Soccer reffing takes more than balls

The classroom looks ordinary, save for a pair of soccer balls and a pile of flags, sitting on a table.
Names are posted on desks, a projector sits at the front of the room, and instructor Tom Doyle stands at the front, looking equal parts jock and history teacher.
“The uniform is black and white. Refereeing is mostly gray,” he said.
It’s Saturday evening, and the class had just returned from a bit of work on the pitch. Anyone hoping for a weekend running around out from behind a desk is no doubt disappointed. “We’re not actually doing soccer here. We’re doing all sorts of other things,” Doyle said.
“We’re managing people. You’re directing 22 people to do things they don’t want to do.”
The weekend is made up of discussion and reading, headlined by the referee’s companion, the FIFA Laws of the Game book. Doyle told students that a referee will spend more time reading it than anything except maybe the phone book. “Read it often, but don’t read it during the game. Don’t let them see you totally confused,” he said. “Just kidding.”
There are times over the weekend where the clinic seems slow, studious – about as far removed from playing soccer as you can get.
“If you’re a coach, you’re doing motivational things and you have an adversarial aspect you’re conveying,” Doyle explained between classes. “In refereeing, you’re coming at it in a much more neutral aspect.”
“Do you remember what I promised you last night?” Doyle asked the class.
“You won’t be referees tomorrow morning,” the half-dozen students replied.
Doyle insisted it isn’t just a matter of experience – a lot of students who get into refereeing find its not for them. “This is an entry level clinic,” he said. “We don’t exert any pressure at this level… at this level we’re just introducing them.” Even players who have been in soccer for years “express surprise at seeing the game from the other side,” he added.
“All of this is just a beginning. You’re really just at the car dealership kicking tires,” he told the class.
“In three years some of you will be here, and some of you will not. That’s just reality… (but) all of this will be in vain if you don’t give it a good kick.”
Doyle is an Ontario Soccer Association referee and instructor who lives in Thunder Bay and whose resume includes a stint as the provincial director of officiating. He figures he’s now the only certified clinic instructor between Winnipeg and Sudbury.
“Tom’s always got really good stories. I mean, he’s got 37 years of reffing experience,” said Sabrina Stoessinger, secretary/treasurer of Borderland Soccer. “Not only is he a fantastic teacher, but he is a wealth of information.”
Stoessinger is in charge of taking care of the clinic on Borderland Soccer’s side of things. Fort Frances is currently facing a shortage of referees, and Borderland pays officials $50 a game – not bad considering the organization pays for the training class, Stoessinger said.
She first went to a C4 class taught by Doyle in 1999, and sat in this year as a refresher. “(Refereeing) can actually be really fun. You can actually have a really good time,” she said. “Just being able to be out there with the players and watch the game and be part of the game.”
Doyle playfully teased a young man in the class, calling him “the lone ranger” – he was the only male to stick around until Saturday evening. The young man was born in Chad. “I bet when you grew up you’d play (soccer) barefoot,” Doyle wagered. The boy nodded. “Where he’s from, it’s the only sport,” Doyle said.
That international love of soccer is one of the bonuses of refereeing. “It is the same in Monserrat. It is the same in Butan,” Doyle said. “Refereeing is a portable skill. You can be a soccer referee in any country in the world. You don’t have to speak the language.”
“I’ve refereed in places where I can’t even spell the name… and boy, the guy from out of town is the king. It doesn’t matter how bad you are,” he joked. “It’ll serve you in everything you do in life, I guarantee you.”
Doyle walked up and down between the desks, handing out cards certifying the students as being level C4 referees – the first step on the way up the Canadian soccer refereeing ladder. “Still haven’t broken my promise. You won’t be a referee,” he assured. C4 certification only allows the students to officiate children’s games, or to be assistant referee at other games.
“At C2, we’re reading. C3, we’re reacting. What are we doing at C4? We’re fumbling,” Doyle said.
One of the students asks Doyle what the requirements are to instruct a C4 class. “You have to have C1. You have to have experience. And you have to be bloody silly,” he joked. “You have to really want to do it, to be an instructor.” It’s the fourth such clinic Doyle’s done in the past three months – he chuckled, saying this was supposed to be his year off.
He wrapped up the class. He balled up a piece of paper he had in his hands, and threw it in an arch at the garbage can. It fell short. “If I was six-foot-nine, it would’ve been in,” he quipped.
He walked over to the ball to pick it up, before he got a glint in his eye. He clamped his feet on either side of the paper ball, drawing from his more familiar sport. He kicked his feet up backward. The ball lands just past his target.
“Was too close,” he shrugged, this time defeatedly picking up his trash by hand.