Today my son’s game had an extremely good referee group. The center referee and his two linesmen called the game very well. Despite the fact that they did a great job and got the majority of the calls right (even the ones that went against my son’s team), there were still complaints from parents. Which made me wonder if people really have any idea what makes for a good referee or if they just want calls to go in their team’s favor? Here are some thoughts to consider.
The level matters – Recognize that the job of a referee changes as the age and the level of play changes. At the lowest levels, the referee is part of a learning process. Their job is more about managing the understanding of the game rather than calling “fouls”. Often the sidelines are complaining about things that are poor body control and not actually a foul. The higher levels require much more reading of the flow of the game. A good referee will identify possible problems developing in the play. Their use of cards, advantage, player discussions and fouls called/not called will depend largely upon their reading of the game and individual’s roles within in it. So as you are watching a game, give some thought as to the level of soccer being played and what the referee’s role truly is at that level.
Perspective matters – By design, referees are intended to be a neutral third party at the game. So they are not carrying the bias that most of us bring to the game. Their decisions are based upon what they see and not what they feel. This creates another issue for most fans because their vantage point is completely different from that of the referee’s. So it is not only possible but actually completely accurate to say that fans and referees have seen a different game. Most of the time this is done with no instant replay, no VAR with different camera angles. This is done live with twenty two players running in all directions and possibly screening the view. Despite these major obstacles, perfection is the standard that many expect.
The Laws are the Laws – A good referee will call the game based on the laws of the game, not public perception of what the laws are. There are many things that are commonly shouted from fans or even coaches about things that do not apply to the Laws of the game. “Winning the ball” for example does not make a player immune from having a foul called against them. If the play is deemed to be reckless, then a foul is appropriate regardless of who won the ball. A large number of players, fans and coaches have only a cursory knowledge of the Laws that are based more on hearsay rather than actual study.
Obviously this is just a small sample but each is worth considering. The game requires referees and the good ones need to be identified, praised and promoted. I fear that many people involved in the soccer world would not be able to identify a good referee if they saw one. That is unfortunate because that means that people are unable to see past their own desires. Most of the soccer played in this country is youth soccer. Therefore the majority of children are getting a skewed view of right and wrong. Right means in my favor and wrong means anything else. The ability to be objective could be lost.
My overall purpose in this world is to help people get the best out of themselves. Whether I do that work in the classroom, soccer field or elsewhere is irrelevant. Most of the time it is done through helping people see the possibility within themselves and breaking through the self-imposed limits that they have. Although my messages are usually positive in nature, I’m not against the idea of leveraging the dark space inside each of us. It is probably the reason that I’ve been a successful coach for many years.
It was my senior year in high school and there were no big expectations for our soccer team. There had been lots of talent in the prior year’s senior class and the season had no trophies or accolades. My senior class had only a couple players of impact. The junior and sophomore classes were full of talented but untested players. As the only senior captain, I believed it was my role to help get every last bit of effort out of our team. If we kept the idea that we were all in it together, we’d do OK. In all honesty, we shocked a lot of people, even me. We had an impressive record with only one loss and one tie as it was getting close to the playoff portion of the season. Our record was good enough to win the conference title. Against all odds in a penalty kick shootout we were able to beat a much bigger school for the county title. We were ranked highly by the papers in the area and the number one seed for our section in the state tournament. I’m not sure if it was one factor or a combination of things but we lost in the first round of the state tournament.
That was over twenty five years ago. Despite that fact, it is one of the reasons that I have so much to give to my athletes from the sidelines. Winning and losing are not actually my concern. The reason why that is such a hole inside of me is that we didn’t give it our all. I, as the leader, was possibly complacent and overly confident going into that game. Sure there were other things that impacted the outcome but I know inside that it was at least partially my fault. So I’ll have this hole inside of me forever because I can’t rewrite the past.
The only option that I have is to leverage that dark space into something positive. That cautionary tale that I lived through is a driving force on the mundane days where no one feels like giving their best. It is that pain that gives me the energy to work harder than others and leave it all out there. I don’t talk about it often or even replay it in my head. I don’t have to, it’s just there in the background.
We all have these experiences. There is nothing particularly special or unique about mine. The question becomes whether or not you can use it toward a future positive end. Even the greatest lose from time to time but it is what you do with that setback that matters. No moment is a definitive statement for the positive or negative on who you are as a person. We are what we’ve done consistently. With todays challenges you should absolutely give them everything you’ve got. But if you come up short, take the lesson from it and allow it to propel you forward. Sometime you win and sometimes you learn!
