Island mentor-referee program opens up doors for ref trainees

Greg Martin, mentor, discusses correct flag positioning for an offside foul with assistant referees Sophia Giusti and Carol Butler. - Marie Py photo
Greg Martin, mentor, discusses correct flag positioning for an offside foul with assistant referees Sophia Giusti and Carol Butler.
— image credit: Marie Py photo


For The Beachcomber

This fall, Vashon Island Soccer Club officials incorporated a mentor-referee program, which trains Islanders to become certified referees, into the 2009 season.

With player safety and game flow in mind, parents and club board members Greg Martin, Marilyn Oswald and Liam O’Neil created the program to develop the skills of new youth referees. A well-called game means players can engage in the joy of playing, coaches can coach and parents can cheer.

The referee on the field has the primary and final decision-making authority in a soccer match.

He or she must ensure the safety of players, be a strong athlete and officiate in a high-speed environment. Referees have to manage forceful and sometimes hostile pressure from coaches, players and parents, all passionately intent on getting their way.

Youth refs have to uphold fair play in the face of intense scrutiny and the coaches’ desire to win. That’s a lot to ask of a young person whose confidence and self-esteem may still be evolving.

The mentoring program focuses on productive communication, using the whistle primarily to prevent conflicts from arising.

Mentees develop skills that help them pre-empt the charged disagreements that can occur with a loosely called game. Youth referees have to stand up to authority figures and their peers, while staying calm and focused.

The referee program, although open to all officials regardless of grade level and experience, targets primarily sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders.

Referee certification includes classroom and field work. One-on-one mentoring occurs during games. Trainees participate in league-sponsored field clinics; some officiate scrimmage games before calling regular games.

To obtain initial-level certification, referees take the Washington State Referee Committee Level 9 Test, and must achieve a score higher than 75 percent. Annual recertification is required; higher levels of certification require additional fitness tests.

On the pitch, mentors give pointers and reminders.

Referees earn money officiating games. As they demonstrate increased proficiency, they can officiate at higher game levels and take on longer games for more pay.

In 2009 Vashon Island Soccer Club upgraded eight returning officials and trained 19 beginners. The club has an active roster of 43 referees.

According to O’Neil, the club trained the largest number of new referees this year out of the past five years. Fifteen youth and adult referees successfully achieved the initial Grade 9 WASRC certification.

The mission of the mentor-referee program encourages professionalism and communication skills, with a focus on maintaining an environment of fun, safety and good sportsmanship.

Youth referees learn leadership skills and are asked to act as role models; they learn to behave in a professional manner: From the moment they walk onto the field, everyone looks to them for a fair match. Their appearance, conduct and attitude set an example for players as well as coaches and parents.

“Long-term, this is about developing leaders,” Martin said.

Vashon Island Soccer Club has 495 players, 17 association league teams and 22 modified league teams. Participation in the club has grown 90 percent in five years.

For more information on the mentor-referee program, e-mail

— Marie Py is the parent of a soccer player.

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