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Bird at Play: Official needs to keep up

Several years ago, my son was looking to make some money and there are very few ways for a 13 year-old to do that, so he decided he wanted to utilize his soccer experience and sign up for a referee class. I thought it would be a good idea for me to join him in the class and get my certification as well. In addition to picking up a few extra bucks myself, maybe I could learn a few things along the way and understand the game from the official's point of view.

It was a pretty grueling experience, sitting through six weeks of class for many, many hours and finishing with a test that resulted in a Grade 8 certification. It reminded me of the course that I had to go through to get my property and casualty insurance license. But we survived, received our certification and were sent out to make our mark on the game.

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We did several indoor games and a few outdoor games together before I was offered the opportunity to be a sideline referee for a college showcase tournament in Columbia. Little did I know that that weekend would be the end of my referee career. I was selected to work a U17 girls club game with several college coaches in attendance that potentially could have given some of the players an opportunity to play at the collegiate level.

I did the best job I could that weekend, working three games, but the job I was able to do was not up to par with what I would expect from an official as a player or as a coach. Due to my advancing age and my receding knees (and hairline) I struggled to keep up with the play on many situations. I realized quickly that I could either run the sidelines to stay even with the last defender or I could watch across the field, holding the line for offsides. I wasn't able to do both simultaneously.

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That was the end of my referee career. And it was self-imposed. I have too much respect for the game itself, for the players that compete, and for the officials that work hard at their craft for me to tarnish the game with my subpar performance. That's one of the main reasons I cannot tolerate others that should have given up the game long ago.

This is not age discrimination or even prejudice against a lack of fitness, because I would be in the protected class for both. An official needs to be able to keep up with the level of play that he is responsible for or find something else to do as a part-time job. Just like the level of fitness imposed on a state policeman, there needs to be a fitness test for someone that collects a check to officiate sporting events.

American sociologist Larry Kersten defined incompetence as "When you earnestly believe you can compensate for a lack of skill by doubling your efforts, there's no end to what you can't do."

I define it by if you can't keep up with 11 year-old soccer, then it's time to call it a day.

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