When you're fit the game slows down
... and when you're not, you do!
In order to referee well, you have to stay close to play. Your presence near play, all by itself, encourages good behavior. And, when a problem does arise, being near play allows you to see it clearly and call it with authority - whereas if you are far away, both players and spectators are quite likely to feel that they have a better idea of what is going on than you do.
Staying close to play involves reading the game, so you can anticipate where the play will go - and then running to be there in time. Being able to do this throughout a game requires an appropriate level of fitness. Otherwise, you will (you will have to!) reduce the amount of running you are doing by following play from further and further back. This is the first step towards losing control of the game.
But how fit do you have to be? Edgardo Codesal Mendez, the Mexican referee who officiated the 1990 World Cup Final, once claimed that "The referee must run more than the players!" (because no player is involved with play all the time, as the referee is). Fair and Foul (and others) claim that a center referee who maintains proper position should run 6-7 miles in the course of a full adult game (and even further if the game is being run using a two-man system)!
The demands on AYSO referees aren't as severe as those on referees who officiate top flight adult games - the games are shorter and the kids are slower. But they are not negligible. If we scale the Fair and Foul estimates by the game length and the foot speed of players (measured by age best in state 5K times, shown in miles/hour), we get the following rough estimate of the distances that a referee in each of the AYSO Divisions should expect to have to travel.
|How far does a referee have to run?|
|Player age||Player Speed (mph)||Game Time (min)||Ref runs (miles)|
|Division 6 (Under 8)||4.9||40||1.2|
|Division 5 (Under 10)||6.9||50||2.1|
|Division 4 (Under 12)||8.2||60||3.0|
|Division 3 (Under 14)||8.7||70||3.8|
|Division 2 (Under 16)||9.9||80||4.9|
|Division 1 (Under 19)||10.7||90||5.9|
A Division 4 referee, for example, should expect to cover about three miles during a game. Even though the pace is a rather relaxed 20 minutes a mile (on average), it's still a fair amount of exercise. If you referee regularly in Division 4, a three mile run (jog, walk) should not seem a very big deal (after all, you do it every weekend in the Fall, right?). If it does, chances are you're going to have trouble keeping up with play towards the end of the game.
Of course, the higher divisions demand more. As a crude rule of thumb, you should expect to have to run one mile further every game for every division you move up. At some point, this can become a problem for those of us who started refereeing in Division 6 when our children started playing and have moved up with them. Almost any healthy 30-something adult can keep up with 6 and 7 year-olds for 40 minutes, which is why we encourage everyone to try reffing at this level. But only a few 40-something adults can keep up with 16 and 17 year olds for 90 minutes without working on their fitness. The kids are getting stronger and faster and we....
How do you decide if you're fit enough? Most soccer organizations measure a referee's fitness by the distance the referee can run in 12 minutes. A FIFA (or a USSF National) referee is required to be able to run 2700m in that time! An AYSO National 2 (U16 and above) must be able to cover 1600m (1 mile). And, although there are no prescribed standards, referees working Division 3 and 4 should probably be able to achieve 1400m. These last two are relatively undemanding targets. Younger referees, or those who aspire to very tight coverage of play, should shoot for 2000m or better.
Being able to jog 2000m in 12 mins is a good foundation, and you will spend a lot of time following play at this relaxed pace. However, as we all know, referees also occasionally have to sprint to catch up with breakaways, or when the play suddenly moves in an unexpected direction. The AYSO National 2 requirements are a relatively undemanding 100 yds in 18 sec.. Most of us should aspire to 20 sec. or less.
If you are planning to referee in Division 4 or above, measure yourself against these benchmarks. For some, these targets are easy. Relax and enjoy your summer. The rest of us have to work to do. Start now! Go slow, but go often. 20-30 minutes of light running two or three times a week for a few weeks will do wonders. Expect to feel sore at first as joints and muscles build up strength. Keep going (gently!) through that phase. Add some running backwards and skipping sideways. You do this when reffing and these muscles too need strengthening. Finally, mix in some short sprints to build up speed and strength (to reduce your chances of a tearing a muscle when you abruptly stop, turn or accelerate during the season). Every now and then, measure your performance on the benchmarks again. Your improvement will encourage you, even on days when it doesn't feel like things are getting better.
But it will feel dramatically better in the Fall. It's just amazing how much easier it is to call the game when you're five yards closer to play, all through the game, and not puffing and panting. The game really does seem to slow down. And that three mile run? That won't seem like such a big deal anymore.