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Refereeing: the key part is to start — and to be fit

By Randy Vogt

Every beginner is a winner! If you are just starting out officiating, then you have not made anywhere near the number of mistakes I’ve made on the field, and hopefully you never will.

I began officiating at the age of 16 and starting out as a teenager is a very good time to begin. After all, I was in excellent physical shape. Nearly all the youth players and most of the coaches enjoyed having a teenager officiate their games. But a few coaches saw a young ref and thought that they could intimidate me. We had me, a teenage ref and a coach who was two to three times my age, and I was the one who had to display some maturity. So it was sink or swim time for me on those games and I learned how to control the game as well as coaches. But unlike adult refs, I did not have a vast amount of life experiences to draw upon back then.

Many refs are former coaches whose kids have graduated from high school and they wonder how they are going to spend their weekends. It is youth soccer’s version of the empty nest syndrome. Some coaches start with a new group of kids by coaching U-8s yet some instead take up the whistle.

Many of these new refs, both men and women, are in their late 40s or 50s. So refereeing in MLS and the NWSL is out of the question as those leagues are looking for younger officials. Although advancement to the pro level is not possible for older refs, they can still make a profound difference in youth soccer.

Examples of later-in-life victories abound. Ernestine Shepherd began bodybuilding and running marathons at the age of 56. Diana Nyad swam from Cuba to Florida at 64 after several attempts. Anna Mary Robertson Moses, a.k.a. Grandma Moses, started painting at the age of 76. Frank McCourt won a Pulitizer Prize for “Angela’s Ashes” when he was 66 and Harland Sanders founded Kentucky Fried Chicken in his 60s.

For all referees but particularly for the older ref starting out, a physical fitness regimen is essential.

If you believe that refereeing one or two days per week will make you fit without physically training for it, you are sadly mistaken. Soccer is played at its own pace — some games are fast, others are slow-moving. With relatively unskilled players, there is even some acceleration of play in spurts, especially if the game is played on artificial turf. Games will be played at a given pace whether the officials can keep up with play or not.

Those officials who do not move up or down the field are the first to complain about overly enthusiastic spectators and often quickly determine that refereeing is not for them. If you are properly prepared for the physical demands of soccer, you will enjoy it much more.

Please get the approval of your doctor before becoming a soccer referee and taking on all the physical training that goes with it. The fartlek training method works best for me, as it mimics a soccer game. Rather than just jogging, you jog, sprint, jog … with an all-out sprint at the end. If you are currently out of shape, start slowly after getting your doctor’s approval and gradually work up to a mile.

As officials need to run backward and sidestep during the course of a match, try to incorporate both of these moves in your training. But the key part is to begin.

(Randy Vogt has officiated over 9,000 games during the past three decades, from professional matches in front of thousands to six-year-olds being cheered on by very enthusiastic parents. In his book, Preventive Officiating, he shares his wisdom gleaned from thousands of games and hundreds of clinics to help referees not only survive but thrive on the soccer field. You can visit the book’s website at