I get lots of great questions emailed to me. This one really made me think. I was asked what I do pre-match to get ready for the game. Here is part 2 of my list, #10 - #1.
#10 Confirm the rules of competition
Every league and every age group could have some different rules they play under. ECNL:, MLS NEXT, UPSL, REC, etc... Everyone has a different way to do substitutions, reporting and even the size of ball they use. That's right, MLS next U13 started using a size 4 ball this year. It's also wise to confirm half length, and any other random league rules that may be unique to this competition.
#9 Have a good warm-up
This possibly the most important tip that I have in this post. A good warm-up is essential. You don't want to pull a muscle and have an injury in the match. It's never a good thing. Additionally, it always makes a good first impression on coaches and players. They know that you are taking their match seriously and get prepared just like they are.
I also feel that a warm-up starts to get me in the right frame of mind for the match. I don't want to hold back on any runs on the pitch. You never know if there is a quick counter attack from kick-off. It's good to know that I will ready to run from the first whistle and won't risk injury in doing so.
#8 Do a field inspection
There are so many reasons for a good field inspection well in advance of kick-off. The first and most important is safety. If we discover any divots or holes that need to be filled in or goals not properly secured, we need to discover them well in advance to give the home team time to address them. I have held up matches over 30 minutes waiting for goals to be properly secured to the ground.
Additionally, holes in the net is always a cause for concern. I usually carry zip ties with me, but even what I have may not solve the issue. That has to be addressed pre-match or their could be major issues during the match.
#7 Talk and check in the teams
Beyond making sure the players are who they say they are, most importantly, this is an opportunity to build report and set some ground for communication during the match. As you get more experienced as a referee, you will find the match control and communication will become just as important as foul recognition.
I want to set the bar for what I deem acceptable as it relates to dialog on the pitch. A question here or they politely asked, no problem. Screaming at me and carrying on after every call, expect a Yellow Card for dissent. I try to tell them to not mistake my kindness for weakness.
#6 Have a proper pregame talk with my fellow referees
I have an entire other blog and podcast regarding pregame conference with my fellow referees. Please go check that out for a full list. At a minimum, I am covering eye contact, mechanics for certain calls, being vocal with me if I miss seeing one of their flag signals. I also tell them that I generally call a tight game and would rather they call what they see than "let them play" if there is an obvious foul. It's all about making sure we look and act like we are on the same crew
Lastly, I tell them how we will handle coach or spectator poor behavior. I empower them to give the first warning, but anything beyond that, to get my attention and I will handle it. I will always back up my referees and I have never, ever had a situation where a referee asked for someone to be carded or dismissed who didn't deserve it. It gives them them confidence to do their job knowing that I trust them and have their back.
#5 Build rapport with my fellow referees
Spend some time getting to know each other. Where are they from? If they are teenagers, where do they go to school? Do they play sports? If they are adults, what do they do for a living? Where did they grow up? How low have they been reffing? This may sound like ideal chit chat, but it would bond you closer as a crew.
#4 Call Captains five minutes before kick off
Give yourself a good 5 minutes before kick-off to call the captains over. They may be engaged in a team talk and can't walk away immediately. At the coin toss, I remind them that they are captains for a reason and I may need to ask them to help control the hot heads on the team if they lose their composure.
#3 Properly inflate balls
I carry an automated pump with me. Mine cost around $25 on amazon. It's nice to set it and forget it. Meaning that I can insert the needle, set the 11 or 12 PSI setting and let it do it's thing while I am doing the coin toss or player check-ins. Also, once you blow up the balls, they can not be used anymore by the teams. I once had a coach take the balls after we blew them up and try to inflate them to 15 PSI! Crazy. They were like rocks. Not good.
#2 Make sure everyone not on the pitch is back 6 feet
Make sure parents, spectators and equipment is far enough away from the sidelines and not behind the goals. This is a safety issue and for match control. I never, ever want someone near the penalty area. I know on some fields I might have a hard time getting people back 6 feet from the touchline due to preexisting fences or something like that, but goal areas are sacred.
This is also match control and safety issue. If we do have a mass confrontation, the AR2 should be responsible for trying to keep the parents on their sideline and not entering the field. If you have parents coming from all 4 sides of the pitch, it will be extremely difficult to keep everyone off the field and then our safety will be compromised.
Sometimes, I may have parents who want to sit in the shade and the only shade is behind the goal areas. OK, I'll allow that, but they better be at least 20 feet back.
#1 Try and start on time
This is so easy, but yet so important!!! If you start on time, you will finish on time. We all work multiple games in a day. If you start on time, that will give you the full amount of time to rest and recover after the match before your next kick-off.
I hope these tips are helpful for you. Please let me know if you have any that I may have missed.