Standing with our Referees in the OSA

Standing with our referees
in The Ontario Soccer Association

As we conclude the 2013 soccer season and move toward 2014 and beyond, it is timely to discuss ways to make our game even better when it comes to the work of our on-field officials. Some of that responsibility lies with individual officials in terms of how they do their jobs. However, it is also up to the rest of us—the Association, Districts, Clubs, coaches, parents, spectators and our adult players, too—to show maturity, leadership and to set a proper example for our young players.
Our referees deserve recognition
Many complain about our referees, but I believe that of the over 10,000 referees registered with the OSA the majority are doing a great job at all levels of the game. Throughout the years a number of our officials have obtained Provincial, National and FIFA status.  2013 was no different. Two of “our own”, Alexis Vaughan (Referee) and Peter Pendli (Assistant Referee) performed at the Under 18 Club National Championships in Newfoundland in October.  We were subsequently advised that they have both been accepted to the National team list of Referees.  They deserve our heartfelt congratulations.
Without question, these significant achievements are a result of an individual commitment to excellence by our officials. But their success is also rooted in the invaluable work done at the District/Club levels and a well-defined, properly resourced Regional/Provincial program delivered by a dedicated staff as well as by countless volunteers. 
Everyone plays a part in making our referees even better
Beyond the success of individuals like Alexis and Peter, many of our referees within the Association are working hard to improve and to attain a higher standard of performance. Everyone in the system needs to support that commitment.
There is a 48% attrition rate of registered referees each year because of a variety of factors. In 2013 we saw an improvement of 1.3%.  Our own research indicates the main reason for referee departures is the abuse of field officials, especially at the younger ages. I need to be very clear: when we are aware of such circumstances, one thing we will not tolerate as an Association is mistreatment of officials of any kind.  Whether a referee is thought to make the “right” call or not on a given play, there is no excuse for any type of abuse directed at game officials—from coaches, players, parents or spectators.
While the Association needs to do a much better job in our reporting systems to identify   offenders (and we will), I encourage officials to call “911” the moment they face any sign of serious threat/assault before, during or after a competition. We simply cannot expect referees to continue to officiate matches if they feel in any way threatened with possible harm on or off the field.  Heavy sanctions will be applied when warranted.
It is very important to report these situations to the District and follow proper procedure. It is difficult for us as a governing body to effectively address poor behaviour if we are not made aware of problems.
Respect in Soccer” needs to be more than good words
Our “Respect in Soccer” program is excellent, but if those are only words and not acted upon, the impact is minimal. This is where we can all make a significant contribution to the game to establish and maintain the right environment for our athletes, coaches and referees.
The Association will work in the weeks ahead to improve our capabilities in the collection and review of data.  This will allow us to determine if certain teams, coaches, players or Clubs are repeat offenders.  Once that determination is made, we will be able to respond with our Districts, Clubs and Leagues to any such situation even more pro-actively than ever before.  With this in mind, I have approached the OSL who have agreed to undertake a pilot project to further this initiative.
Referees and fitness
Many people have stated to me that our referees need to be in better physical condition to call a game effectively.  While fitness is indeed important, for me there is a broader challenge.  The job of the referee is to be in the right position at the right time so that they are able to make the right call. The better trained and fit our referees become and the more we are able to develop and retain young officials in our system, the better the quality of our officiating will be, hence a new grading system is being introduced in 2014.
We continue to raise the standard of officiating and to enhance our development opportunities for referees, in part through clinics designed to provide the best training possible.  One of the expectations going forward with our standards-based league (OPDL) will be that the best players will compete in games officiated by the best referees.
Introducing “Game Leaders”
Many of you are aware that the OSA is introducing, as part of the ongoing implementation of LTPD at the grassroots levels, a “Game Leader” concept. This will be adopted in 2014 for our youngest age groups. In this setting, our officials are being trained to act more as on-field coaches and teachers, rather than as referees who are there strictly to adhere to the “letter of the law” and rules. These officials will keep the games moving while helping youngsters to better understand the rules for when those rules must be enforced more rigidly at the older ages.  I’ve personally seen this approach already being utilized in some Districts. I have been thoroughly impressed by how our officials handle being Game Leaders and have witnessed the impact this is having on the young players and their enjoyment of the game.
The Association needs to be open to new ideas
I also feel quite strongly that when it comes to supporting our referees, including some of our longest-tenured officials, the Association can do a better job of embracing new ideas.  Recently, I was presented with a blueprint to help improve our officiating standards. The recommendations came from a long-time official in our system.
We need to seriously consider good ideas and when appropriate incorporate them into our referee development program at the Club and District level in the years ahead.
Our internal “system” sometimes gets caught up in doing things the way they have always been done before.  While much good work continues to be done by OSA staff, Instructors, Assessors, Mentors, District Referee Coordinators, Club Head Referees and volunteers, we also need to make sure we are being inclusive in considering any and all ways to improve our game from a referee’s perspective. We've undertaken many new initiatives including online registration, clinic management system, provincial and regional upgrading and WISER (Women in Soccer Enhancing Referees) and there is always more that can be done.
Thank you
I’d like to thank those referees and assistant referees who have worked hard to be good at their job and who have helped make the soccer experience for all of us, especially our players and coaches, what it is today.
We as an Association will continue to provide the support and training required.  Working together with our referees in a cooperative fashion, I am absolutely confident that we will take our game to the next level.  To all those referees who participated in our 2013 season, I extend our thanks and gratitude for a job well done.

President, The Ontario Soccer Association

Office # 905-264-9173
"Coming together is a beginning.
Keeping together is progress.
Working together is success."

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