Having worked as an AR for the MLS since its formation 21 years ago, Greg Barkey was the perfect person to employ as the Manager of Assistant Referees, with more than 300 MLS regular season matches under his belt.
His outstanding experience as an official is certainly serving Barkey well in his new role since his appointment within PRO more than 18 months ago.
Barkey previously worked as a teacher, before leaving his position in the November to take on the full-time managerial role shortly after the 2015 MLS Cup. Despite missing his students, Barkey is enjoying a life that’s submerged in soccer, and is “putting all [his] energies into it and trying to make the guys the best in the world.”
His efforts have certainly been productive as Barkey has already made positive changes to the PRO set-up. His first aim was to lower the number of assistant referees on the roster, as the high numbers were not allowing the regular game time that would optimize development.
“We know for a fact that if our ARs, and our referees on top of that, are working in a regular, consistent matter they’ll do much better,” said Barkey.
“The assistants are working more consistently – two or three games a month, so they are in a nice pattern. Their decision-making accuracy is much higher than if they take three weeks off and then they do a match. It wasn’t working that way.”
These changes have proved very successful so far, but Barkey and the support staff haven’t stopped there. Following the trimming of the roster, he has also adapted the format of the AR camps to bolster the improvement of each individual official.
“One of the best things that we did this year was have two camps that were separated, so we only had 15 or 16 officials at these camps,” Barkey explained. “We were able to focus very specifically on their habits, and their habits that we needed to correct to make a better system of referees who make better decisions.”
As a former official himself, Barkey is all too familiar with the lively diary of an assistant referee, and one of his aims in the upcoming 12 months involves finding solutions to scheduling challenges, with referees trying to balance time at home and work.
However, he also knows the joys of the job and hasn’t locked away the flags just yet…
“I still referee around town, indoor, and just because it’s fun to do, it keeps me in shape,” Barkey continued.
“And now and then you go to a game and think if the guy gets injured, can I go in?”
Using his experience, Barkey also aims to create a special culture within PRO that encourages tenacious work ethic and a determination to succeed. He understands this is vital for the growth of the referees already in the set-up, as well as the promising young officials.
“The next generation are reading the instructions that we are giving to the team right now. They’re already going to come in with the knowledge base that we want them to have because they have everything that the top officials have.
“So they are reading the materials, watching the plays, doing the perception tests so that they’re preparing themselves for when the opportunity comes. They’ll be ready to step in, and we don’t have to start from the bottom and teach them what we want them to do.
“We are slowly developing this culture amongst the ARs, where even they will self-criticize each other when they see someone not doing as well as they can. Everybody’s raising the level because they’re looking for the next one to say we are in it together on this. Let’s keep raising our level so we really can be the best in the world.”