I just wept in front of a room of teenagers. It wasn’t part of the lesson plan but every once in a while, you just have to go with it. Whenever I talk about a particular former student, it is bound to happen. It has almost gotten to the point where the waterworks start before I even tell the story. That’s because I’ve let it happen. The memory does not have to be painful. It is a combination of factors that make it so and they’re all within my control.
It seems as though many of us have a very hands off relationship with emotions. They are things that happen to us rather than our creation. Emotions are the effect of some cause outside of ourselves and all we can do is point the finger at the guilty party. As we become more tethered to technology it seems to be getting worse. Rather than the local humans and situations that can impact how we feel, there is now a virtual world that can impact us day or night, instant by instant. So we deflect, deny or deliberate on why we feel this way regularly. But as is usually the case, the answer is all inside.
The chemicals coursing through our brains are there to make the feeling happen. So in a sense, you are in bio-chemical warfare at all times. Bringing out the big guns of oxytocin and serotonin to combat the overwhelming attack of cortisol. It’s not the stuff that they make movies about but it is the reason that we watch movies. Our brain and body are in a constant feedback loop with each other. The secretion of these chemicals are what makes feelings happen but we have our hands on the release valves and need to pay attention to these things in order to influence them: physiology, focus and inner dialogue.
Physiology is the way that you use your body. It includes movement, food, sleep and many other factors but movement is crucial. Exercise, facial expressions, posture and any other movement that you can think of influence your feelings through your physiology.
Focus is the things that you pay attention to. At any given moment, there are thousands or possibly millions of stimuli coming in through your senses. We can only pay attention to a finite number. So we either pay attention to the obvious things or we need to take control of our focus.
Inner dialogue is the things that we say to ourselves inside of our head. For good or ill the consistent things that we say to ourselves affect how we feel. Being mindful of habitual self-talk is extremely important.
These are the ways that we can turn the tide of the chemical warfare that we have going on inside. It is by no means an easy fix. Each of these component pieces takes diligence and practice but we are not by any means helpless.
My first car was a 1977 Chevy Nova! I inherited it from my great aunt and it was the perfect first car. It had holes in the floor boards where you could actually see the road below you. It had an 8 Track tape player in it that never really worked. It was pale blue and covered with rust spots, as you can tell from the description, I loved it! There were plenty of reasons to love it that had nothing to do with how looked or how it ran. And now looking back on it, I understand even better that it was the perfect first car exactly because it was a piece of junk. At no point did I ever have to worry about messing it up. I learned how to change the oil, replace the bulbs and change tires on that car. At no point did I think, “If I mess this up, I’m screwed!”
Fast forward to the present day and I don’t even change my own oil anymore. Cars have become computers and more complicated, therefore the idea of doing my own maintenance while possible is much easier to outsource. There are so many things like that today. Complexity of many systems within our world have changed us from capable amateur mechanics to people in the waiting room in anticipation of someone else fixing our problem.
While this may be helpful or even necessary with many of our possessions, it seems to have become pervasive to the point of a cultural norm. Day care, personal trainers, landscapers, etc. are all examples of outsourcing things that used to be done by the amateur ‘owner’. While these services can be helpful and possibly ‘necessary’ in a modern context, there is one thing that we can never turn the complete management over to someone else: your mind.
The best therapist in the land can be employed for multiple hours each day and still, it is on the individual to get their hands dirty and do the work. No one can change you without your conscious or unconscious consent. Recognizing this fact, I am amazed at how many brain owners keep waiting for the world or their life to make them happy. That is like expecting your neighborhood to take care of your lawn without ever communicating with them about it. And even if you did make that request, I’m sure that you’d get some raised eyebrows or questions like “why is that my responsibility?” So in this area, we need to realize that that amateur mechanic ethos is absolutely necessary. Help is not only desirable in most cases, it is necessary but it is on each and every one of us to maintain, diagnose or even overhaul our mind at times. With the amount of anxiety, depression and other mental concerns that seem to affect most of the population, it is time for all of us to recognize that we are all broken in at least a small way but we are also the mechanic. Learning about yourself, your habits, fears, triggers and so many other components of your mindset is no longer an option. Developing the tools to navigate this complex world is not only your job, it’s integral to your survival. So remember, you’re broken (but so is everyone else) and you’re the mechanic.
