As the MLS continues to expand, PRO’s devotion to developing the next generation of elite match officials is more important than ever. As part of their progression, members of that group take part in two developmental camps per year, with the second fast approaching.
Following the preseason development group camp held earlier this year, three officials who are coming through the ranks at PRO shared their experiences from the training event.
Ramy Touchan (RT) has since gone on to make his MLS debut as a center official, having taken charge of Columbus Crew’s meeting with Philadelphia Union in week 11.
Natalie Simon (NS) is a rookie referee and Benjamin Hall-Volpenhein (BHV) is a rookie assistant referee, both of whom are in the premier tier of PRO’s development group.
How beneficial was the camp from your perspective?
RT: It was extremely beneficial because it got everyone on the same page on how matches at the professional level should be officiated and what is to be expected.
NS: The camp was a crucial part of my preparation for the season. It set the tone and outlined the expectations PRO has for us at this level. There was a lot of information to take in from insightful presentations, but it was also a great way from referees and coaches to engage with one another, deepening our relationships off the field, which is important.
BHV: The Development Group Camp provided a great kick-start to the 2018 season. The opportunity to have all Development Group officials, instructors and staff in the same room and being provided the same information is imperative to a developmental approach and a successful season and future.
What did the camp consist of and what did you take from it?
RT: We focused on instruction and communication between officials on the field, considerations for making decisions, nutrition and sports science, our physical fitness and some on-field training.
It was good to watch and learn from each other’s mistakes. We often watched an unusual scenario happen on the field and with came up with a unilateral plan on how we would handle that situation.
NS: We did both field exercises and classroom presentations, as well as sitting down for one-on-one conversations with our referee coaches. The highlight for me was the fitness testing – I successfully passed the FIFA men’s referee fitness test, which was a huge accomplishment for me as a female official. It proved that the training and hard work has paid off.
BHV: The best part of Camp was being surrounded by the best of the best up and coming officials. It was inspiring to scan the room and know that each and every person was hungry to learn.
Everything we discussed was under intense analysis, which became apparent when analyzing foul severity clips. Questions were flying around the room and we were each pushed out of our comfort zone in order to learn from one another.
What advice and guidance was passed on from the guest speakers, and how did this help you?
RT: We officiate within the laws of the game and we make our decisions to uphold these laws, but it was highlighted that it’s never black and white. There is a philosophy and feeling behind everything we do on the soccer field and in order to be a great official, you have to understand that.
When we looked at clips and decisions that had been made, we didn’t just analyze them on a technical level but also on a practical level. Being practical is to be human, whereas being technical is to be a machine. The best referees must have both qualities.
NS: Dr Dan Freigang, a sports psychologist, was brought in as a resource to help our mental preparation in the approach to a game. His presentations have had a remarkable impact on how I approach games and now I have tools to manage the anxiety and stress of refereeing at this level.
Dr Freigang also spoke about body language and communication, and as referees, it is crucial for us to be excellent communicators. He showed us that not only our words, but also our body language and tone will impact how coaches, players and fans will receive our message. Our primary job as a referee is to be the manager of the match and I will definitely be using the skills he taught us in the future.
BHV: One presentation that stood out in particular was from Alan Black, who discussed game preparation for match officials. He talked about how successful preparation is done by focusing on physical, technical and mental aspects, but also to make sure it is game-specific to help eliminate surprises. Alan’s discussion proved the importance of developing a suitable routine for preparation that is less cookie-cutter and more game-specific.
I revisited my own game preparation routine straight after Alan’s talk, and now, after doing my homework on each game I am assigned to, I write down five things I need to do to be successful in that game. That means I prepare myself properly in a physical, technical and mental manner each time.