complaints to the governing soccer league.
The next PAL referee training is expected to be scheduled for March. Check back on the PAL Soccer program page to find out more.
Back to the PAL November 2010 newsletter.