Geometry was probably one of the easiest classes for me in high school. Despite its relative ease, I had trouble staying engaged with it. I found it tedious to give all of the reasons why something was true. It was usually pretty obvious whether a problem was going to withstand the scrutiny of the different theorems that we were learning at the time. So it seemed like a relative waste to my teenage self to write out all of the steps in proving or disproving a problem. Especially when the answers (to the odd problems usually) were in the back of the book.
In our every day lives, there aren’t a lot of ‘proofs’ to be done. Very few things are black and white. So regardless of how SURE you are of your argument, there’s someone out there with the exact same information screaming the opposite (just think of our present political situation). So if we have nothing to prove, maybe the aim should be to improve.
Although there are few cold hard truths that we encounter daily, we do have a sense of who we are personally and what it is that we want for ourselves. So recognize the fact that you have nothing to prove. Even if you were to prove something, the circumstances of tomorrow may wipe away the thing that your proved today. However, each day we have the ability to improve. In small and subtle ways, it is possible for you to see progress in yourself, your life and your circumstances. Almost nothing about you is going to stand the test of time like Pythagoras’ Theorem. That does not mean that your life is meaningless. You are a sand castle that can be improved and enjoyed for the time that it exists. Get digging and sculpting because when the tide comes in, you’ll wish that you had!
It was many years ago but I’ve still not encountered a better example. I was the field marshal at a youth tournament in Pennsylvania. The players were under twelve years old and engaged in a very back and forth game. One team was extremely adept at the offside trap. Late in the game, there was a corner kick. The cross was cleared out of the penalty box and the defense pushed up. The ball fell to the foot of a offensive player about 30 yards from goal. He shot. The ball rocketed toward the goal and hit the post. The rebound fell to a forward who was slow getting back onside and he scored. The referee instantly called offside and awarded a free kick to the defense. The coach of the team that had the goal disallowed went ballistic. He screamed about how “ridiculous” the call was and asked about the referees sight, etc. As the field marshal I felt that it was my job to diffuse the situation in order to avoid it interfering with the game. I said, “Coach, if you’d like, I can explain to you why that was the right call.” He responded, “I know it was the right call! I’m just blowing off some steam.”
In most cases, soccer is not a life or death situation. It’s a passion, diversion, recreation, fun or even a teacher. The game has the possibility to do so many things because it garners the emotions of the people around it. There is nothing inherently wrong with emotion. We need them to live and color our lives. However emotion without any sense of reason is problematic. The word was chosen very deliberately. REASON! The reason why we’re there in the first place gets lost when we cannot control our emotions. Referees become demons. Opponents become enemies and sense of our self-interest overrides the judgment that we use elsewhere. This is not so much of a problem when it is a single person. However it seems to have become a societal norm.
The steam that so many people are letting off is clouding our vision. The ability to see what is right in front of our faces. Children. Children who are looking at us for how to act. Not just on a soccer field on Saturdays or Sundays but in their daily lives. When something doesn’t go their way, they’re supposed to have an emotion freak out session because that’s what you do. You don’t take a breath and refocus on the task at hand. You don’t see the bigger picture. You don’t recognize that human error is part of life and needs to be coped with. Those things aren’t done because they’re hard. They require effort, judgement and self-control. These skills are difficult to develop, especially when you’re a child, watching the adults act like children.
So don’t breathe in the steam, just breathe! Recognize that the children on the field have spent hours this week trying to improve their skills in order to perform for you. Put your focus on that. Double, triple or quadruple your focus on the fact that these are kids, trying to do something that is difficult. AND DIFFICULT THINGS ARE THE ONLY ONES WORTH PURSUING! So don’t produce steam, produce esteem for what everyone on that field is trying to do.
I’ve been extremely fortunate through the years to have won some medals and trophies, either individually or as part of a collective. Most of them are in a box in my basement or in a display case that I don’t have direct access to. Medals and trophies are all pretty similar. They usually have a name of an individual or group, a year and the indication of some accomplishment. As I was thinking about the trophies that teams and individuals are going to reach for this season, I realized that trophies are the tombstones of our past accomplishments.
They do not actually say anything about who we are in this very moment. Instead they are a reminder of our former self. Usually that persona is embellished by a form of nostalgia or selective memory. This is actually not the worst thing in the world if it is employed correctly. The idea is not to intoxicate ourselves with the image of our past self. Deluding ourselves into believing that we are better than the flesh and blood that presently exists. It needs to be used as a stepping stone toward something else. If we worship our past achievements, they become ghosts. If we use them as an indicator of our capabilities, then they become fuel for a fire within and path to possibility.
So don’t let your past self die without leaving an inheritance. Make sure that your trophies are not tombstones but rather mile markers on a path that takes you to higher and higher heights. You are always the product! And there is no quicker way to the grave than to believe that all of your best days are behind you.
We live in a modern world but humans are prehistoric creatures. Obviously we have acquired skills and knowledge that our ancestors did not have. So I am not suggesting that we are on their level in that respect but I do want to point out that we are using the same hardware. The same brain structure that caused us to run from saber-toothed tigers is now tasked with managing a world that moves faster than we were intended to go. We’re overwhelmed and stressed because we created an environment that stresses and overwhelms our prehistoric brains. This is not a blog to suggest that we go back to living in caves. Rather it is intended to point out the fact that there are limits on our bandwidth, therefore we must manage ourselves so the prehistoric brain does not go into overload.
The odd irony to our situation is actually that in a modern world, very few things are trying to kill you. This is an important thing to realize. Our prehistoric brain’s major functions were centered around keeping the self and the species alive. So things like fear and sex were major priorities, while general happiness was farther down the list. The world that we live in requires very little self/species preservation. Despite this fact, the “wiring” for the old world is still intact. So a modern “threat” feels very much like a situation of life or death without any of the true peril. The signals will continue to be sent in this fashion, until we are willing to “re-wire” ourselves.
This process is not like the re-wiring of house. It doesn’t require a professional or a lot of money but it does require time. Humans generally don’t change without time and/or major incentives. A methodical approach to managing your mind can go a long way to creating a better life for you. Regular practice at calming your prehistoric brain will go a long way. Taking the time to recognize that your response to situations is not based on what will help but rather things that are pre-programmed will help you to re-program those responses. Remember that you don’t have to act like a caveman even if you have the same operating system as one.
Go make history by reprogramming your prehistoric systems!
During my sophomore year of college, my two younger brothers were in high school together. One was a senior and the other was a freshman. At one point during the school year, there were “Drug sniffing” dogs brought in to do a search of the school. Students stayed in their classes while the school was swept. If your locker was tagged, you were supposed to report to the office in order to have your locker searched. My freshman brother’s locker had a tag on it. Completely panicked, he went and found his senior brother. One question from the senior brother, “Do you have any drugs in your locker?” The response was “no”. The senior brother went straight to the office and reported that his locker had been tagged. He brought the officials to the locker for it to be searched. The school officials questioned whether this was really his locker or not because it was in a freshman hallway. My brother was adamant! This is my locker! Upon being opened and searched, the locker did not contain any drugs. There was however a half eaten box of crackers at the bottom which the dog must have smelled. I wasn’t there and no one has discussed that incident for years but I still get choked up when thinking about it.
As I am going through preseason as a coach, I am always trying to instill in my players through my words and my actions, the exact sentiment that my younger brother displayed that day. I’LL GO FOR YOU! The idea that I’ll put myself in harm’s way for the good of others. It’s one of the main reasons why I’m still involved in sports after all of these years. It’s not the championships, trophies or victories. It’s those moments when you can truly see that people throughout the team have that simple idea tattooed on their brains “I’ll go for you!” I’ll give you everything that I’ve got and then some because I know that you’d do the same for me.
The ironic thing is that this has become so very rare in our society but the teams that I’ve seen do the best had this. People are usually worried about what’s in it for them and when will they get their due. In my experience, it seems to be that when you are willing to give everything and expect nothing, is exactly the time when you get more than your due. This can be a difficult concept for a large group of people to buy into but when they do, it can be magical.
The best example of this idea that I’ve ever heard of was when Brett Favre of the Green Bay Packers had his father pass away. There was some doubt whether or not he’d play the next game. It’s not his decision to play that I find extraordinary but rather his teammates commitment to him. In this video clip about the game at 2:19 Donald Driver (Wide Receiver) describes exactly what I’ve been talking about. “Whatever he throws, we catch.” In a time of pain for their teammate, they were not going to let him fail. That’s what being a teammate and a family member is about.
Now don’t misread my words! Not everyone deserves everything you’ve got but if no one is willing to go first then we all lose. So be the one who is willing to give into the unknown. Tell the people who truly matter with both your words and your actions; “I’LL GO FOR YOU!” Most of the time you’ll find, they’ll go for you too!